Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Small number of donors makes for big-time win for Arizona

December 22, 2013 12:00 am

This week, Star sports columnist Greg Hansen dishes on another huge sum of money donated for the betterment of athletic facilities, Rich Rodriguez's juco recruiting, Cervi's well-earned rodeo title, Sean Miller's tireless recruiting and the story behind the amazing Campbell family moment at McKale Center.

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  • Arizona has been able to stay competitive in the Pac-12’s game of high finance because three donors recently contributed a total of more than $30 million to athletic facilities.

    Their backgrounds couldn’t be more fascinating.

    David Lowell, a 1940’s UA grad in geological engineering, who grew up near Nogales, made a fortune in gold and copper mines, mostly in South America. His wife, Edith Lowell, graduated in anthropology from the UA.

    Jeff and Sharon Stevens met at the UA in the early 1980s. Her father was the athletic department’s dentist for almost 30 years. Jeff Stevens made his money in oil; if you see a Western Refining tanker truck on the highway, it belongs to him.

    Cole and Jeannie Davis met while working at the YWCA in Dayton, Ohio. She earned a law degree at Notre Dame.

    They got married, had two children, and Cole left the YWCA, starting in the RV business. “I took a pay cut,’’ he says with a laugh. At 42, he started over, a sales trainee. By 50, he owned Keystone RV.

    The Davis’ extended family still lives in Elkhart, Ind. — “that’s the world capital for the RV business,’’ he says —  but they’ve lived in Tucson for 15 years, drawn mostly by the weather and the city's feel as a college community.

    Much like the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, the Davis’ name will be displayed prominently when the ambitious, $80-million McKale Center makeover is completed, but UA athletic director Greg Byrne says the McKale name will “always be part of the title.’’

    The Davises have become difference-makers. They have contributed $10 million to UA basketball during a period Oregon, Cal, Oregon State, Washington, Stanford, USC and UCLA all rebuilt and refurbished their basketball plants.

    Here’s some perspective: Until the Lowells, the Stevenses and the Davises became the largest donors in UA athletic history, Bill Hillenbrand was the department’s most notable donor. He supplied the money to build Hillenbrand Stadium for softball and the Hillenbrand Aquatics Center. Those 20-year-old projects cost about $3 million total.

    Hillenbrand, who came by his fortune via the family funeral-services business in Indiana, was a college dropout and former Army MP who moved to Tucson for the weather.

    Mining. Oil. RVs. Caskets.

    At Arizona, that’s what it takes to keep the athletic department paying the bills.

  • Moving toward his third season at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez has signed six mid-year junior-college players, which is related to the recruiting shortfall by Mike Stoops’ staff in 2010 and 2011.

    By comparison, Dick Tomey signed just three JC players entering his third year, and Larry Smith signed two in Year 3.

    RichRod predictably sought JC players at the most difficult position in college recruiting: defensive linemen, linebackers and quarterbacks.

    Incoming QB Jerrard Randall, who initially committed to Oregon out of his Miami-area high school and spent two seasons on LSU’s bench, is an intriguing prospect.

    Much like Arizona senior-to-be Jesse Scroggins, Randall did not light it up as a JC quarterback. Northeast Mississippi College was awful this season and Randall was not impressive.

    In fact, in a 59-0 loss to East Mississippi, Randall was 1-for-9 passing and didn’t start. In his last JC game, against Mississippi Delta, Randall and his team didn’t complete a pass the entire game. For the year, Randall completed 43 percent of his passes.

    But for Arizona, signing Randall is worth the risk. Once B.J. Denker leaves the program in 10 days, the Wildcats will join Utah as the two most quarterback-poor programs in the Pac-12.

  • In what was possibly the best individual season by a Pro Rodeo barrel racer in history, Marana’s four-time world champion Sherry Cervi earned the first of her $303,317 in February’s La Fiesta de los Vaqueros at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds. She was paid $2,278 here.

    As Cervi has told me, life on the pro rodeo circuit is not glamorous.

    She won $242 in Clovis, N.M., another $738 in Wainwright, Alberta, and $686 in Belle Fourche, S.D. She drove to small-town rodeos in Silver City, N.M., Walla Walla, Wash., and to Fourth of July-type celebrations in Prescott and Payson.

    But after more than 45 rodeos and tens of thousands of air and highway miles, she ended up winning 12 championships in 2013, the most notable being the National Finals Rodeo, at which she earned $155,895.

    On Thursday, back home in Marana, Cervi posted this on her Facebook page: “Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."

    That old Robert Louis Stevenson line defines her 2013 season, one rodeo by one rodeo.

  • The Who’s Who of Tucson Baseball will be at Kino Sports Complex Jan. 11 for the Tucson Youth Baseball Experience, a free clinic organized by ex-Yankees outfielder Shelley Duncan from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., for players aged 6-16. Duncan has arranged for Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers, J.J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles, Scott Hairston of the Washington Nationals, ex-big leaguers George Arias and Ed Vosberg and Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Ferguson Jenkins to be guest instructors. Duncan, a CDO grad who is the UA’s career home run leader, said his goal is to grow baseball in Tucson and make it more affordable for kids. Information: tybaonline.com. 

  • Defending U.S. Open champion Justin Rose told UK reporters last week that he is likely to skip the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships at Dove Mountain in February. “I think I probably need to recharge my batteries around then,’’ said Rose. The Telegraph of London also speculated that Masters champion Adam Scott will skip the Match Play. It’s already a given that Phil Mickelson, who vows to cut back his schedule by 25 percent in 2014, won’t play here. But Rose and Scott won’t sell more than a few tickets. The 2014 Match Play swings on Tiger Woods’ availability, as always. The ongoing drama is whether he’ll skip golf that week to watch friend Lindsay Vonn at the Sochi Olympics.

  • It has been a difficult coaching year for ex-UA Final Four guard Reggie Geary in Japan. After opening 4-0 with the Chiba Jets of the Japanese pro league, Geary’s team has lost 21 straight.

  • Salpointe grad Rich Ellerson, fired as Army’s head coach last week, was 20-41 at West Point. It’s similar two the other former Arizona assistants who were fired at Army: Homer Smith was 21-33-1 and Ed Cavanaugh 10-21-1 at Army. At 60, Ellerson should still have a lot to offer. He is one of the leading defensive coaches in college football and at Arizona, from 1992-95, and again from 1997-2000, was outstanding. I’d hire him in a heartbeat to run any Pac-12 defense. 

  • Arizona’s seven-time NCAA champion distance runner Lawi Lalang handled himself well at the Bowerman Awards last week in Orlando, Fla. He chatted with ESPN’s John Anderson in an on-stage Q&A session streamed live on the internet. It’s bewildering that neither Lalang nor women’s finalist Brigetta Barrett, the most accomplished women’s high-jumper in NCAA history, didn’t win the Bowerman, which is the track/field equivalent of the Heisman. How much more do you have to do?

  • Sometimes there’s not a lot of mystery to being ranked No. 1 in college basketball. You work at it. And then you work at it again and again. Friday morning, a few hours after Arizona improved to 12-0, Sean Miller flew to Las Vegas to scout the Tarkanian Classic, a 50-team high school basketball classic that features seven of the nation’s top teams. You can be a whiz with X’s and O’s, but it all comes down to talent, and Miller has become tireless, a pace-setter in pursuing, evaluating and signing elite prospects. 

  • Much-improved UA sophomore Brandon Ashley is shooting .569 percent from the field this year, a figure that matches some of the top big men in UA history: Channing Frye shot exactly .569 in 2002-03 as did Michael Wright, .569, in 1999-2000. If you were to pick a five-man, all-Pac-12 team through the year’s non-conference season, Ashley would be strongly considered. 

  • Arizona’s split between its shooting percentage and that of its opponents, .493 to .373, is at historic levels. That’s a 12-percent edge over its foes. It is the widest split in school history, since records were kept beginning in 1950. The 1987-88 Final four Wildcats had an 11.7 percent edge in shooting numbers. Stick-to-the-script, don’t-worry-about-yourself point guard T. J. McConnell has a lot to do with it. 

  • If you are wondering how Boston College wound up with the nation’s leading rusher, Andre Williams, in next week’s bowl game against Arizona, it’s no mystery. Williams moved from Georgia to Allentown, Pa., in his final year of high school. His four scholarship offers were from Akron, Vanderbilt, BC and Temple.

  • Lute Olson’s first two NCAA-tournament centers at Arizona, Pete Williams and John Edgar, are teammates again. Their sons, Mark Williams and John Edgar Jr. are star players on the Chino Hills (Calif.) High School team that took a 7-1 record in Saturday night’s finals of the Inland Empire Classic. Their coach is Alton Lister, former All-Pac-12 ASU center and NBA standout.

  • I’ve been fortunate to sit through most of the magical moments at McKale Center: Sean Elliott’s Senior Day; the introduction and excellence of Steve KerrLute Olson chopping up Duke.

    But until Thursday’s Arizona-Southern game, I had never been moved with such emotion. Such was the emotion when Air Force master sergeant Christopher Campbell was reunited with his wife and two children in a surprise ceremony.

    How did this happen?

    It happened because UA athletics corporate account executive Dana Cooper was dedicated to making it work. Cooper teamed with Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s Nicole Dalrymple, the base’s public affairs officer, for six weeks, helping to arrange Campbell’s early return.

    “There’s so many moving parts,’’ said Cooper, who has worked to honor Tucson servicemen during football games at Arizona Stadium.

    Cooper wrote the script delivered over the PA system. UA marketing executive Dan Heck and John Daley, director of video production, prepared the other elements for presentation.

    At tipoff, as Tanya Campbell and her two children, Alex and Amelia watched their dad in an overhead video message, taped a few days earlier in Iraq, Christopher hid in the sports information office.

    After that it was all tears and cheers.

    Cooper says that in all of his years in sports marketing, dating to the 1980s, it was the most rewarding thing he has done.

    Merry Christmas indeed.

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