Kalil donates $1 million

For 41 years, Tucson businessman George Kalil has traveled virtually everywhere with the Wildcats, pouring his time and money into basketball.

“It’s my whole vacation,” Kalil said, sitting courtside before Wednesday’s game at Gill Coliseum. “It’s been a treat.”

Now Kalil is pouring $1 million into the McKale Center restoration project, a donation that UA athletic director Greg Byrne announced Wednesday. Kalil said he has donated to UA over the years but has been prevented from giving a larger gift because his money, until recently, had been needed to back up debt taken on by his Kalil Bottling Co.

Company finances are healthier now, and the UA is the beneficiary.

“I love basketball, and the University of Arizona has been a big deal,” Kalil said. “They need a lot of money. It’s a real battle.”

UA announced the $30 million renovation project in December, with Cole and Jeannie Davis pledging a $6 million lead gift.

Serbian 7-footer to decide

Serbian 7-footer Dusan Ristic is scheduled to announce his college choice Saturday, and the early decision suggests Arizona is likely to land him.

Ristic’s coach at Sunrise Christian Academy of Wichita, Kan., Kyle Lindsted, confirmed via text message Wednesday that Ristic will announce his choice Saturday before a Sunrise game.

Ristic attended the Wildcats’ Pac-12-clinching win over Stanford on Sunday, and Lindsted said before the visit that Ristic had been talking with Arizona “pretty exclusively” and would decide afterward if he would play for the Wildcats or open his recruitment to other schools.

Ristic was a projected first-round NBA pick in 2015, according to Draft Express, but Draft Express president Jonathan Givony said he removed him because he expected Ristic to stay in college for two seasons.

Still dangerous

Even without Brandon Ashley, the Arizona Wildcats have re-established themselves as legitimate NCAA title contenders, according to ESPN analysts Jay Bilas and Fran Fraschilla.

“I think they’re good enough to win it,” Bilas said during a conference call Wednesday. “I’ve been watching since Ashley went out. They turned a corner there, and I really like their team. They’re not a drop-dead shooting team, but they defend so well, and they’re good around the rim, they limit you to one shot. They’ve been pretty efficient.”

“Would they be better with Brandon Ashley? You bet. They’d be the best team. I thought he was their best overall offensive threat, because he can go inside and outside and do different things. He was really important to them.”

Gut feel

OSU coach Craig Robinson has a graduate degree from Princeton, an MBA from the University of Chicago and worked in private business for nearly a decade before he began coaching.

So you’d think he’d be into the current frenzy over sports analytics, and have an eye on the MIT Sports Analytics Conference last weekend.

Not really.

“I would probably consider myself more of an instinctual guy, funny enough,” Robinson said. “I look hard at analytics, but I don’t rely on them to make the ultimate decision.”

Worth the trouble

ASU played on a Tuesday night, then flew home to Phoenix for a few days before having to return Friday. Arizona played Wednesday night, and will have two days to wait before facing Oregon.

Oh well. UA coach Sean Miller said the Pac-12’s media contracts, which emphasize national coverage, mostly exclusive windows and many games on ESPN and Fox networks, are helping the conference gain exposure nationally.

“I think with our new television contact, being on different networks and being a part of the mainstream, a lot of people have talked about our conference,” Miller said. “We’ve been near the top the entire year, and that’s helped. And when you think about the possibility of seven teams being part of the NCAA tournament, you don’t have to do a lot of talking to figure out we have an outstanding conference.”

The big number

14 Years since OSU last beat a top-five team, edging then-No. 3 Arizona 70-69 in overtime at Gill Coliseum

Bruce Pascoe

Sportswriter for the Arizona Daily Star covering Arizona Wildcats basketball