ANAHEIM, Calif. — For over three years, Arizona Wildcats guard Gabe York came to know the drill pretty well.
The 10. The 57. The 91. And, finally, the 55.
Freeways, of course. This was SoCal, after all. York and his mother, Deborah, left their home in West Covina every day and fought the traffic every day so he could attend and play basketball for Orange Lutheran High School, while she worked nearby jobs.
Every day, there was the commute first. Then school. Some hoops. And a few hours of hanging out in the evening, waiting for Deborah to get off work and drive him home.
During all those busy years, at the same time, York also thought about playing in the NCAA tournament. Maybe even hitting a game-winning shot in the NCAA tournament.
So here he is, starting for the Arizona Wildcats, and playing an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 tonight against San Diego State at Honda Center, which just happens to be located … between the 55 and 57 freeways, just about 4 miles away from Orange Lutheran.
It’s all coming together at once, the past and those dreams about the future.
“Ever since I’ve been watching the NCAA tournament, I was like ‘Wow, I wish I could be a part of that,’ ” York said. “And being able to be the No. 1 seed, playing next to my hometown, it doesn’t get any better than that.
“It definitely is a nice thing to be able to be out here and see everything that I was a part of for high school.”
There’s only one problem: York has been inundated with ticket requests, or at least hearing from friends who say they are coming to watch him play.
He can only hope they get in somehow.
“I tell them they’re going to have to get their own tickets,” York said. “I only get six.”
Tarczewski could return
Arizona Wildcats center Kaleb Tarczewski has plans to apply for an Eller College program this summer, which could imply he will definitely return to the Wildcats next season.
“I’m not sure,” Tarczewski said Wednesday. “I’m going to wait until the end of the season and sit down with some people I trust, my circle and group of people, and figure out what is best for me. Now is not the time to think about that.”
But whatever he does, it is clear that Tarczewski has academics on his mind. He received Pac-12 honorable mention all-academic honors Wednesday and said he plans to transition from his pre-business studies into an undergraduate business program.
“I’m hoping to apply for the Eller school for entrepreneurship, probably over the summer,” Tarczewski said. “It’s a great academic program and obviously life isn’t all about basketball. You want to prepare yourself for what’s to come after basketball.”
Tarczewski is projected to be taken late in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft, according to Draft Express.
If you find yourself yelling over Steve Kerr’s words during tonight’s TBS broadcast of the UA-SDSU game, the former Arizona Wildcats star will probably forgive you.
He does the same thing sometimes. Just not when he’s working.
“When I’m watching on TV at home, I get really nervous,” Kerr said. “When I’m doing the game I’m just doing my job. I don’t really think about it that much. The last thing I want is for the opposing team and fans to think I’m biased. I really do have to be totally objective and just do my job.”
Kerr estimated he has worked about six or seven Arizona games, with the most difficult ones for him being the first and second NCAA tournament games UA played in 2011, beating Memphis and then Texas in Tulsa, Okla.
“I thought it would be harder” to work UA games, he said. “But the difference is that when it’s an NCAA tournament game, there’s some emotion involved for me.”
Tonight’s game actually tugs a bit from the other side, too. Kerr is friends with fellow North San Diego County resident Steve Fisher, SDSU’s coach. Fisher even asked Kerr to speak to his team recently.
“He’s an incredibly nice guy,” Kerr said of Fisher. “I love the (SDSU) program. They have an unbelievable atmosphere there. I’m really happy for them that they’re here and obviously still a big supporter for U of A and (coach) Sean (Miller). It’s kind of a fun game for me to do.”
Arizona players had less than 48 hours in Tucson this week, flying home Sunday night and heading back to Southern California on Tuesday afternoon, but were glad they did it.
“It was gorgeous in Tucson, the sun was shining, it was 85 degrees outside,” Tarczewski said. “Was good to go home and sleep in our own beds, not be on the road too long.”
The Wildcats even had Monday off. But the catch: In the midst of all the NCAA tournament excitement, UA players had to go to class on Monday and Tuesday.
Aaron Gordon had no problem with it all.
“Got a little bit of rest, hung out,” Gordon said. Now “we’re on the ground. We’re on a mission and trying to get it done.”
Whether UA reaches the Final Four or not, Valentine’s Day is already looking like a major turning point for the Wildcats this season.
UA lost in double overtime to ASU that evening, still trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of Brandon Ashley. Miller turned to York as a starter immediately after that game, at Utah on Feb. 19, and also began playing his reserves more heavily.
UA beat Utah in overtime and then went on to clobber Colorado three days later.
“Sometimes you have to play a couple games to really get a true feel for what works and what doesn’t,” Miller said. “We didn’t play our bench enough. We didn’t recognize the importance of spacing and having another shooter on the court, how that can make the other four guys better offensively.
“I think it was a lesson that we didn’t have to sacrifice much defensively. If you look at our defense, it’s about the same now as it’s been in late November, early December.
“So I credit those guys, Gabe York, Elliott Pitts, Jordin Mayes, they’re the guards that play more now. Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson) plays more, and they’ve done an exceptional job.”