Late last month, after being swept by USC and UCLA, Arizona freshman Brandon Ashley and his mother, Lashiem Clark, had a long meeting with the UA coaching staff.
Concerned about her son's future - he scored two points on the Los Angeles trip - Clark wanted to be assured that Brandon would not be forgotten and also determine how he could rediscover his game.
"Brandon had been more casual than we wanted him to be," said UA assistant coach James Whitford. "Part of being a freshman is learning the intensity of college basketball. A big issue for Brandon was learning how to play hard on every possession."
Over the year's final six games, Ashley was more assertive, scoring 45 points and grabbing 31 rebounds.
Here's why the 2012 McDonald's All-American struggled this season: He is 18. By comparison, UA point guard Mark Lyons, who thrived on postseason pressure, turns 24 in July.
The age difference is monumental. Ashley has played 719 minutes of college basketball; Lyons played 3,974.
Lyons was so self-assured, so accustomed to big-game pressure, that he put up one of the five greatest postseason runs in Arizona history. He scored 73 points in the NCAA tournament.
Only Khalid Reeves (91 points in three consecutive 1994 games), Miles Simon (84 points in three straight 1997 games) and Sean Elliott (80 points in 1988 and 74 in 1989) were more productive than Lyons this month.
Not only did Ashley struggle with intensity and size, so did fellow freshman Grant Jerrett. In Arizona's loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, Jerrett rebounded a missed free throw with seven minutes remaining but toppled out of bounds when he was routinely bumped by UCLA junior Travis Wear.
"Grant is going to need another 10 to 15 pounds," said Whitford. "That play against Wear was a good example. Wear is just so strong on the blocks, and Grant hasn't had the time to develop, to avoid being pushed around inside. But he will. That's part of the natural process."
Jerrett has a 7-foot- 6-inch wingspan and the perimeter shooting touch of a shooting guard. By this time next March, along with a more intense and experienced Ashley, they are apt to be the Pac-12's most talented forward tandem.
Korcheck ready to roll
Sabino grad just finished redshirt year, recommends it
A year ago at this time, Sabino grad Matt Korcheck was coming off an all-star season for Cochise College, leading the Apaches to the ACCAC title and a 25-6 record.
Now he has spent a year practicing daily against Angelo Chol, Kaleb Tarczewski and Arizona's other inside players.
"I'd recommend redshirting to anyone; I've enjoyed it," Korcheck told me. "I've gotten stronger and learned how to play against people with a better skill set. I've learned how to eat better and take care of my body. It hasn't been easy, but that's good because it has been beneficial."
Korcheck is 6-10 and 230 pounds. He has two years of eligibility remaining. He'll turn 22 when practice begins in October.
"I'll be the kind of player who can give 100 percent, and when someone needs a breather I can step in and bring some energy," he said. "I'll rebound, play physical, whatever it takes to help the team."
CDO, Ironwood Ridge face off again in big baseball game
The Game of the Week in Tucson prep sports is probably Tuesday's baseball showdown between Canyon del Oro (12-5) and Ironwood Ridge (14-3). CDO, which is Tucson's leading traditional baseball power, is coming off the Tucson Conquistadores Lancer Baseball Classic title and a victory over I-Ridge last week. Dorados catcher Ryan Bronson went 12 for 18 in the Salpointe event, with 11 RBIs, to earn tournament MVP honors. He's hitting .455 through 17 games. Sophomores Gabe Benavides (.441) and Erick Migueles (.447) give CDO a strong future. … Cienega grad Ashlee Brawley Robinson, who started 15 games at shortstop for the Arizona softball team in 2011, is now starting at third base for BYU. Robinson is married to BYU baseball player Dillon Robinson. Ashley's younger sister, Makena Brawley, has made a recruiting commitment to play for BYU and is bidding to help Cienega win another state softball title. Makena is hitting .426 for the 16-1 Bobcats, leading the club with 22 RBIs. … Scout.com last week ranked Sabino junior football player Andrew Mike as the No. 2 offensive tackle in the West. He has yet to make a college choice. … Even though Tucsonan Shelley Duncan led the Tampa Bay Rays with five spring training home runs, he was sent to Triple-A Durham, N.C., last week. If that's not a role for a modern-day Crash Davis, what is? Duncan has hit 181 homers in the minor leagues since leaving the UA in 2001. … UA swimming coach Eric Hansen is getting cabin fever in Indianapolis. He has been there for 14 days, since accompanying the UA women's swim team for the NCAA finals and staying for the men's national championships, which concluded Saturday. "I don't take much time off, but in early April I'm going to St. Maarten to do some open-water diving and some deep-water spear-fishing," he said. "We've had snow on the ground most of the time I've been in Indianapolis."
More Short Stuff
Slumping Wildcats similar to Kindall's post-title teams
Arizona's 0-6 start to the Pac-12 baseball season wasn't much different from the follow-up seasons to Jerry Kindall's 1976, 1980 and 1986 College World Series championship teams. In 1977, Arizona was 10-13 in mid-March and didn't make the NCAA tournament. Kindall's 1981 team was 14-16 in conference games and didn't qualify for the postseason. And in 1987, Arizona went 13-17 in the Pac-10. … Andy Lopez's club has retained its popularity at Hi Corbett Field. Through Friday (a lot of early-season, chilly night games), Arizona had averaged 2,518 fans; last year's national champs averaged 2,628. … After Friday night's scrimmage in Phoenix, Rich Rodriguez returned to Tucson to play host to several notable recruits, including one named Davonte. No, not ex-Notre Dame receiver/returner Davonté Neal, but Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure High School defensive back Davonte Nunnery, who brought his parents with him. It is his third visit to UA. … Not to belabor the point, but Arizona's once-prominent men's golf team finished 46 strokes behind the Oregon Ducks, in 13th place of 15 teams, in last week's Duck Invitational. How the mighty have fallen. … Of the 14 Pac-12 referees to qualify for the NCAA tournament, five reached the Sweet 16. These five men - Gregory Nixon, David Hall, Tom Nunez, Mike Reed and Mike Scyphers - are thus regarded as the league's five leading refs. Michael Irving, whose technical foul on Sean Miller blew the UA-UCLA Pac-12 tournament semifinal game apart, did not advance past the first round.
Ex-Pima hoops player Harden shines as E. Oregon assistant
After leading Pima College to its greatest season in men's basketball history, No. 7 in the 2010 NJCAA finals, Tucson High grad Jeremy Harden became the head coach at small-school Immaculate Heart High School and completed his degree, in communications, at the UA. This year he accepted the top assistant coaching position at Eastern Oregon University. The Mountaineers rolled, getting off to a 26-1 start and qualifying for the NAIA Division II tourney. They finished 28-5 and were tied for No. 20 in the final NAIA poll. … Before a modest crowd of 4,278 in Erie, Pa., last weekend, the NBA D-League's Erie BayHawks and Rio Grande Valley Vipers had something of a UA basketball reunion. Erie's Mustafa Shakur scored 17 points and Rio Grande's Kyle Fogg failed to score. Rio Grande assistant coach Matt Brase is a former UA and Catalina Foothills player. Shakur recently returned to the D-League after playing in Italy to open the season. … Sabino High grad Tim Wood will open the baseball season on the Minnesota Twins disabled list. He has a right shoulder injury. Wood, who was a Triple-A all-star reliever in the Pirates' system last year and has pitched for the Marlins and Pirates, must either be returned to the Twins roster after April 7 or made available to all other teams.
My Two Cents
Alford hire worthy of a yawn
Lute Olson was hired at Arizona 30 years ago Friday, a certified "home run hire,'' having taken Iowa to the Final Four three years earlier.
Since then, Pac-12 basketball has followed with a Home Run Hire just once: Bill Frieder left ultimate 1989 national champion Michigan to coach at Arizona State.
The Pac-12's last five basketball coaching hires (not counting fired ex-NBA head coaches) came from Brown, Xavier, Northern Colorado, Portland State and Creighton.
Not exactly sexy, is it?
When UCLA hired New Mexico's Steve Alford on Saturday it didn't raise much of an eyebrow around the league, or with his future coaching opponents.
Alford has been a good midlevel coach at New Mexico, but failed in his only big-league job, at Iowa, going 61-67 in Big Ten games.
He won't out-coach Sean Miller, Mike Montgomery or even Utah's Larry Krystkowiak, but Alford will have access to an elite recruiting level unavailable to most of his Pac-12 peers.
His predecessor, Ben Howland, was fired for not being able to effectively manage those one-and-done-type recruits and their entourages. That part of the job, as a pseudo general manager, has become more difficult than the actual X's and O's of college coaching.
In the public eye, the UCLA coaching job is among the best in the country. But in reality, the jobs at Oregon, Arizona, Washington and, soon, at Colorado and Utah, provide a better lifestyle and opportunity to smell the flowers along the way.