The Star's Greg Hansen checks in with a look at Steve Kerr's influence on Nico Mannion, the image problems facing Arizona's track and field program, and why the Arizona Interscholastic Association made the right call in postponing the start of the winter sports seasons:
Nico Mannion's new coach can speak to the challenge of making it
After the Golden State Warriors selected Arizona’s one-and-done point guard Nico Mannion with the No. 48 overall pick in the draft last week, odds are that the first words spoken in a conversation between self-deprecating Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Mannion were:
“You beat me, Nico. I was No. 50 when I was drafted in 1988.”
Kerr is evidence of how difficult a journey to the NBA can be for a player not selected in the first round. Kerr scored just 54 points as a Phoenix Suns rookie. He was then traded to Cleveland, never averaging more than 6.9 points over three seasons. Kerr was then traded to Orlando for, of all people, Arizona defensive whiz Reggie Geary.
It wasn’t until Kerr had survived five years on the bench that he was signed by the Chicago Bulls and met Michael Jordan. Bingo. The rest is history. Kerr beat the overwhelming odds and spent 13 years in the NBA.
In a 29-year period, 1989-2017, since Kerr was the No. 50 pick in the draft, the 48th picks struggled, which is to put it kindly.
Here’s the breakdown:
• 11 did not play in the NBA.
•Eight played one year or part of a season.
• Four played two years or parts of two seasons.
• Only four of the 30 players chosen No. 48 stuck for at least five years. The best was Cal State Fullerton’s Cedric Ceballos, who played 11 seasons and started 313 of 606 possible games. Former Arizona State center Isaac Austin, who split his nine NBA seasons with stints in Turkey, France and China, averaged 7.6 points per game as mostly a backup center.
One other Pac-12 player — Oregon’s Malik Hairston — was a No. 48 pick. He played 62 games in a year and a half in the NBA.
Here’s the list of 11 No. 48 picks who did not play a minute in the NBA: Junie Lewis, South Alabama; Jevon Crudup, Missouri; Alain Digbeu, Europe; Galen Young, Charlotte; Mark Karcher, Temple; Antonis Fotsis, Europe; James Lang, Europe; Rick Minard, Morehead State; Vladimir Veremeenko, Europe; Latavious Williams, Europe; Kostas Papanikolaou, Europe.
At least Mannion begins his fight against the odds with a man — maybe The Man — who knows as much about overcoming the NBA odds as anyone in league history.
Li’s departure another blow to Arizona track program
In the last six months, Arizona has lost two of the leading assistant coaches in NCAA track and field: over the summer, jumps coach Sheldon Blockburger parted ways with the program and last week distance running coach James Li, the school’s head cross country coach for 18 years, chose to retire.
In the middle of that, two of the school’s marquee track and field athletes, P.J. Austin and James Smith, transferred. Austin, a 25-foot long jumper, transferred to Florida. Smith, one of the nation’s leading hurdlers, transferred to Texas A&M.
All of this came as the UA opened an internal investigation into the track and field program over the summer following complaints from athletes detailing incidences of sexual harassment, bullying and even assault by teammates, both women and men.
Eight athletes told the Star that they had been sharing their concerns with athletic department officials for years before the investigation was launched.
I strongly believe Li chose to retire and was not forced to do so. “He’s one of the finest individuals that I’ve had the pleasure of being around,” said former UA head track coach Dave Murray. “I’ve known James since he coached (Olympic medalist) Bernard Lagat at Washington State 25 years ago. Just a great man.”
That’s the same Li I knew and observed for 18 years. First class. Last week he told me this is a “bittersweet time” but that “I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my career and life.” He is 59.
Murray has agreed to be a volunteer-type coach for the distance running program, a stabilizing force as Lagat and former Catalina Foothills High School state championship coach Doug Keen step in for Li and former assistant coach Hanna Peterson, who will not return. The acquisition of the personable and global running legend Lagat is a chance for the UA to start work on damage control in a year that has gone sideways for the UA track program.
Li was at the controls when Arizona’s women’s cross country team finished No. 2 in the NCAA finals in 2013.
He coached Lawi Lalang and Robert Cheseret to a combined 10 NCAA championships and leaves senior middle-distance runner Carlos Villarreal, who is probably one of the nation’s four or five leading runners.
As he hopes that Pac-12 track teams are cleared for a spring season, UA head track coach Fred Harvey, on the job at Arizona for 33 years, has a significant overhaul and image-changing challenge process, and it begins by replacing Li, Blockburger, Austin and Smith.
Tucson’s top women’s amateur golfer dies
About a month ago, Pima County Sports Hall of Fame golfer Linda Carter accompanied longtime Tucson Citizen golf writer Jack Rickard to visit Dr. Ed Updegraff, 98, the most successful amateur golfer in Arizona history, at his home in Saddlebrooke Ranch.
A few days later, Carter was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer; she died last week. She was 79.
Carter is almost certainly the top women’s amateur golfer in Southern Arizona history. She belongs in a category with Cindy Rarick, Vicki Suhocki Normoyle, Sara Brown Radley and Krystal Quihuis as one of the five leading female golfers in Tucson history.
Carter won five straight Tucson City championships, 1978-82, and completed her career with 12. Her long success in city championships covered a period from 1971-94. She also won the Arizona Amatuer.
When Carter moved to Tucson from New York in 1962, she had already played in the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur, and continued that golf success after graduating from the UA and becoming a detective for the Tucson Police Department.
Carter’s contributions to the community were many. She volunteered as the head scorer at many Tucson Opens and LPGA championships in Tucson. She was one of the original organizers of the Walter Hagen Golf Tournament for the American Cancer Society, and for the Arizona Kidney Foundation Golf and Tennis Tournament.
I had the pleasure of playing golf with Carter on two occasions. She was just a joy, upbeat and conversational. When she told me she held the course record for women at six Tucson courses, I asked for details.
“Oh, who cares?” she said with a laugh. “I’d just like to break 80 today.”
At Arizona, it’s Rubio times two
We may be biased but we have a new favorite @ArizonaBVB player for the next four years!MAJOR congratulations to Olivia and the entire Rubio family! Olivia is officially a Wildcat! pic.twitter.com/vkB2reFJ3C— Arizona Volleyball (@ArizonaVBall) November 15, 2020
Of all the names listed among the Class of 2021 letter-of-intent signees at Arizona last week, the one that most stood out was Olivia Rubio, beach volleyball player from Catalina Foothills High School.
She is the daughter of UA volleyball coach Dave Rubio, an honor student who was sought by, among others, Harvard. Very impressive.
The list of parent-child pairings in UA sports history is limited. The most prominent is basketball coach Fred A. Enke and his son Fred W. Enke, a three-sport standout who went on to play quarterback for seven seasons in the NFL.
The others of front-line players included:
- Assistant football coach Willie Peete and his son Skip, a receiver from Sahuaro High School;
- Baseball pitching coach Jim Wing and his son Marc, a first baseman from Palo Verde High School.
- Baseball coach Andy Lopez and his sons David and Michael of Sabino High School.
- UA golf coach Roy Tatum, who retired in 1971, missed coaching his son Tom Tatum, a future PGA Tour player, by one year in 1971. Football assistant coach Bill Baker missed coaching his son, also named Bill, a long-time NFL scout, by one year in 1973.
The father-son and mother-daughter combinations have been more prominent in Tucson high school sports. Here’s my top five:
- Sahuaro High School basketball coach Dick McConnell and his son, two-sport standout Rick.
- Sunnyside High School football coach Richard Sanchez and his son, 1,000-yard tailback Philo.
- Canyon del Oro High School softball coach Kelly Fowler and her All-State daughters, Kenzie and Mattie.
- Amphi High School basketball coach Pat Derksen and his son, state player-of-the-year Tim.
- Tucson High baseball coach Andy Tolson and his son Brad, who went 10-0 as a pitcher for Arizona in 1950.
AIA makes right call by delaying winter sports
The AIA, the state’s governing body for high school sports, did well by moving the start of winter sports to January. Good move. Why rush anything? The overall effect is that high school boys and girls will only have a 45-day season, from Jan. 5 to Feb. 29. A year ago, when Jim Reynolds coached Salpointe Catholic to a 30-1 season and the state championship, the season ran 96 days, from Nov. 25 to Feb. 25. And as Casey O’Brien led Sunnyside’s defending state championship boys soccer team to a 24-2 record last year, the Blue Devils enjoyed an 85-day season from early December to late February. Starting later and abbreviating the schedule from, say, 25 basketball games to 15-18, isn’t what anyone wants, but it seems like a better path than the ongoing Tucson prep football season, that has been re-routed many times by last-minute cancellations. …
UA golfer to compete in PGA-U showcase
UA junior golfer Trevor Werbylo of Salpointe Catholic will be one of four NCAA players featured on the PGA-U Showcase Dec. 16 on the Golf Channel. Werbylo will join three other golfers ranked in the PGA Tour’s top 10 of the new university rankings, a route that now qualifies five golfers each year for full membership on the Korn Ferry Tour, the Triple-A organization of pro golf. With Arizona coach Jim Anderson as Werbylo’s caddy, the PGA-U players will be paired with celebrities Darius Rucker, Rob Riggle, Brian Urlacher and Jerome Bettis in a made-for-TV event that will raise $1 million for military organizations. All eight players will play in one group, wearing microphones…
Iggy joins golf broadcast
At Friday’s The Match: Champions for Change golf exhibition at Stone Canyon Club — telecast on TNT at 1 p.m. — former Arizona basketball player Andre Iguodala will be part of the TNT broadcast team. The four-team match, featuring Phil Mickelson, Charles Barkley, Steph Curry and Peyton Manning, has a provocative broadcast crew. Iguodala will be joined by Eli Manning, Michelle Wie and Tiger Woods’ niece, Cheyenne, as well as Gary McCord. Good moves all. McCord was released by CBS after 35 years last season; he’s the most informal, less-starched shirt announcer in golf. He told Golfweek: “There’s a reason they hired me and it’s not to say, ‘It’s 165 yards and he’ll use a 6-iron.’” . …
Bobby Hurley, Sun Devils continue to be popular pick
I watched ASU basketball coach Bobby Hurley‘s Zoom conference last week and for a few seconds wondered if I had been transported in a time machine to the 22nd century. Hurley was asked “Can you have too much talent?” I’ve never heard any type of question like that asked of a Sun Devil basketball coach. Hurley said “it’s great when you have a lot of talent, a lot of expectations and lots of guys with a lot of hype.” ASU has never won the Pac-12 basketball title. The time is now for Hurley and his guard-blessed Sun Devils.
My two cents: As basketball season starts, Pac-12 Networks headaches begin
Good news: The UA’s first nine men’s basketball games will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks. Bad news: the UA’s first nine men’s basketball games will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
It’s not the quality of the broadcast; it’s that possibly 50% of Tucson homes are not equipped to get the Pac-12 Networks. And now it’s compounded by the lack of TV appearances — at least in the early season — for the No. 7 Arizona women’s basketball team.
So far, none of Adia Barnes‘ December games are scheduled to be televised, although it could change, as could anything in college sports.
The UA-ASU game at McKale on Dec. 10 is not currently scheduled to be televised, nor are Arizona’s women’s conference openers, Dec. 4-6 against USC and UCLA.
Last week, Barnes tweeted that she is looking for two basketball games in Tucson.
She listed available dates as Nov. 25 and 27, and Dec. 1, 13, 14, 21, 22, 23 and 27. That’s a first.
On Saturday, Barnes retweeted her plea for opponents, adding that the UA could pay, adding that it’s 80 degrees in Tucson and “we all wear masks.”
Not only is travel iffy, but what team is bold enough to take on the nation’s No. 7 team in Tucson? Hello? Anybody there?