SALT LAKE CITY - The competitive gulf between basketball programs at Arizona and ASU continues to spread, moving back to Lute Olson levels and here's why:
ASU's leading incoming recruit is 6-foot-5-inch wing player Egor Koulechov of Weston, Fla. His other scholarship offer was from Providence.
Sean Miller's top incoming freshman is McDonald's All-American Rondae Jefferson, a 6-8 wing player from Chester, Pa., who helped his team play for its third consecutive state championship Saturday night.
How potentially good is Jefferson? Arizona assistant coach James Whitford compares him to former UNLV All-American Stacey Augmon.
"Rondae is long, extremely long, and has a little Stacey Augmon in him, that's the best way I can compare him," Whitford told me Friday. "He impacts the game in so many ways: He's long, he can handle the ball, he passes well, he rebounds and he gets steals and deflections. He's not a great shooter, but neither was Augmon. He's just a ferocious competitor."
After watching videos of Jefferson, I initially thought he was a combination of the old UCLA stars, Charles O'Bannon and Ed O'Bannon. Augmon takes that up a notch.
And it's not just Jefferson who will restock Arizona's roster next year. Junior point guard T.J. McConnell, a two-year starter at Duquesne, is expected to take command of the UA offense.
How good is McConnell? I asked fellow UA redshirt Matt Korcheck, a 6-10 power forward from Sabino High School and Cochise College. He didn't labor to find adjectives.
"He's amazing," said Korcheck. "He's a pass-first guy, with a truly great basketball mind and knowledge. I've worked with him every day and learned so much from him. He's a leader. He's not scared to get hit or knocked around.
"He's not afraid to yell at people. He's one of the toughest little guys I've ever seen. Everybody's wondering if he can play. He can shoot. He can run an offense. He loves playing defense. Take it from me, he can play for sure."
Purdy finds success in Latin Am. tour
Arizona consensus All-America golfer Ted Purdy played in 261 PGA Tour events before losing his card and playing privileges in 2011. Last year he earned $24,900 in four events and began selling classic automobiles for a living. But a week ago, the 39-year-old Purdy, who grew up in Phoenix, played in the PGA Tour's Latin America tour for the first time. He won the first event, and $27,000 in Mexico City, and was three strokes back of the lead going into today's final round in Guadalajara. He plans to remain on the Latin America tour, which has 15 events all over the map, in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, you name it. Seems like eons ago since he won the 2005 Byron Nelson Championship. He has earned $7.3 million on the PGA Tour. … Here's a new name to follow in Tucson prep baseball: Catalina Foothills junior outfielder/ pitcher Luis Gonzalez is hitting .500 and has struck out 23 batters in 20 innings. He is a leadoff hitter with speed and versatility; he has already caught a game, as a left-handed catcher. … Salpointe Catholic baseball coach Danny Preble has been using UA signee Michael Hoard as a catcher this year. The former first baseman hit .544 in four Lancer Classic games last week to improve his batting average to .543. … Incoming UA softball pitcher Michelle Floyd of San Marino (Calif.) High School pitched her sixth no-hitter last week, against Narbonne High, but then lost a game later in the week. The item about Floyd that must tantalize UA coach Mike Candrea: She is 6 feet 3 inches tall. This isn't a pitcher getting by on guile. … As a walk-on guard on Arizona's 2000-04 basketball teams, Jason Ranne distinguished himself by being an honor student and, in 2003-04, a team captain even though he rarely played. He went on to earn a law degree from Minnesota and work for the Wasserman Media Group in Los Angeles, one of the world's most highly connected agencies that does business with the NFL and NBA. Last week, the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder hired Ranne to be its director of strategic planning. He will oversee payroll, acquisitions and long-term planning. Not only that, Ranne is now able to go home. He grew up and was a high school basketball standout in Tulsa, Okla.
More Short Stuff
Somehow, 14 Pac-12 referees were hired to work Big Dance
The NCAA tournament requires 98 referees, hired on a merit and evaluation system. Those who knock the quality of the Pac-12's pool of refs might be surprised to learn that 14 Pac-12 officials worked second-round games. Yes, that includes Michael Irving, whose egregious technical foul on Sean Miller turned the UCLA-Arizona game. It also includes some relative new faces, such as Brett Nansel and Gregory Nixon. … Rincon High grad Chris Rastatter is likely to contend for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight officiating assignments this week. Rastatter might've worked the Pac-12 title game last week, symbolic of the league's top three refs, but in advance accepted an offer to call the Big Sky championship game because he would've been blocked from calling any Pac-12 game that involved Arizona. Rastatter worked the Valpo-Michigan State game on Thursday, and Michigan-VCU game … When Catalina High School won the 2011 baseball state championship, a Cinderella story among Cinderella stories, the club's two leading players were Nicco Blank and Robby Pearson. Both initially enrolled at Texas Southern University, but Blank transferred to Central Arizona College this year. On March 9, they shared quite a day. Blank pitched a no-hitter for CAC, striking out seven against Eastern Arizona. He has a superb 0.98 ERA through 36 innings. On that same day in Texas, Pearson pitched a complete-game four-hitter to beat Southern University. Pearson is 3-2 with a 2.43 ERA. … If there was one Tucsonan not cheering for Arizona in Saturday's game against Harvard, it was All-Ivy League guard Christine Clark. The Tucson High grad was unable to watch the Wildcats-Crimson game; she was busy leading the Harvard women's basketball team into the second round of the Women's NIT, where it lost to Drexel 82-72. Since leaving Tucson High three years ago, where she led the Badgers to a 26-2 basketball record and won state track titles in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, Clark has become one of the top players in Harvard history. She was four times named the Ivy League Player of the Week this year, running her career total to seven. She was second in Ivy League scoring at 15.6 per game.
Rosborough has no interest in Pima men's basketball job
To replace coach Gabriel Van Guse, who went 1-21 in ACCAC men's basketball this season, Pima College is offering $16,000 and has advertised the job nationally. It's not a job for every coach; one of the most prominent pieces to the job description is that the coach must recruit in-state athletes. Nothing in the job description mentions winning. It says: "The mission of the athletic program is to reinforce the attitudes, values and overall mission of the college; to promote lifelong learning, integrity, leadership, tolerance, good citizenship, diversity and academic excellence in concert with developing a student-athlete's physical skills and abilities." Pima had a coach with all of those character skills three years ago, former UA assistant Jim Rosborough, who was unaccountably not hired to replace Karl Pieroway. But that ship has sailed. Rosborough told me he will not pursue the PCC opening. … The Tampa Bay Rays on Friday called Joey Rickard, Arizona's 2012 College World Series champion leadoff hitter, to the big-league camp and put him in the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rickard grounded out in his only at-bat. He is expected to open the season as the center fielder for the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League. In the same game Friday, ex-UA relief pitcher Mark Melancon all but firmed up his spot on the Pittsburgh roster. He has yielded just one earned run in nine spring innings. … As the ACCAC's reigning pitcher of the week, Pima sophomore Keith Zuniga finally lost last week, in a 2-1 thriller against GateWay College. His ERA this season is 1.42. The former Nogales High standout ended his recruiting chase; he will play for South Florida in 2014. … At the recent Area Code Spring Exposure Basketball Showcase at La Paloma Academy, two players among the 120 participants had familiar names: the Area Code website said that point guard Braden Miller and shooting guard Carson Peabody were the top performers in the Class of 2020 (fifth-graders!). That's how early the tracking of basketball players is now. Braden is Sean Miller's son; Carson is Ironwood Ridge coach Brian Peabody's son.
My Two Cents
ASU's Carson likely to enter NBA draft
On Friday, UA assistant basketball coach Book Richardson said that ASU freshman point guard Jahii Carson was, in his opinion, "the national freshman of the year." I second his choice.
Carson was superior to UCLA's self-absorbed Shabazz Muhammad in almost every category, especially intensity and a commitment to help his team get better.
Next month, Carson will almost surely offer his name to the NBA draft for consideration and evaluation. He isn't going to grow any more; he's always going to be an undersized, 6-foot point guard with an unreliable jump shot.
But in every other way, Carson is sensational. He is the franchise at ASU and the most exciting player in Pac-12 basketball. I suspect he will leave ASU - the June draft is unremarkable in every way - and let's face it, how many Pac-12 players have been able to change their shooting mechanics successfully in mid-career?
Mustafa Shakur couldn't. Washington's Abdul Gaddy didn't.
A year ago, Washington freshman guard Tony Wroten had a similar decision. The difference is that Wroten is 6-6, but nowhere near as good as Carson in every other facet.
Wroten bolted the Huskies and was the No. 25 overall draft pick. He spent a month in the D-League and now is deep on the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 2.8 points and eight minutes per game
Wroten is being paid $1.1 million this year and is guaranteed $1.2 million next year.
Carson could sure use another college season. But money often wins these early-life decisions.