Hansen's Sunday Notebook: McKale makeover will add some theater

Star sports columnist Greg Hansen offers his opinion on recent sports news of interest to Southern Arizonans.

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  • Construction workers at McKale Center are working double shifts until 3 a.m., seven days a week, in an attempt to have a $30 million remodeling project complete for Arizona’s Nov. 9 exhibition opener against Cal Poly Pomona.

    More than 8,000 blue- cushion seats in the lower bowl, each with an A logo and cup holder, have been installed. So has the state-of-the-industry LED lighting system and a new court, the first at Arizona since 1997.

    It is a notable change in terms of intimacy. By enclosing the south end, McKale now has the feel of a theater. After taking a tour of the arena last week, my reaction was that, unlike recent Pac-12 arena makeovers at Cal, Stanford and UCLA, the interior of 42-year-old McKale Center actually has a new personality.

    Much of the heavy labor remains, such as constructing an elevator shaft to serve as a private entrance for players and coaches. The men’s and women’s locker rooms for basketball, and a new volleyball locker room, all include kitchenettes as part of the UA’s decision to spend about $600,000 a year to better serve their athlete’s nutritional needs.

    The locker rooms, which aren’t close to completion, are not going to be appointed with Oregon/Nike excess but are spacious and will exhibit the UA’s basketball success of the last 30 years.

    UA athletic director Greg Byrne and project coordinator Suzy Mason spent significant time reworking flow and traffic at the oft-gridlocked upper concourses and concessions services.

    When McKale reopens, 43 concessions windows will be available. Last year, McKale had 20 concessions windows.

    A few months after debuting the $72 million Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, Byrne decided not to wait a few years before launching a two-phase, $80 million makeover of McKale. Some ADs might’ve left that project to a successor.

    Byrne’s aggressiveness can be traced to his days as an Oregon State fundraiser in the late 1990s. The Beavers, who were the class of Pac-10 basketball most of the 1980s, did not reinvest in Gill Coliseum. Today, Gill is, by far, the most antiquated basketball facility in the league. OSU hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 1990.

    UA construction crews have three months to complete new restroom facilities, the upper seating areas, concession/concourse projects and other infrastructure.

    And no one will get squeezed out. McKale Center’s capacity is expected to increase by about 120.

  • After losing lineman Andrew Mike to Florida and tight end Matt Bushman to BYU, and after earning his 100th career victory, Sabino High football coach Jay Campos pursued reinforcements. When the Sabercats, 30-6 the last three seasons, open Aug. 29 against defending state champion Salpointe Catholic, Campos will have at his side two of the most respected former head coaches in Arizona history: Will Kreamer, who has spent the last two seasons as a head coach in the Italian professional league, and Ed Campos, Jay’s father, who was the head coach at Flagstaff High School and Sinagua High. Kreamer has also been the head coach at Sahuaro, Santa Rita and Tucson High. Jay Campos added to his schedule in the offseason, becoming the athletic coordinator at Sabino (essentially the AD). He is in the process of hiring a boys basketball coach to replace Gary Malis.

  • The Oregonian newspaper is in the process of selecting “Oregon’s Greatest Athlete,” and using a 64-person bracket a la the NCAA basketball tournament to do so. It seeded former Wilson High School point guard Damon Stoudamire, a 1995 consensus All-American at Arizona, No. 7, and then eliminated Stoudamire in a first-round “upset” against former University of Portland soccer star and 1999 Women’s World Cup winner Tiffeny Milbrett. The newspaper seeded ex-OSU basketball player A.C. Green higher than Stoudamire, which seems a bit off. Green scored 1,694 points at OSU; Stoudamire scored 1,849 at Arizona. Green was never a first-team All-American. In the NBA, Stoudamire averaged 13.4 and Green 9.6. But once Stoudamire left Oregon to play at Arizona — his UA teams were 8-0 against both the Beavers and Ducks — his chance to get a break in a “Greatest Ever” countdown was compromised.

  • Tucson radio station KEVT (1210-AM) has become part of the Sun Devil Network. It is the first time a Tucson radio station has agreed to broadcast ASU games since 2008. The Sun Devils also were successful in signing radio stations from Safford and Douglas to carry ASU football. But when the Sun Devils staged their annual “Coaching Caravan” last spring, stopping around the state, they chose not to visit any Southern Arizona locations. The most interesting byproduct of this transaction is to see if KEVT is successful in signing any local advertisers for the Aug. 28 opener against Weber State.

  • The Los Angeles Times reported last week that the Pac-12 network has only 11 million subscribers as compared with 57 million for the Big Ten, according to SNL Kagan, an industry consulting and research firm. That makes the Pac-12’s recent declaration that its network is now available in 60 million homes a bit murky.

  • Salpointe Catholic right-hander Jio Orozco, who was 8-1 with a 1.40 ERA last season, has committed to play baseball for Andy Lopez at Arizona. Initially, Orozco decided to play at ASU, for Tim Esmay. But the Sun Devils forced Esmay to resign in June and Orozco changed his mind. Orozco will join Sahuarita High right-hander Sati Santa Cruz in Lopez’s Class of 2015, one of the top 1-2 local pitching punches in years. Santa Cruz and Orozco begin play Monday in the Area Code Games in Long Beach, California, the leading showcase of summer high school baseball prospects. Both are part of ex-UA shortstop Clark Crist’s Cincinnati Reds team that picks an all-star team from the Southwest. Also on the team is CDO outfielder Erick Migueles, who hit .520 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs for the Dorados this year. Migueles has committed to play at New Mexico.

  • I bumped into UA junior center Kaleb Tarczewski at McKale Center last week. He was en route to Long Beach City College for the annual Adidas Nation showcase that will feature most of the country’s top high school prospects. Zeus, who will remain in summer school until Aug. 14 and then take a week to return to his native New Hampshire before fall semester begins, is a counselor at the Adidas camp. While there, he is eager to play against NBA players such as Steven Adams, a 7-foot center for Oklahoma City who was a rookie last season, and whose game is similar to Zeus’. UCLA big man Norman Powell joined Tarczewski as a counselor at Adidas Nation.

  • Tucsonan Mike Lude, a Hall of Fame athletic director at Washington during the Huskies’ football glory days, will be inducted into the Kent State Sports Hall of Fame in September. It is long overdue. Lude, who is on the executive panel of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, was the AD at Kent State in the 1970s, where he hired Hall of Fame coach Don James. Little known story: When Alabama coach Nick Saban completed his playing career at Kent State, he went into Lude’s office and applied for a coaching position. Lude hired him as KSU’s secondary coach. The rest is history.

  • Salpointe and UA grad Brian Prouty, who often has to qualify on Monday in advance of Web.com golf tournaments, not only shot a 64 in last week’s Albertsons Boise Open in Idaho, he made the cut again this week at the ongoing Stonebrae Classic by opening with successive rounds of 68-68 in Hayward, California. He played in 17 Web.com events a year ago.

  • UA senior Kevin Cordes will be among the marquee performers this week at the USA Swimming National Championships in Irvine, California. Cordes is favored to win the 100 and 200 breast stroke events and challenge world records in both. Cordes has clocked a 59.78 in the 100 breast; the world record is 58.46.

  • Tucsonan Matt Grevers, a gold medalist at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, is seeded No. 1 in the 50 backstroke and 100 backstroke. Sahuaro grad Caitlin Leverenz is ranked No. 1 in the 200 IM.

  • With two more years of training before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, UA grad Margo Geer is expected to challenge for the national title this week in the 50 and 100 freestyle events. She is ranked in the top six in both after winning NCAA championships in 2013 and 2014.

  • After coaching the Toronto Raptors team in the NBA Summer League, Salpointe and UA grad Jesse Mermuys flew to Flagstaff to be the keynote speaker in the ongoing Lumberjack Basketball Coaches Clinic. Mermuys, who was the operations director for Lute Olson in 2008, joined ex-UCLA coach Ben Howland and ex-UA interim coach Russ Pennell at the clinic. Also part of the NAU weekend: ex-Wildcat Andre Iguodala. At Arizona, Mermuys worked with NAU head coach Jack Murphy, who started as a student-manager at Arizona.

  • When I grow up, I want to be a world-class distance runner like Tucsonan Bernard Lagat.

    On Wednesday, when it was 100 degrees in Tucson, Lagat posted an Instagram photograph after a workout in St. Moritz, Switzerland. High temperature in St. Mortiz on Wednesday? 61.

    Lagat has another six weeks on the European pro circuit before returning to Tucson.

  • From the where-are-they-now file: 20 years ago, 1994, Brenna Cepelak was one of the most highly recruited golfers in UA history, a three-time New Mexican prep champion. At the ’95 Tucson Open, she met golf star Nick Faldo. He was 38. She quit the UA golf team to be with him. They began a relationship and were together until 1998 and often became fodder for British tabloids.

    Today Cepelak is married, has three children, and lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

  • Ten years ago, Carl Brunenkant was inducted into the Salpointe Catholic and Sunnyside High School halls of fame in a three-week period. Eight years earlier, he was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.

    Everybody wanted to claim him as one of their own. By then, Carl had become the patriarch of one of the most successful sports families in Tucson history: Son John played for the 1973 Palo Verde state championship football team; son Barry led the NCAA in doubles as a ballplayer at New Mexico and was Palo Verde’s starting QB; son Tim helped Cochise College reach the NJCAA baseball World Series; son Mark has been a capable head football coach at both Catalina Foothills and Flowing Wells, where his brother, Jim, is the principal.

    That’s quite a legacy.

    Carl Brunenkant died last week at 81. The son of a baker from small-town Florence, he was on the original basketball coaching staff at Salpointe and later coached Sunnyside to 57 consecutive cross country victories, and the 1966 state co-championship. When he wasn’t involved in sports, Brunenkant was a biology teacher and the principal at Flowing Wells, Sunnyside and Desert View. He was one of the men who make the term “old school” so endearing and respected.

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