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Tuesday, October 25, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blaine Newnham

One Gets Away, But All Is Not Lost

Bob Bender walked into the bright sunshine between his office and Edmundson Pavilion. It was a postcard-pretty autumn day on the University of Washington campus.

He was smiling despite the turn of events that had Jason Terry, the star guard from Franklin High School, switch his commitment from Washington to the University of Arizona.

"That's recruiting, that's life," Bender said. "You move on."

There will be no stakeout at the Terry home, no marshaling of local support, no calls to the governor to plead with Terry to stay home in Washington.

None of the legendary recruiting silliness.

But, unfortunately, Bender will move on more quickly than will a community. Jason Terry, through no fault of his own, will assume enormous significance as the one who got away. He becomes an unwitting symbol of Washington's basketball frustrations.

Terry, a 6-foot-1 point guard, is a good basketball player. I saw him play twice this summer in Las Vegas at the Nike national high-school tournament. At one point he led the tournament in assists. He attracted inspection from John Thompson of Georgetown and Lute Olson of Arizona.

No one worked harder to recruit him than Bender. After one game in Las Vegas, both the UW assistant coaches in attendance - Ritchie McKay and Ray Giacoletti - handed Terry personal notes.

They were delighted when he decided when he did - Sept. 21 - to announce an oral commitment to the University of Washington. It probably helped evoke a commitment from the "other" top guard in the state, Donald Watts of Lake Washington High.

There are no villains in this story. Arizona didn't pirate Terry away. His mother asked Lute Olson, the Arizona coach, to revive the recruiting process.

As a parent, I would wonder why Terry doesn't make at least one more visit before letters of intent can first be signed - Nov. 9. Obviously impressionable, he has made commitments following each of his visits.

But as a high-school senior, he is allowed to do whatever he wants.

Terry takes the guarantee of playing with a successful program at Arizona. He takes the risk of Olson recruiting better players in the years to follow. Arizona offered Terry a scholarship only after it had lost commitments from two other players, Ed Shannon, to Florida, and Kyle Cartmill to Illinois State.

Season-ticket sales for Husky men's basketball have increased this fall. University officials were stunned when 2,000 fans showed up for "Midnight Madness" for the men's and women's teams.

The draw is Bender's recruiting, this year's class of five tall players, and the commitments from Terry and Watts. After all, Bender's team won only five games last year.

Recruiting is to college football and basketball fans what spring training is to baseball fans. It represents hope, salvation, a better future.

But while recruiting is exciting and obviously the life-blood of a program, it is far from being predictable, or even understandable.

The UW football program had its heart broken several times losing "great" high-school running backs, Kevin Willhite to Oregon, Tommy Booker to San Diego State, Aaron Emanuel to USC, Marc Hicks to California. Instead, it settled for Greg Lewis from Ingraham High in Seattle, who proved 10 times the college running back.

The year Napoleon Kaufman was a senior in high school, the "other" great high-school running back was not Tyrone Wheatley or Ki-jana Carter, both of whom were seniors, but Marquette Smith, who did nothing at Florida State.

The freshman basketball player at the UW most likely to start this year - 6-8 Mark Sanford - was passed over by almost everyone, including Washington, last fall. The Huskies got him as an afterthought.

Most coaches would seethe about the loss of a hometown player who had committed. Bender isn't going to waste time or energy bad-mouthing Olson or trying to pressure Jason Terry.

He is after another Mark Sanford.

Perhaps we see more of Bender as a recruiter in defeat than in victory. Want to comment or pass on an idea? You can contact Blaine Newnham by voice mail at 464-2364.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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