TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -Arizona opens the post-Lute Olson era against Florida Atlantic on Monday night.
After missing last season on a personal leave of absence, then returning last spring, the 74-year-old Hall of Famer retired shortly after practice began in October. His doctor later said Olson had suffered a stroke at some point in the last year.
The shock of the announcement has worn off. Now it's time for hoops.
The question is, will the Wildcats be ready?
``This is a really unique situation,'' said Russ Pennell, Olson's interim replacement. ``I get it. I hope we can put some of this aside and we can focus on Chase Budinger and Nic Wise and Jordan Hill and the rest of our team. That is what this is all about.''
Then the Wildcats' top freshman, 6-foot-10 center Jeff Withey, asked to be released from his scholarship - a request denied by athletic director Jim Livengood. Withey has not been available for comment, but it appears he will appeal the decision.
The loss of Withey depletes an already shallow roster. The Wildcats are so thin, Pennell had to call off the annual red-blue scrimmage early in the second half because players were cramping.
Arizona tips off the season with three proven Pac-10 players - Budinger, Hill and Wise, all juniors. The rest of the roster lacks talent or experience.
Budinger, a 6-7 leaper, is one of the most athletically gifted players Arizona has had in years. He averaged 16.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in his first two seasons, and while he's improved defensively, Budinger's greatest value is as a scorer.
The 6-10 Hill averaged 13.2 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds as a sophomore. But he also had 105 fouls and often spent long stretches on the bench.
``Jordan Hill is a big-time weapon,'' Pennell said. ``He is as good as anybody in this league. We have to keep him out of foul trouble and protect him and we have to make sure he gets touches.''
The 5-10 Wise had 119 assists last season, second on the team. He missed part of last season after arthroscopic knee surgery.
orwards Fendi Onobun and Jamelle Horne will likely see a lot of playing time. Alex Jacobson, a 6-11 redshirt freshman, is expected to take many of the minutes Withey would have played.
It's not the sort of talent that Olson regularly lured to Tucson during his 24-season tenure. But Pennell promised the Wildcats would still use Olson's favored up-tempo approach.
``I am big on pushing the basketball down the floor,'' Pennell said. ``If you have a good opportunity to score the first 8-to-10 seconds, as long as it is a high-caliber shot, I am comfortable with them taking that. If not, we will get into a free-flowing offense where the players are allowed to use their instincts.
``One drawback to that right now is that this basketball team is very young,'' Pennell said. ``The new players, some struggle with that initially. Their reads are not mature enough yet. It is our job to identify that and give them a few rules.''
Arizona won't have much time to grow up. The Wildcats are in the NIT Season Tip-Off, with home games against Florida Atlantic and the winner of UAB-Santa Clara.
M on Dec. 5, and face No. 10 Gonzaga in Phoenix on Dec. 14. No. 24 Kansas, the defending national champion, comes to Tucson on Dec. 23.
active streak. That streak - three off North Carolina's all-time record that ended in 2001 - could be in jeopardy.

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