Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Tucson's super seven

August 09, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

Star sports columnist Greg Hansen offers his opinion on recent sports news.

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  • The All-Star team for the 2014 Tucson Summer Pro League included ex-Loyola Marymount center Chris Ayer of Flowing Wells, ex-UMass center Anthony Oates of Amphitheater and current Indiana State forward Bryce Burnett of Cienega.

    Not bad for summer basketball in Tucson.

    Ayer is one of the super seven big men in Tucson prep history — with Salpointe’s Dave Mills; Tucson High’s Ray Kosanke; Santa Rita’s Dave Feitl; Salpointe’s Brian Smith; and CDO brothers Brian and Mark Jung — and he harbors the belief he is good enough to play in the NBA.

    “I’ve been getting better every year,” said Ayer, who is about to turn 31. “But going back to the NBA D-League and fitting into someone’s system, well, I’m not sure I want to do that again.”

    Ayer has played for seven D-League teams — Maine, Santa Cruz, Reno, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Springfield and Utah — and most of the time he’s been a backup center. The one year he was a starter, 2011 at South Dakota, he put up prospect-type numbers: 12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and a 49.5 percent shooting percentage.

    He has also played for the Los Angeles Lightning and the KL Dragons in the Malaysian pro league.

    “I haven’t been able to showcase what I can do,” he said. “I’ve been asked to fill a role. My stats don’t look good, so people don’t think you can play.”

    It’s not that basketball hasn’t been good to Ayer. He has been a world traveler. He has played against NBA centers. He was on the roster of the Great Britain 2012 Olympic basketball squad.

    “Basketball paid for my college, and it paid for my first car,” he said. “I’m hoping it will pay for my first house next.”

    While in Tucson this summer, Ayer taught a camp at the Tucson Racquet & Fitness Club, works out twice a day and plays basketball three or four times a week. He is contemplating a post-basketball career as a firefighter/paramedic.

    “I need to make a decision about basketball by October,” he said. “I would like to go overseas again. I have a good attitude about the NBA. It’s a very, very small community of professionals, 300 players in the entire world. It’s a numbers game. If I never make it, it won’t detract from what I’ve accomplished.”

    Well said.

  • Former UA Wildcats Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon and the other 58 NBA draft picks of 2014 attended the NBA’s four-day Rookie Transition Program last week in New York.

    The seminar, which is similar to the one the NFL holds for its rookies, touches on personal behavior, appearance, financial responsibility and eating habits.

    One of the admonitions, as reported by the New York Times, was not to give anyone in your inner circle a credit card unless you know their last name. Another was that each player must have a minimum of three suits: one blue, one gray, one black.

    The rookies were told to eat soup with a spoon, wash their hair regularly, and that it’s not a good idea to get a tattoo visible on your neck.

    The image-conscious NBA is probably a bit gratuitous in its approach. Most of the draftees should’ve learned the basics of hygiene, presentation and behavior while in college.

    Or at least you’d hope they did.

  • One of the first things to catch my eye at an Arizona football practice last week was sophomore inside linebacker Scooby Wright, who has not only changed jersey numbers (he wears 33) but has gained 11 pounds. He now looks like a full-blown Pac-12 player at 6-1, 246 pounds. Somehow he survived as a 235-pound freshman. Wright is Arizona’s top returner (and fourth in the Pac-12) in tackles-for-loss with 9.5 as a freshman and could supply the Wildcats with the type of defensive toughness lacking for a few seasons. The quote of training camp so far, in an article by Star’s Daniel Berk, tapped on Wright’s work ethic. The sophomore said that when he was spending time with roommate linebacker DeAndre’ Miller this summer, “We’d just be sitting in the living room and one of us would be like ‘want to go watch film and work out?’” Isn’t that half of the battle? 

  • Arizona freshman quarterback Brandon Dawkins isn’t getting any reps with the first team so far, but he immediately passes the “eye test.” Dawkins is 6-3, 193 pounds and looks, in uniform, like a young Brett Hundley, who is UCLA’s star quarterback. If Dawkins is able to progress normally, you could project a franchise-type quarterback by 2016-2017. 

  • One more from the “eye test” pool: freshman tight end Trevor Wood. At 6-5, 247, Wood is likely to play a lot this season. He’s the type of tight end, physically, that Stanford has used to rise to power the last five years. 

  • The Pac-12 Networks sent a production crew to Tucson last week to film a one-hour special about the 1986 Territorial Cup game – the Chuck Cecil 106-yard interception return game. It interviewed Pac-10 1986 Defensive Player of the Year Byron Evans, All-Pac-10 rushing champ David Adams, linebacker Brent Wood and former UA offensive coordinator Chuck Stobart. Arizona stunned 9-0-1 ASU in a 34-17 game at Arizona Stadium, which is probably one of the five most compelling games in UA history. The special is scheduled to be broadcast in late October. 

  • Tucson Country Club golf pro Michael Haywood is at the ongoing PGA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, as part of his many duties with PGA of America. He is a former member of the PGA Board of Directors and is a candidate to become Secretary of the PGA.

  • When Catalina Foothills girls soccer coach Charlie Kendrick chose to leave high school coaching last week — he will spend more time at the Tucson Soccer Academy — he ended with seven state championships. That’s rare company. In the last 50 years only a handful of Tucson coaches have matched or bettered Kendrick’s seven titles. They are: Sunnyside wrestling coach Bobby DeBerry, with 15 state titles; Catalina Foothills boys/girls swimming coach Nicole Penkalski, 12; Foothills tennis coach Kristie Stevens, 11; Foothills tennis coach Robb Salant, 9; and ex-Sunnyside wrestling coach Don Klostreich, 8. Also belonging to that group Salpointe tennis coach John Condes, 7, and ex-Sunnyside football and wresting coach Richard Sanchez, who had a total of seven state titles. 

  • After Sunnyside grad Estela Piñon completed her UA softball eligibility in May, she became Mexico’s No. 1 starting pitcher in the World Cup and has since pitched for the Chicago Blitz in the NPF. Last week she was able to join her boyfriend, Ken Giles, at Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Ballpark, where the two posed for photographs on the field. Piñon met Giles when they both played at Yavapai College. He is having a sensational year as a rookie middle reliever in Philly: 33 strikeouts in 22 innings. 

  • Sunnyside grad Michael Smith is back in the NFL. After being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last spring, Smith joined the New York Jets last week. He is one of six running backs on the club. 

  • From the Where Are They Now file: ex-Amphi-Sahuaro linebacker Jon McGee, a prep All-American who played at USC until injured, is now an attorney in Lake Tahoe. McGee became a world-class bobsledder after his football career. 

  • On June 7-8, while he was maneuvering to become one of Steve Kerr’s assistant coaches with the Golden State Warriors, Euroleague coach David Blatt flew to Tucson for the funeral of his father Dr. William F. Blatt, a scientist/biochemist who was buried at East Lawn Palm Cemetery. Two weeks later, David Blatt was named head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. Blatt’s father retired to Tucson 15 years earlier.

  • The so-called Big 5 of college athletic conferences can’t start adding $2,000 stipends to each football player (and men’s basketball players) on scholarship soon enough. Why? Last week, Washington State athletic director Bill Moos announced he has raised defensive line coach Joe Salave’a’s salary by $100,000 this year, to $275,000. Why? Because USC courted the ex-Arizona all-Pac-10 defensive lineman in the off-season. Salave’a, who has coached at Arizona and San Jose State, coaches nine players at WSU. That’s part of the excess in college football. The coaches get too much, the players too little. 

  • If you’re wondering why DirecTV signed a deal with the new SEC Network last week and is still unable to reach agreement with the Pac-12 Networks, it’s simple. ESPN last week released its college football ratings for the 2013 season. No Pac-12 city was in the Top 25. Seven of the top eight were cities in the South, including the top four: Birmingham, Alabama; Greenville, South Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and New Orleans.

  • Here’s an emerging star to watch in the coming years of Tucson tennis: Jamie Schroer. She won the Tucson City Championships in women’s singles last week, even though she is only 14. She will be a freshman at Green Fields Country Day School this year and trains at the Tucson Smith-Perry Tennis Academy. She has been ranked as high as No. 51 nationally in USTA this year. 

  • The Tucson City Champion for men’s tennis singles last weekend was Mitch McDaniels, who beat former Catalina Foothills state champ Michael Lee in the finals. For McDaniels, who is a senior for the New Mexico Lobos and a former all-city player at Salpointe, it was his fourth city championship. 

  • I loved the way Arizona State spun its media release of the ongoing construction at Sun Devil Stadium last week. ASU refers to the project as the “reinvention” of Sun Devil Stadium. It sounds so 21st century. Let’s hope ASU’s remodeling of the stadium offers a change in personality as well. Cal and Washington re-did their football stadiums and except for the pricey suites, locker rooms, coaching offices and some new seats, they look about the same to Joe Fan (with fewer parking places). The one image change in the league is at Stanford, which turned an antiquated 80,000 seat tinder box into a charming (if not full) 50,000 seat theater. So far, ASU has removed 5,700 seats from the upper deck in what could be a three-year project costing in excess of $250 million.

  • On Saturday, before Dick Tomey spoke to about 300 high school football players and coaches at the Coaches for Charity Kickoff Classic Luncheon, before he spoke with about 400 coaches of all manner at Pima College, he visited Pueblo High School, which hasn’t had a winning season in more than 10 years.

    Tomey wanted to see how Pueblo’s new head coach, Brandon Sanders, is doing in his first year as a prep head coach. From 1992-95, Sanders was one of the best safeties in college football, an absolute anchor of the “Desert Swarm” years.

    Few coaches in Tucson have a more difficult assignment than Sanders does at Pueblo. Tomey met with the Pueblo coaches and the team. His message was simple: You’ll learn more from your struggles than anything else. Don’t get discouraged.

    That’s Dick Tomey. Forget his career victory total (183), he was always about people first, football later.

    One of those who attended Saturday’s luncheon at the Double Tree hotel was Tim Davis, who has coached at Alabama, Florida, USC, Wisconsin and for the Miami Dolphins. It was Tomey who gave Davis a career-changing opportunity in 1987, Tomey’s first Arizona season.

    “I had been hauling meat in Wisconsin,” Davis said. “Dick called and gave me an opportunity to be a graduate assistant coach. It changed my life. It all goes back to him.”

    Tomey, who has been out of coaching for three years, is retired and lives in Honolulu. He is 76, looks 56, and has become an in-demand public speaker.

    “I always look forward to coming back to Tucson,” Tomey said. “I could talk about the fond memories of the people I met here forever.”

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