PGU is counting down our 25 greatest Wildcats of all time. To see the honorable mention and how the rankings are formulated, click here.
#25: Hassan Adams (35.08)
#24: Sean Rooks (35.29)
#23: Anthony Cook (35.74)
#22: Al Fleming (37.31)
#21: Chase Budinger (37.52)
#20: Loren Woods (37.57)
#19: Michael Wright (37.85)
#18: Jud Buechler (38.07)
#17: Salim Stoudamire (39.15)
#16: Derrick Williams (40.31)
#15: Bob Elliott (41.86)
#14: Channing Frye (42.13)
#13: Richard Jefferson (43.86)
#12: Luke Walton (45.15)
#11: Gilbert Arenas (45.44)
#10: Chris Mills (45.98)
#9: Michael Dickerson (46.10)
#8: Khalid Reeves (50.40)
#7: Miles Simon (51.93)
#6: Steve Kerr (52.02)
#5 : Damon Stoudamire (62.41)
#4: Jason Gardner (63.34)
#3: Jason Terry (63.65)
#2: Mike Bibby (67.67)
#1: Sean Elliott (92.35)
Time as a Wildcat
Of all the incredible players to ever wear an Arizona jersey, one stands on a tier by himself. Sean Elliott, the homegrown superstar, established the program’s identity and was instrumental in laying the foundation for consistency and excellence.
Elliott was born and raised in Tucson. When Lute Olson arrived at Arizona in 1984, Elliott was just finishing his sophomore year at Cholla High School. A few years later, the two would join forces.
To give an idea of how much of an impact Elliott made, the Cats earned as many NCAA Tournament appearances in his four years than they had in the entirety of the program before he set foot at McKale.
As a freshman, Elliott started every game and immediately made his mark on offense, averaging 15.6 points, the most on the team. Arizona won its first ever Pac-10 title in 1986 and made it to the Big Dance in consecutive years for the second time.
Elliott’s sophomore season put him on the map nationally. He averaged over 19 points thanks to a shooting percentage of over 50%. Once again, the Cats went to the NCAA Tournament but lost their opening round matchup.
Then in the season of 1987-1988, which started nearly exactly 25 years ago, Elliott helped Arizona reach college basketball’s pinnacle, the Final Four. The forward’s 19.6 scoring average was a huge part of why the team dominated with a 31-2 record through the Pac-10 Tournament.
The margins of victory were just as impressive as the record; Arizona opened the season with a 133-78 win against Duquesne, opened Pac-10 play with a resounding 110-71 victory at Washington, and beat beat ASU by scores of 99-59 and 101-73. As one might have assumed, Elliott was a factor in each of those blowout demolitions.
In the NCAA Tournament, Arizona won easily in the first two games. Against the same Iowa program that Olson had left earlier that decade, Elliott led the Cats with 25 points in a 99-79 win.
Then on March 27, 1988, top seeded Arizona faced off against No. 2 seed North Carolina.
At halftime, it appeared that the Tarheels were quite capable of ending the Cats’ run — up 26-24. But in the second half, Elliott and Co. turned it up and outscored North Carolina by 20 points, giving Arizona a decisive victory and its first trip to the Promised Land.
In the semi-final against Oklahoma, Elliott put in an admirable effort, scoring 31 points. However, it was not enough and Arizona fell short of winning a national title.
Elliott’s senior year was arguably the greatest individual season in program history and it earned him the Wooden Award for best player in the country and unanimous First Team All-America honors.
He averaged over 22 points behind a balanced attack from the paint, free throw line, and behind the arc. No matter what defense was thrown at him, Elliott found a way to score. He also averaged 7.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists, showing he could excel in multiple areas of the game, perhaps a precursor to modern day point fowards like LeBron James.
Elliott’s final season came to a halt following a Sweet 16 loss to UNLV in which he led the game in scoring.
Career After Arizona
Elliott was the 3rd overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, selected by San Antonio. He played all but one of his 11 seasons with the Spurs (1993-94 with Detroit) and was a two time All-Star and a member of the All-Rookie team.
In 1999, Elliott helped lead San Antonio to an NBA Championship.
He had a career scoring average of over 14 points and his jersey number was retired by the Spurs in 2005.
Sean Elliott decided to play for his hometown school despite not being a perennial hoops power, and then took the program to unprecedented heights.
He means as much to Arizona basketball as any athlete has ever meant to a college team. Without Elliott, thinking about where Arizona might be today is a scary thought. Lute Olson is the man that built the program, but surely Sean Elliott is the one player that allowed him to do so.
When Elliott is honored for the Red/Blue Game on October 21, he will be reminded just how much of an impact he made on his university and the entire city of Tucson. Make sure to buy your tickets for the Red/Blue game so that you can support the 2012-13 Wildcats while honoring Elliott and the 87-88 Wildcats as well!