Hall of Fame weekend at the UA is such that you walk into a campus saloon and see Olympic gold medal second baseman Lovie Jung and on your way out bump into two-time U.S. Amateur runner-up Manny Zerman.
You walk into McKale Center, and the guy next to you, in a business suit, not a baseball uniform, is College World Series MVP Robert Refsnyder.
Such was the case Friday when the school inducted its sports Hall of Fame Class of 2012. I've come to know the last five or 10 of these ceremonies as the Testament To All Things Frank Busch.
The former UA swimming coach, now team director for USA Swimming, has put more people (18) into the Hall of Fame this century than any other coach (and that doesn't include nine relay national champions and two NCAA team national champs), and Friday night was more of the same.
Whitney Myers, the 2007 NCAA Woman of the Year, a 25-time All-American, returned to campus to be inducted along with her husband, ex-UA swimming national champion Simon Burnett. Former All-America swimmers Tyler DeBerry and Adam Ritter were also inducted Friday.
Busch was there, too, having flown in from Colorado Springs for the event, which is typical of the support he gave while on the UA deck from 1991 to 2010.
"I was going to go to Auburn," Myers remembers. "I had gone to their camp, it was closer to my Ohio home, and they were the NCAA champions that year."
But on July 1, 2002, the first day college coaches were allowed to make contact with high school seniors, Busch flew to Ohio and was at Myers' doorstep, the first coach on the scene. She would go on to set 14 Arizona Wildcats records.
Long after Myers had graduated from the UA, swimming professionally for Nike, she got a call from home, in Ohio, telling her that they had a guest: Frank Busch. He had been in Indianapolis on business for USA Swimming and, hearing that Whitney's father was desperately ill, drove two hours to Oxford, Ohio, to see if there was anything he could do.
There were tears during Friday's induction ceremonies. Softball All-America and Olympic center fielder Caitlin Lowe got choked up talking about her Wildcats career, and gymnastics All-American Jenna Karadbil was similarly captured by the moment.
I suspect Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez might have had some difficulty getting through what it meant to coach the 2012 national champions, who accompanied him on the floor at McKale Center. But the cagey Lopez avoided the emotions, cutting his remarks to about 45 seconds, saying "a coach sometimes gets too much credit."
With that, his ballplayers and coaching staff were presented with their national championship rings. Talk about smiling faces.
Over 90 minutes, it was again one of the top moments on the Tucson sports calendar, 2012.
Wildcat still unbeaten
Texas Tech runner to test defending champ Lalang
Undefeated UA sophomore Lawi Lalang, an easy winner in the NCAA West Regional cross-country finals Friday, has a new challenger as he heads to the NCAA Championships on Saturday in Louisville. Texas Tech junior Kennedy Kithuka, who, like Lalang, is from Kenya, won the NCAA Central regionals and is also undefeated this year. I suspect Lalang, the defending national champion, UA senior Stephen Sambu and Kithuka will run 1-2-3, in that order, as Lalang remains undefeated in his college cross-country career. … Russ Pennell, who coached Arizona's basketball team with dignity and effectiveness during the Lute Olson transition, had 13 Arizona players on his third Grand Canyon team, which was picked to finish first in the Pacific West conference last week. Pennell's team 19-8 last season, reached the NCAA Division II tournament. … One of Tucson's rankings sports dynasties has quietly taken a step back. Catalina Foothills' tremendously successful swimming program, boys and girls, won a cumulative 21 state swimming championships from 2000 to 2010. A week ago, the Falcons failed to capture a state title for the second straight year. Now, in hindsight, it's fully appreciated how well coaches R. J. Lundstrom and Nicole Penkalski, who built the dynasty, performed over the decade.
Flowing Wells grad Ayer keeps claws in D-League
Flowing Wells High grad Chris Ayer will return to the NBA Developmental League this season, signing last week with the Maine Red Claws. The 6-foot-10-inch center has played in the D-League with Reno, Dakota, Utah and Springfield (Mass.), and professionally in Japan. … Cienega grad Brandon Burnett made his college basketball debut Friday night, at Pauley Pavilion. He blocked a shot and got a rebound in two minutes as his club, Indiana State, lost to the Bruins 86-59. One thing that stood about about UCLA: Bruins coach Ben Howland apparently will no longer try to give talented, yet conditioning-challenged center Josh Smith a starting job. Smith was limited to 13 minutes in the game. The Bruins are nine deep and scary good. … Amphi grad Tim Derksen also made his college debut Friday night, starting at small forward for the San Francisco Dons, who lost 74-62 at Stanford. Derksen scored three points in 11 minutes. … Colorado's admission to the Pac-12 was curious for a lot of reasons. The Buffaloes are nationally prominent in distance running and what else? Not much. But on Friday night, coach Tad Boyle's basketball team drew 10,611 for its opener against Wofford, of all teams. As it now sits, the most difficult road venues in Pac-12 hoops are (1) Arizona, (2) Washington and (3) Colorado. It's nice to add another team to the list. … NCAA high jump champion and Olympic silver medalist Brigetta Barrett was crowned the UA's Homecoming Queen on Friday night. My response: Who else could it be? She tweeted "God is too good to me." Barrett is an achiever, working hard for everything that has come her way.
Pieces falling into place for Bowman in NASCAR
Tucsonan Alex Bowman made his fourth start on the NASCAR Nationwide circuit Saturday in Phoenix, finishing 15th in the Great Clips 200.
It's something of an auto racing miracle that Bowman competed in any NASCAR events. The 19-year-old Ironwood Ridge grad had to hustle up his own corporate sponsorship and, even more difficult, find an established racing organization that would put him in their car.
His promotion from the ARCA circuit, where he won four times and was Rookie of the Year, was like a Class A infielder skipping AA and AAA and starting in the major leagues.
Sean Bowman, Alex's father, a Tucson auto dealer and real estate broker, did the heavy lifting behind the scenes. For two NASCAR races, he arranged for Allegiant Airlines to sponsor Alex's car. Last week, he signed Port of Tucson and Century Park Research Center, both Tucson firms, to sponsor car No. 45, part of the Robby Benton stable. Benton's top driver is the prominent Kenny Wallace.
"It all came together late in the year," Sean Bowman said. "Port of Tucson is a huge operation. They have 1.8 million square feet of warehouse space here. And then I met Alan Levine. He had been involved in years past with Tucson Raceway Park. They understand the value of marketing through NASCAR."
On the ARCA circuit, Alex Bowman won six poles and led more laps than anybody on tour. He might have won two more events but a cut tire and a broken carburetor knocked him out of late leads.
"We never thought we'd get this far, this fast," Sean Bowman said. "But Alex made a believer out of me and a lot of others in NASCAR. We've been approached by some top people - three or four companies with business ideas - who tell us he has potential for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Now we just need a little bit of luck."
7 with local ties entered in PGA Qualifying School
The second stage of PGA Qualifying School rolls this week, and it's a Tucson/UA-heavy field. Ted Purdy, Nathan Tyler, Brian Prouty, Rich Barcelo, Ryan Hietala, David Berganio and Jason Gore all qualified and are entered. It has been a good week for Tyler, a Sabino and UA grad, who made it to the final stage of Q-School two years ago. After he won the Texas State Open in July, the $25,000 champions' portion was not paid. The National Pro Tour organization has had significant financial issues. Last week, Tyler was finally paid for the Texas event and several others, amounting to about $54,000. … Barcelo, a Sahuaro grad who has been on the PGA Tour for three full seasons, has moved to Texas to become a golf instructor. He is to return to Tucson on Dec. 8 for one of the top golf events of the Southern Arizona year: the Ricki Rarick Junior Golf Benefit at the Tubac Golf Resort. Barcelo will be joined by pros Don Pooley, Dan Pohl, Sara Brown, Christa Johnson and Ronnie Black in an event that last year raised more than $10,000 for junior golf in Tucson. Entry information: 1-520-398-2021. … Rincon/University grad Michael Thompson has completed his second year on the PGA Tour, earning $1,408,374, which is No. 60 on the money list. He is ranked No. 79 in the world standings. With a good January, he could jump into the top 64 and qualify for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships.
My two cents
Site of a state championship game is important to fans, but for players, feeling of being special is what counts
At first I was typically dismayed by the AIA, which, as usual, has no fall-back plan if Salpointe Catholic and Ironwood Ridge win their Division II state semifinal playoff games Friday. If an all-Tucson championship game becomes reality, it would be played at Sun Devil Stadium no matter what.
It reminds me of the Amphi-Santa Rita state championship basketball game of 2011, played in, of all places, Prescott Valley. There weren't more than 500 people there for that classic Santa Rita victory.
But after that game, talking to Santa Rita star Terrell Stoglin, I asked if he was disappointed the game couldn't have been played in front of about 5,000 at McKale Center.
"This felt different," he said. "This felt like a special game, because it's out of town, and we got to stay in a hotel and eat at a Buffalo Wild Wing's across the street."
The high school kids have an entirely different perspective than those of us who might feel put out to drive to Tempe and sit in a mostly empty stadium. Buffalo Wild Wings rules.