Hansen's Sunday Notebook: McConnell's big game against ASU capped great week for family

January 19, 2014 12:00 am

Columnist Greg Hansen's thoughts on the past week in sports.

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  • Last week was a very good time to be part of the McConnell basketball family of Pittsburgh, Pa.

    Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell outplayed ASU super-jet Jahii Carson and scored 29 points in victories over USC and the Sun Devils, shooting 11 for 17 afield.

    His brother, junior Matty McConnell, scored 24 points with 11 rebounds and five assists to lead Chartiers Valley High School in Bridgeville, Pa., to a win over rival Beaver High School, improving his scoring average to 21.3.

    His father, Tim McConnell coached Chartiers Valley to a league-leading 12-1 record (losing only when Matty missed a game for appendix surgery), winning his 470th career game at Chartiers.

    His aunt, Suzie McConnell-Serio, in her first year as Pitt’s women’s head coach, has taken a team that went 0-16 last season in the Big East to 9-9 overall.

    T.J. has played so well as Arizona’s point guard that his shooting percentage, .472, is the highest among Arizona point guards since 2003-04, as is his assist-to-turnover ratio (112-37). In fact, McConnell already has more assists at midseason than Sean Miller’s previous Arizona point guards had in their entire season: Mark Lyons had 99 last year; Josiah Turner had 70; MoMo Jones, 93; and Nic Wise, 103.

    “His value cannot be stated enough how he brings out the best in his teammates,” Miller said after the ASU game.

    What I like about McConnell is that he doesn’t dribble the ball between his legs like all the other point guards, a superfluous, look-at-me habit that started in the 1980s and hasn’t subsided. And when play is stopped, unlike every other point guard, he doesn’t tap the bottom of his Nikes, a Michael Jordan mannerism that has been copied by 99 percent of college basketball players.

    McConnell just plays. No frills.

    If you’re open, he’ll pass you the ball.

    On Thursday, leading ASU 70-51, McConnell hit the floor to steal the ball. Later, leading 82-58, rather than give an inch, he did it again.

    He is the most valuable point guard at Point Guard U since Jason Gardner left school in 2003.

  • It was 7 below zero at noon Saturday in Lapua, Finland, but former UA basketball teammates Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry have warmed up to the place. They are together again, teammates in the Euroleague for the Lapua Korikobrat. Fogg was the league’s Player of the Week last week, and is averaging 24.9 points a game after spending 2012-13 in the NBA’s D-League. Perry, who played last season in Lithuania and Lebanon, is averaging 15.5 for Lapua. 

  • Former UA point guard Josiah Turner improved his stock significantly after playing in Nova Scotia last season. He is now playing for the NBA D-League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders, and scored 18 points in 18 minutes Friday against Reno. Turner is averaging 21 minutes a game. 

  • Life after Pac-12 basketball is so fully unpredictable that Josiah Turner found himself recently playing against former ASU star Ike Diogu, who is averaging 15 points a game for Bakersfield. Diogu is 30 and, for my money, ASU’s best player of the Pac-10/12 years. 

  • Senior high-jumper Nick Ross is probably the third most prominent “Nick” in recent UA sports history, a bit behind quarterback Nick Foles and basketball’s Nick Johnson, but he has created an identity as perhaps the top athlete on campus. Ross broke the UA’s indoor high jump record Friday in Flagstaff, clearing 7 feet 6½ inches, a mark usually unheard of in January. He also had a long jump of 23-4 3/4. Ross, a two-time Pac-12 champion and 2012 NCAA Indoor champion, takes over where All-American Brigetta Barrett left off, the latest of coach Sheldon Blockburger’s impact jumpers.

  • After winning 535 baseball games at Sunnyside High School, coaching his alma mater for 32 years, Ernie Palomarez has returned after two years away from the game. Palomarez is the new baseball coach at Rincon/University, a school that hasn’t had a winning season for 10 years and has gone through five coaches in that period. Good hire. 

  • Tucsonan Craig Curley, a Pima College product, is expected to be one of the contenders today in the USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston. Curley tuned up for today’s big event by winning the PCC Sun Run, a 10K race last Sunday, covering the distance in 29 minutes 40 seconds. 

  • Arizona 1980-83 Hall of Fame linebacker Ricky Hunley returned to college coaching last week, becoming the defensive line coach for the Memphis Tigers. After leaving the Cincinnati Bengals in 2007, Hunley coached in the UFL and with the Oakland Raiders. He got back in college coaching at the urging of new Memphis defensive coordinator Barry Odom. What goes around comes around, right? Odom played linebacker at Missouri in the late ’90s when Hunley was part of Larry Smith’s Mizzou staff. Odom’s brother, Brian, was a strength coach during the Mike Stoops era at UA. 

  • Two of the top defensive coaches in college football, Rich Ellerson and Duane Akina, are unemployed. Ellerson was fired as Army’s head coach and Akina lost his job as Texas’ assistant head coach when Mack Brown resigned. Can’t imagine they’ll be out of work long. 

  • At 70, John Mackovic is back in coaching. The former Arizona coach is the new head coach of the Italian Federation of American Football. He will assemble a national team to play in the European World Cup. I wonder if his aloof and aristocratic style will play any better in Rome than it did in Tucson.

  • Pima College baseball coach Jason Hisey will showcase his program Saturday when the Aztecs stage their annual Aztec Baseball Camp and Alumni Game. Part of the day, from noon to 2 p.m., will include a clinic for kids aged 6-13. The list of instructors is impressive: ex-major-leaguers George AriasJack Howell and D.J. Carrasco, pro coaches Tom Spencer and Clark Crist, and White Sox pitcher Donald Veal, among others. The alumni game is set to start at 2:30 p.m.

  • Pima College baseball coach Jason Hisey could have an unexpected, middle-of-the-lineup hitter this year in former Arizona football player Devin Veal. Now 25, Veal is fully eligible to play baseball under NJCAA rules and is bidding for a spot in Pima’s outfield.

  • Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez didn’t fully remove himself from the fall recruiting chase. About a month after his quadruple bypass heart surgery, when it became apparent Arizona had a chance to sign Mount Pleasant, Texas, pitcher Michael Kopech, a top 50 prospect nationally, Lopez joined the chase via telephone. “It drove me nuts that I couldn’t drive to the airport, pick Michael up and spend the weekend with him,” said Lopez. “But I talked to him a lot. My assistants, Shaun Cole and Matt Siegel, did a heck of a job recruiting him and the others. When we finally signed Kopech, my rehab went a lot better.”

  • Tiger Woods returns to the PGA Tour this week, at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, and is expected to commit to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in mid-February. The competition to get in the San Diego tournament is such that more than 250 golfers played in a pre-qualifying event just to get one of 20 spots in Monday’s qualifying round of 156, of which four will make it into Thursday’s field. Among those playing Monday are Tucsonans Nathan Tyler and Brian Prouty and ex-UA Pac-12 champion Jason Gore.

  • Until the TV networks and cable programmers schedule more than a tidy two hours for each college basketball broadcast, viewers will gnash their teeth over joined-in-progress starts, such as at the UA-ASU game last week. Fox Sports 1 delayed the UA-ASU tipoff until 7:12 p.m., but when the St. John’s-Providence game required double-overtime, it meant viewers missed the first eight minutes of the Arizona-ASU game.  The days of two-hour college basketball games are long gone, given 10 permissible coaches’ timeouts and eight media timeouts per game. Utah’s win over UCLA on Saturday went 2 hours 9 minutes. 

  • Salpointe Catholic receivers Cameron Denson and Kaelin Deboskie, both committed to play college football at Arizona, will not play in the West Coast Bowl next Sunday in Redondo Beach, Calif., as announced by bowl officials. Lancers tackle Breeon Auzenne will play, however. About 70 of the top high school senior football players in the West, including five of Rich Rodriguez’s committed players, are on the all-star rosters. It will not be televised. 

  • New ASU athletic director Ray Anderson confirmed last week that naming rights to Sun Devil Stadium are available as part of a planned $225 redevelopment of the old stadium. That’s progress, I suppose. Oregon State sold its football naming rights to a grocer a few years ago. The one unknown variable to Anderson’s hire at ASU is that he has never been a fundraiser, which is almost half the job. He has been an attorney and an agent. A modern college AD can’t sit in the bunker and pontificate; it’s a get-your-hands-dirty position. If Anderson needs any pointers on how to run a contemporary athletic department, from student relations to community interaction, he should ask Greg Byrne for a tutorial.

  • Ka’Deem Carey’s decision to enter the NFL draft and skip his senior football season at Arizona wasn’t breaking news. He was the 24th Pac-12 player this year to declare for early entry.

    UA’s most prominent athletes, of all sports, especially in baseball, have left school early for more than 80 years, dating to baseball star Hank Leiber, who left school in 1932 and became a three-time All-Star outfielder for the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs.

    Carey chose his agent wisely, selecting 1980s Arizona reserve wide receiver Kenny Zuckerman of Priority Sports, whose current most high-profile client is provocative ex-Stanford and Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin.

    Carey was sold on Zuckerman by ex-Wildcat Brooks Reed, who is represented by Zuckerman, as were ex-Wildcat football players Darryll LewisJoe Tafoya and Lionel Dotson, all of whom reached the NFL.

    For the next three months, Carey will train at the Athletes’ Performance Institute in Los Angeles, among other pre-draft plans. His goal is to improve his speed in the 40-yard dash.

    Last week, Arizona’s Cactus Comet, Art Luppino, the 1954 and 1955 NCAA rushing leader, told me: “Carey is the exact type of runner the pros look for — yards after first contact. He has no Arizona rival in that department, in my opinion.”

    Can’t get a better endorsement than that.

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