New Arizona point guard Mark Lyons has a unique tattoo on his right arm: an outline celebrating upstate New York. I mean, who else has one of those?
He is from Albany, N.Y., where he played AAU ball with and against Jimmer Fredette, the noted slayer of UA hoops, who grew up in nearby Glens Falls. Lyons played for one season at South Kent (Conn.) Prep, where he played with backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas, another shooting star who inflicted much suffering on Arizona while playing for the Washington Huskies.
So let's just say that Lyons, who played in seven NCAA tournament games for Xavier, has been around. He is, in my opinion, the top recruit in all of college basketball this year.
"I wanted to wear jersey No. 10 when I got to Arizona but I had to take No. 2 because No. 10 belonged to Mike Bibby, and it's hanging on the wall," said Lyons, who was born on the Fourth of July, 1989.
The Point Guard U tradition intrigues him, although he has never met any of the sainted Wildcats guards.
"I can't wait to meet Steve Kerr at the Red and Blue Game," said Lyons. "I've always looked up to Jason Gardner, Jerryd Bayless, Damon Stoudamire, Jason Terry, all of them."
Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson, and later Sean Miller, began their relationship with Lyons via AAU basketball about eight years ago. It has been a long and winding road to Tucson from Albany, N.Y.
Lyons laughs when asked how he possibly turned down an offer to play for John Calipari at Kentucky last spring.
"That was the hardest decision of my life," he says. "But I felt like the coaching staff here had been with me from the beginning. Coach Cal's a great guy. Who wouldn't want to play for him?"
When Lyons chose Arizona over Kentucky, he decided not to phone Calipari with the bad news.
"I couldn't, I just couldn't do it," he said, smiling. "I knew he'd try to persuade me to change my decision. It was best to just let it go."
Help is on the way
Las Vegas QB recruit solid, but UA not stopping there
Rather than return to Tucson on the team charter from Stanford, UA co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith flew to San Diego and spent time recruiting quarterbacks.
Replacing Matt Scott is soon going to become a more worrisome problem than reconstructing the defense that Mike Stoops left in tatters.
The Wildcats received a spring commitment from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School QB Anu Solomon, a four-star recruit whose team has played a national schedule, against elite teams from New Jersey, Maryland, California and Hawaii. In fact, Bishop Gorman is ranked No. 6 nationally by MaxPreps.
Solomon has completed 70.6 percent of his passes (89 for 126) for 19 touchdowns against one of the most difficult high school schedules in prep football. Those who thought Solomon would be a runner fitting the mold of ex-West Virginia QB Pat White or Michigan's Denard Robinson may be mistaken.
So far, Solomon has rushed for just 47 net yards on 27 carries.
If you like what you've seen in RichRod's first season - averages of 37 points, 51 passes and 551 yards per game - it's likely you'll see more of it in 2013 and beyond if Solomon is as good as advertised.
Marana to honor '68-69 teams that won 4 titles
In the 1968-69 school year, Marana High School won state championships in the Big Four: football, basketball, baseball and track. It is a feat unmatched in modern Tucson prep history.
On Friday, the Tigers will honor that class and its vast sports success of the 1960s, spinning the celebration around the CDO-Marana football game.
Those who plan to return include former Atlanta Falcons running back Sonny Campbell, ex-Cincinnati Bengals running back Paul Robinson, state championship coaches Norm Patton and Joe Acker, and some of the most notable athletes in Southern Arizona history: Leroy Peoples, Ray Alexander, Cleo Robinson and Jerry Robinson.
In the '68-69 season, Marana was undefeated in football, 11-0, and basketball, 24-0.
Two UA distance runners rank at top of NCAA elite
Arizona sophomore Lawi Lalang remains undefeated in his cross country career, 8-0, after winning Friday against an elite-field of 45 teams and 210 runners in Madison, Wis. Last year, winning the NCAA title, Lalang won by an average of 22.5 seconds. This year, with UA senior Stephen Sambu probably the No. 2 runner in the NCAA, Lalang has averaged 26 seconds in his victories against everybody but Sambu, who has been within four seconds of Lalang in each race. Talk about a 1-2 punch. … Sabino grad J.J. Hardy had his career moment with a run-scoring double to beat the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League division series Thursday. The Orioles shortstop is engaged to ex-UA and Marana High softball standout Adrienne Acton. How they met is classic: Hardy saw Acton on TV when Arizona was playing at the College World Series in 2007. The next day he phoned the UA softball office and asked if he could arrange to call/meet her. It helps to be a big-league shortstop before you try something like that. … After being released by a team in Hungary, ex- UA point guard Josiah Turner has found work: He signed to play for the Halifax Rainmen of the National Basketball League of Canada. That's quite a come down from a former top-20 recruit who now will play in a league that includes the Saint John Mill Rats and the Moncton Miracles.
More short stuff
Baseball scrapbooks reveal College World Series changes
UA baseball coach Andy Lopez and his wife, Linda, put together a scrapbook of the Wildcats' 2012 College World Series championship and found it much different than the one Linda made from Pepperdine's 1992 national title season. "The TV and media coverage is so much more now," said Lopez. "Now it's like a rock concert, with fireworks, ESPN and 25,000 people in the ballpark. In 1992 it was just a baseball game." … One of the top high school baseball pitchers in Tucson history, Tavo Alvarez, was back in Tucson last week as the pitching coach for Obregon in the Mexican Baseball Fiesta. Alvarez, now 40, pitched Tucson High to the state title in 1988 in one of the most dominating seasons in Arizona prep history. He was a second-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos. … Flowing Wells grad Tara Erdmann, the most accomplished female distance runner in Tucson history, completed her season last week by finishing third in the Tufts 10K, one of the top U.S. distance races of the fall. Erdmann earned $4,400 in her first pro race in America and now begins preparation for the 2016 Olympic trials as the only female runner in the Nike-based Oregon Project. … Tucson golfers David McDaniel of CDO, Nathan Tyler of Sabino and Tyler Neal of Sahuaro begin PGA Tour Qualifying School competition this week. Tyler had a notable year on the National Pro Golf Tour, earning $67,990. … The Pima County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held next Sunday, a 16-member class that is about as good as it gets, with ex-major league shortstop Sammy Khalifa, auto racing legend Carlos Serrano and state championship coaches Dwight Rees, Kelly Fowler, Tony Morales and Julie Walters, among others. One intriguing honoree is Edward "Buddy" Doolen, who is on the short-list of greatest-athletes-ever from Pima County. Buddy won the state title in the decathlon at Catalina High, was a starting guard for the UA basketball team and started in the secondary for the UA football team. He went on to win 381 games as the head basketball coach at Mesa Westwood High School. Doolen is the son of five-time Tucson High state championship basketball coach B.C. "Bud" Doolen, after whom Doolen Middle School is named. Every spring, at commencement, Buddy drives to Tucson to speak, taking the opportunity to remind students and faculty about his father, who died as a relatively young man in 1955. ... The Diamondbacks last week released former Catalina High and Pima College outfielder Shaun Cooper, who hit .213 for Yakima in Class A-Short Season. Cooper struck out 67 times in 67 games.
My two cents
Golf industry still struggling; will anyone find a solution?
The troubled Southern Arizona golf industry continues to change at all levels.
Last week, The Gallery Golf Club, Dove Mountain, which played host to the 2007 and 2008 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, reshuffled at the top and will now be managed by Troon Golf, a global golf management group that operates 18 courses in Arizona, including La Paloma and the under-construction Sewailo Golf Club adjacent to Casino del Sol. That course is to open in 2013.
Where will the players come from? The local golf industry, and especially the IRI Golf group, is on fumes.
The Gallery Golf Club's long-private south course will be available for public daily fee golf. The north course, gem of the Gallery's 36 holes, will at this time remain private for the 380 Gallery members.
Dove Mountain's shakeup hit all three courses: Heritage Highlands will now be known as The Highlands at Dove Mountain, in a rebranding campaign. And the Ritz-Carlton course, host of the Match Play, is being sold to a Texas firm.
The future of the five struggling Tucson City golf courses remains unsettled.
Republican City Councilman Steve Kozachik said the courses can't be sold because of deed restrictions. Finding a business model that works - leasing to a private operator, for example - is under study.
"I suspect the answer will fall in some sort of public/private partnership where investors take on the downside risk of operating the courses," Kozachik said. "But the city has to retain ownership to fulfill legal commitments that were made when the land was originally purchased. Because of those commitments, it's not as simple as just selling the land and building condos."
The city's first concession to economic woes: The fairways at El Rio and Fred Enke won't be overseeded this fall and winter. Could the worst be yet to come?