Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Wildcats have lost way

April 27, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Greg Hansen's take on the past week's local sports news and events.

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  • I made a rookie mistake Friday night, arriving at Hi Corbett Field at 6:45 for the 7 o’clock Arizona-ASU baseball game. The closest parking place was at the El Con Mall.

    The crowd of 5,188 was the largest (by more than 1,100) in the Pac-12 this season.

    The game, a 2-1 Sun Devil victory, typified the season, which has become a colossal disappointment in Tucson.

    What’s wrong with Arizona? It has not recruited well following the 2012 national championship. That’s it. There’s not a bit of star-power in the lineup.

    The UA does not pass the eye test. It doesn’t have more than one or two Pac-12 type athletes. There’s too few 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound Seth Mejias-Breans in the middle of the lineup. There’s no 6-2, 210-pound ace pitcher, like Kurt Heyer, who won 13 games for Arizona’s national title team as much with an aggressive approach as with “stuff.”

    Arizona’s best player is outfielder Scott Kingery, who is probably smaller than his listed 5-10, 175. He is a walk-on. His best offer out of Phoenix Mountain Pointe High School was at Central Arizona College.

    The UA’s top pitcher is Cody Hamlin, who is a walk-on times two. Hamlin walked on at Western Nevada College and had to redshirt a year before pitching at WNC. Now he is Arizona’s go-to pitcher.

    With the exception of third baseman/pitcher Bobby Dalbec, none of the big-name prospects signed by Arizona during and since the 2012 season have become difference-makers.

    Worse, the junior/senior class, those with College World Series experience, is void of leadership.

    Do you realize Arizona is on pace to score the fewest runs in school history? It has scored but 221 runs. It’ll need to get to 277 to avoid being the least productive club in more than 60 years of Arizona baseball.

    Two years ago, Arizona went 30-10 at Hi Corbett Field. Through Friday, it was 14-16 at home and just 17-24 overall.

    There is sad precedence for this post-title letdown. After Jerry Kindall’s Wildcats won the 1980 College World Series, the Wildcats went into a puzzling four-year slump in which they did not qualify for postseason play, 109-110 overall, including the first losing season in school history, 1983.

    But by 1985 and 1986, Arizona was not only back at the CWS, but it won the ’86 national championship.

    In retrospect, Andy Lopez’s total absence from fall training camp, sidelined for three months after quadruple heart-bypass surgery, pretty much designated this as a season the Wildcats would struggle.

    There is no mercy in Pac-12 baseball. The league is so good that any team hitting .285 (only four teams in UA history had a lower batting average) becomes fodder for those on the Road to Omaha.

    For now, Arizona has lost its way.

  • When he left school in 2002, Jason Johnson was the most prolific quarterback in Arizona history. He threw for 3,327 yards that season and, in two years as the starting QB, threw 35 touchdown passes, by far the most in school history at that time.

    But Johnson wasn’t drafted by the NFL. He spent three seasons playing football in Europe and then put his degree from the UA’s Eller College of Management to work.

    Today, Johnson is the president and creative director of Jason Ryan Creative, and, among other projects, is working for ESPN.

    He has produced and filmed ESPN’s new “Draft Academy” series that follows five players through the NFL draft process. Johnson spent considerable time with South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, USC’s Marqise Lee and cornerback Pierre Desir of Division II Lindenwood College.

    Johnson and Lee flew to South Carolina last week to film an Under Armour commercial.

    “It definitely feels like I’ve come full circle looking back to when ESPN filmed ‘The Season’ on us during my junior year (2001),” Johnson said. “I always knew this is what I wanted to do when I got done playing and actually got my start learning from that ESPN crew. It’s pretty interesting I’m now on the other end of things.”

    Johnson was a terrific college football player whose timing — the John Mackovic years — was bad. Johnson won the Woody Hayes Award as the top NCAA Division I scholar-athlete while at Arizona and made the best of his days as a Wildcat.

  • After shooting an Arizona career record-low 42.2 percent from the foul line this year, Aaron Gordon will enter the NBA with a better 2013-14 percentage than just one player, Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond, who shot .418 from the line this season.

    Gordon isn’t likely to improve his shooting percentage simply by becoming a gym rat, tossing up 100 or 200 shots a day.

    He is likely to need his own personal Shot Doctor, such as San Antonio assistant coach Chip Engelland, who was Steve Kerr’s shooting coach.

    Funny, I didn’t think Kerr needed a shooting coach.

    But in a fascinating piece on Grantland.com last week, Kerr said his work with Engelland, first at Pacific Palisades High School in the early 1980s and later with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s and San Antonio Spurs in 2001-02, helped him significantly.

    Kerr said Engelland changed the position of his index finger, and also had him spread his hand wider on the basketball.

    Two tiny changes. One classic shooter.

  • Track & Field News last week projected Arizona to finish No. 7 in the NCAA men’s finals, with Nick Ross winning the high jump and Lawi Lalang the 10,000 meters. It also projected Arizona to finish No. 8 in the women’s NCAA finals, with Julie Labonte the top shot-putter. The showdown of the year in both Pac-12 and NCAA running is set between Lalang and Oregon freshman Edward Cheserek, who is the top distance-runner to enter college sports since Lalang in 2011. The NCAA finals will take place at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., where 14,000 Ducks fans will roar their support of Cheserek. It’ll be worth the price of admission. 

  • Former Pima College pitcher Donald Veal of Sierra Vista was sent by the Chicago White Sox to their Triple-A team in Charlotte, N.C., last week. Veal has pitched in exactly 100 major-league games, but struggled this spring with seven walks and six hits allowed in just six innings. He is being paid $516,000 this year. 

  • Jason Terry is sitting out the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. Now a Sacramento King, Terry, who turns 37 in September, has been paid $98.7 million since leaving Arizona after the 1998-99 season. He is due $5.4 million next season. 

  • Good to see UA grad and former Arizona assistant baseball coach Bill Kinneberg win his 500th career game, Friday night for the Utah Utes. Kinneberg, who has been the head coach at UTEP and Wyoming, is in his 10th season at Utah. Former Salpointe and UA pitcher Mike Crawford is his pitching coach. 

  • UA football coach Rich Rodriguez is one of 12 coaches invited to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Golf Challenge on Monday and Tuesday in Plantation, Ga. His partner is UA alumnus Jack Wagner, a scratch golfer who is probably the top golfer in the Hollywood TV and movie industry, and a regular golf partner of two-time Arizona All-American David Berganio. The winner of the event will be awarded $125,000, which he will then direct to a charity. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and partner Sterling Sharpe have won the event twice. Also in the field: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and partner Bo Jackson

  • It’s never too early to prepare for opening day: UA co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee last week spent two hours reviewing video of the Heart of Dallas Bowl — UNLV vs. North Texas — with North Texas offensive coordinator Mike Canales. UNLV is Arizona’s opening game foe, Aug. 29, and lost to North Texas 36-14 in that New Year’s Day bowl game. Canales, who was Arizona’s offensive coordinator from 2004 to 2006, was in Tucson to evaluate junior college prospects at Pima College, Eastern Arizona College and Arizona Western College. Canales and Magee coached together at South Florida. 

  • Pima College first-team All-America power forward Raja Moreno-Ross of Tucson High School last week accepted a scholarship to play at Hawaii. 

  • I goofed last week when I wrote that four-time Salpointe Catholic state tennis singles champion Kendra Strohm was not an elite-level college player at Texas. Just the opposite. Strohm helped the Longhorns to the NCAA finals on two occasions, periodically played No. 1 singles there, and was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. After graduating from dental school at UNLV, Strohm returned to Austin, Texas, where she practices dentistry.

  • Golf in the greater Green Valley area used to be a mecca like few others in America: it had nine courses on the Interstate 19 corridor and many of them were terrific. But in recent years, Canoa Hills closed and San Ignacio was shut down temporarily. The entire golf industry in Southern Arizona suffered. But now, under the leadership of Tucsonan Ronnie Black, a two-time PGA Tour winner, golf in Green Valley has new life. Black and his partners at Recreational Development Management, have taken charge at the Torres Blancas, Canoa Ranch and San Ignacio properties, and hope to re-open Canoa Hills. It’s the same type of positive development under way at the five Tucson City Golf courses and at Arizona National. Those facilities are now under the daily management of O.B. Sports and playing conditions are notably improved. 

  • If the Pac-12 softball season ended today, Arizona catcher Chelsea Goodacre would likely be the Player of the Year. She entered Saturday’s game against Utah leading the Pac-12 in homers (19) and RBIs (66) and was hitting .336. As productive as Goodacre has been this season, UA records seem out of her reach. The single-season home run record is 37, set by Laura Espinoza in 1995. The RBI record, also set by Espinoza that season, is 128. 

  • Nogales’ Alberto Sanchez, who played in the 2012 U.S. Open, is not in Arizona State’s golf lineup at the ongoing Pac-12 Championships at The Gallery Golf course because of a lingering back injury. He had been the Sun Devils’ No. 2 player until he was hurt in February.

  • After Arizona’s 2011 season, Tom Savage was expected to be battling B.J. Denker for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Matt Scott.

    Savage, who had transferred from Rutgers, didn’t like the odds. He transferred to Pitt.

    Last year, Savage and Denker both completed exactly 61.2 percent of their passes. Their numbers were almost identical: Denker was 233 of 381 for 16 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Savage was 238 of 389 for 21 TDs and nine interceptions.

    The big difference: Denker ran for 949 yards. Savage, who has no mobility, lost 208 yards rushing.

    Yet Savage is listed as No. 62 in the NFL draft by ESPN and No. 81 by USA Today. Denker isn’t listed anywhere by anybody. But Savage is 6-5, 235 pounds, and Denker is a slim 6-2, 185. The NFL is intoxicated by size.

    Ka’Deem Carey, a two-time consensus All-America running back, isn’t listed on anyone’s top 100 draft projections.

    In the NFL, Savage is the better prospect even though both Denker and Carey are significantly better ballplayers.

    Crazy.

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