Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Mermuys makes NBA coaching leap; Johnson nears deal

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

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  • Jesse Mermuys was a backup point guard at Salpointe Catholic in the 1990s, a sub at Glendale College and a start-at-the-bottom assistant basketball coach at Salpointe Catholic, Pima College, Southern Utah and New Mexico State.

    While completing his UA business degree, Mermuys worked Lute Olson’s summer camps and helped to start the Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson camps.

    Mermuys’ timing was off in 2007, when he became Olson’s director of basketball operations just as Olson began a transition into retirement.

    That didn’t deter Mermuys, a study in perseverance who was raised in Tucson by his grandmother, Margaret Liakos, after his mother died in her 20s and his father was incarcerated.

    By 2008, Mermuys was an advance scout for the Denver Nuggets and in 2013 a full-blown member of the Houston Rockets coaching staff. A year ago he was hired as the top assistant of the Toronto Raptors.

    Mermuys had his career moment last week when the Raptors named him the head coach of their NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas. He coached against the Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, Nuggets and Rockets.

    He was one of three Tucson-connected head coaches in the Las Vegas Summer League: Steve Kerr made his debut with the Golden State Warriors and ex-Wildcat center Sean Rooks was head coach of the D-League Select Team.

    Not bad, huh?

    Mermuys coached against Houston rookie Nick Johnson, who had a 12-point, five-rebound game, solidifying his Summer League status as one of the league’s emerging prospects.

    Former Wildcat Johnson benefited significantly inasmuch as Houston was one of just three NBA teams to enter both the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues, giving the 2014 Pac-12 Player of the Year 11 games to audition.

    He made the most of it; through Friday, he averaged 12.2 points in Las Vegas, playing both guard spots, averaging 28 minutes a game.

    He had a triple-double — 15 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists — against Brooklyn on July 11.

    Johnson’s progress was exhibited in his 10-assist game, much of it spent playing point guard. At Arizona, as a shooting guard, he twice had six assists last season (against Rhode Island and Colorado).

    The NBA Summer League isn’t just pickup basketball. The Sacramento Kings, for example, used third-year forward Derrick Williams of Arizona for three games last week.

    The fallout of Johnson’s summer play is that he is likely to get a guaranteed multiyear contract in the next few weeks, which doesn’t often happen to the 42nd overall draft pick.

    How far did Johnson come? He essentially already beat out ex-ASU standout Jahii Carson. The Rockets chose not to re-sign ASU’s Carson for their Las Vegas team; Carson had played five games in Houston’s week in the Orlando Summer League.

  • New Pima College football coach Jim Monaco developed a terrific idea about establishing a connection with Southern Arizona’s football community: He is bringing Dick Tomey to the PCC West Campus at 2 p.m. on Aug. 9 for a seminar on teamwork, leadership and motivation, which are Tomey’s staples for success. High school varsity, JV and freshman coaches, and youth league coaches are invited, as are interested football players. Tomey, retired, lives in Honolulu.

  • UA baseball coach Andy Lopez had much of his recruiting class shattered by the major league draft. Friday’s deadline to sign with an MLB team cost Arizona first-round shortstop Cole Tucker of Phoenix; first-round pitcher Michael Kopech of Texas; 12th-round Hawaiian pitcher Jordan Yamamoto, who received a $330,000 bonus; and 23rd-round selection Darius Day, a Chicago outfielder. Lopez was able to keep just J.J. Matijevic, a first baseman from Pennsylvania, and Cameron Avila-Leeper, a 29th-round pitcher from Sacramento, California.

  • UA junior shortstop Kevin Newman, who led the Cape Cod League in hitting a year ago at .375, is again leading the league at .377 through Saturday. Interestingly, Newman hit his first post-high school home run this month. In two seasons at Arizona and in the 2013 Cape Cod season, Newman did not hit a home run in more than 500 at-bats.

  • Pusch Ridge Christian grad Aaron Vaughn, who was undrafted after an all-conference pitching season at Northwest Nazarene University this spring, signed as a free agent with the Houston Astros last month. He performed so well in the Astros Florida Rookie League that he was promoted to Class A Quad Cities (Iowa) last week and pitched a scoreless debut.

  • The athletic event of the week in Tucson is probably Saturday’s retirement party for Ben Carbajal, who will be honored at PCC’s West Campus gymnasium at 6:30 p.m., for 35 years as one of the top athletic trainers in ACCAC history. Carbajal began treating PCC athletes in 1979. He will be greatly missed.

  • Canyon del Oro High School senior Chris Meyers is having the summer of any golfer’s dreams. He qualified to play in the U.S. Junior Nationals this week in Houston, and is scheduled to fly from Texas to Canada for the Junior America’s Cup on July 27-31 in Vancouver. But his biggest honor probably came last week when he was one of 81 American junior golfers chosen to play in the inaugural Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, a Sept. 26-28 Champions Tour event in which each of the 81 junior golfers will be paired with a Champions Tour player for three days. Meyers, who is being recruited by top schools in the Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences, will represent the First Tee of Tucson, which is operated by the Conquistadores. His father, Dan Meyers, is a former Arizona Amateur and Tucson City Amateur champion. His mother, Susie Meyers, is a former LPGA Tour regular.

  • The Stone Canyon Golf Club, a private enclave winding through the Tortolita Mountains in Oro Valley, is now operated by Phil Mickelson’s management firm, The M Club. I played there last week and the first thing I saw in the pro shop was a portrait of Mickelson in the clubhouse. Those who belongs to the Stone Canyon Club have playing privileges at the M Club’s other courses, mostly in Scottsdale.

  • University of Arizona 2003 and 2004 golf All-American, Erica Blasberg, who won six tournaments as an Arizona freshman in ’03, would’ve turned 30 last week. She died tragically four years ago in what Las Vegas investigators determined was a suicide.

  • Tucsonan George Cunningham, who is probably the top golf prospect successfully recruited to Arizona since Ricky Barnes and Chris Nallen a decade ago, missed most of June’s competition with mononucleosis. He missed qualifying for next month’s U.S. Amateur by one stroke. Before he begins his freshman season at Arizona, he will play in the Western Amateur in Chicago July 28-31.

  • Another of Arizona coach Jim Anderson’s incoming freshmen, Andrew Garner, last week won the 92nd Wyoming Amateur with rounds of 67-68-67. That tournament was won in 2005 by PGA Tour regular Keegan Bradley, whose father, Mark Bradley, has been one of Garner’s instructors.

  • One of the top swimming media outlets, swimswam.com, last week released its annual college recruiting rankings for 2014. Arizona was not among the top 12 men’s or women’s schools in what has to be a first in more than 25 years. That can all be traced to former coach Eric Hansen’s decision to quit coaching last October, the year’s prime recruiting period.

  • ESPN has again hired film producer/director Jason Johnson, Arizona’s starting QB in 2001 and 2002, as part of a reflective series of Heisman Trophy winners of the 1940s-1970s era. Johnson’s last ESPN project was a day-in-the-life series on the top selections of the 2014 draft.

  • Odiemae Elliott’s memorial service was held Wednesday morning in Tucson. The mother of Arizona 1988 and 1989 basketball All-American was so diligent in her son’s upbringing that she had him explore interests in, among other things, tennis. When Elliott was about 12, she took Sean to the old Quail Valley Tennis Club and asked pro John Davis if he would evaluate Sean’s tennis skills. After hitting tennis balls for an hour, and being impressed by Sean’s athleticism, Davis told Odiemae that Sean’s physical size might be better served playing basketball. But even after that, Sean Elliott considered himself a baseball/soccer player before gravitating to basketball as a high school freshman.

  • Marana’s Sherry Cervi, coming off of her fourth World Championship in pro rodeo barrel racing (she earned $303,000 in 2013) amped up her 2014 schedule in recent weeks. She earned $14,800 in the famed Calgary Stampede, $8,234 in the Reno Rodeo, and also was on the leaderboard at, among other WPRA stops, in Lehi, Utah; St. Paul, Oregon, and in Ponoka, Alberta. She is competing at the ongoing Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

  • Grant Jerrett, who left Arizona after one basketball season, 2012-13, has undergone ankle surgery and thus missed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s summer league activity. It’s likely, however, that OKC will sign Jerrett to a multiyear deal worth about $500,000 a year even though he’s not expected to play again until December.

  • The Pac-12 football Media Day has been doubled and will be held over two days this week at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California.

    That’s a long way from the rushed, somewhat intimate five-hour affair held at an LAX airport hotel every July during commissioner Tom Hansen’s final 20 years.

    UA coach Rich Rodriguez will complete his media duties on Wednesday. ESPN will cover all 12 coaches. First question to RichRod? Who is your No. 1 quarterback? Rodriguez will dance around the answer.

    Commissioner Larry Scott will surely be quizzed about the SEC Network’s likely deal with DirecTV. How can the SEC get DirecTV and the Pac-12 still be shut out? Hope he’s got a different answer this time.

    Here’s the ballot I sent to the Media Day poll:

    South Division: 1. UCLA; 2. Arizona; 3. ASU; 4. USC; 5. Utah; 6. Colorado.

    North Division: 1. Oregon; 2. Stanford; 3. WSU; 4. Oregon State; 5. Washington; 6. Cal.

    Hedges: I think one game will separate Arizona, ASU and USC in the South but no one will seriously challenge UCLA. If RichRod develops a reliable QB, Arizona could win nine games. I really like Mike Leach’s chances to make Washington State a tough out.

    The year’s most telling development in Tucson will be attendance at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats averaged just 47,619 at home last year. If that doesn’t go up to 52,000, or more, it will be hugely disappointing.

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