Sean Miller and his staff hit the road Wednesday in pursuit of the next Aaron Gordon which, even though Gordon has yet to play a basketball game for Arizona, isn't much of an exaggeration.
After watching Gordon on various ESPN and online outlets during last week's 19U World Championships - he was the team MVP - I would put him at or near the top of any list of game-ready players in his first season at Arizona.
That would include junior college transfers Chris Mills, Brian Williams and Ben Davis. It would include freshmen Jason Gardner, Sean Elliott, Eric Money, Mike Bibby and Jerryd Bayless, all of whom who were star-level players the first time they suited up at Arizona.
On paper, you can make a strong case that Gordon is the top recruit in UA basketball history.
When Miller begins team workouts in October, it will be fascinating to see if he changes his style of coaching to suit Gordon. According to Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, who was with Gordon and the 19U team, Gordon "is the best defensive presser of that size I've ever seen.'' Smart raved about Gordon's defensive presence and ability in transition.
Miller's teams aren't pressing or racehorse teams. He is, at heart, a no-risk, play the percentages coach, and it works. He has won 70.6 percent of his games at Xavier and Arizona. Will Miller deploy a trapping, pressing defense to better utilize Gordon's open-court ability? That'll be the intrigue of the early season.
By comparison, ASU coach Herb Sendek, whose dawdling offense has bored fans for two decades, announced last month the Sun Devils will practice to a 24-second clock this fall to make better use of guard Jahii Carson's speed.
Could it be the chronic slow pace of Pac-12 hoops is about to change? I suspect Gordon is as much of a game-changer as ASU's Carson has been.
Gordon didn't make a three-point shot in his European MVP adventure. He attempted only three of them. What it tells me is that the '13-'14 UA team, unlike last year's Sweet 16 club, will be more of a in-your-face than a shoot-it-up team.
If Gordon is as good as he looked in the Czech Republic, and in the McDonald's All American Game, it will be on the opposing coaches to figure out a way to stop Arizona, not vice versa.
Sport on the downswing?
Ex-Wildcats no longer a force on softball's national stage
It is sobering to see how far women's fast-pitch softball has fallen on the national level, and much of it can be traced to Mike Candrea's departure as the U.S. National coach and the elimination of softball in the Olympics.
The National Pro Fastpitch league, which once had 12 teams, including Tucson's Arizona Heat franchise, is down to four franchises. Team USA doesn't include a single ex-Wildcat player or coach.
The NPF used to be heavy with former Wildcats, but now the league features just three ex-Arizona players, and none are stars.
Outfielder Caitlin Lowe was hitting .271 at mid-week for the USSSA Pride; pitcher Taryne Mowatt was struggling with a 6.51 ERA for the NY-NJ Comets; and recently departed UA shortstop Brigette Del Ponte was hitting .178 through 18 games, with just three RBIs, mirroring her unproductive senior year at Arizona.
Who knew that the once-prolific national presence of Tucson/UA softball figures would have such a brief shelf life?
Only 20, fearless Jerrett hits threes but needs work on 'D'
Grant Jerrett's first three games in the Oklahoma City Thunder's summer league last week in Florida were revealing. On offense, he was used exclusively on the perimeter, leading OKC in three-pointers made (eight) and attempted (17). On defense, he had difficulty matching up physically, committing eight fouls in one game and 17 in three games, unable to hold his position defensively and while rebounding. I watched much of the OKC-Orlando game on NBA TV (yes, I know, get a life) and was impressed by Jerrett's body language. He sure didn't look afraid even though he turned 20 a day earlier. … If you drive down Sixth Street near Arizona Stadium, you'll see ongoing construction next to the UA's rec center complex, where a parking lot has sat for 30 years. It will be a soccer/lacrosse/rugby field for UA intramural and club sports. The UA's athletic department helped to fund a piece of the facility to help take traffic off of the school's soccer plant at Murphey Stadium and keep it more reflective of a Pac-12, Division I facility. … Bear Down Field, immediately behind the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, is in the process of having field turf installed, but it will not be used by Rich Rodriguez's football team. It will strictly be for UA club sports, and for game-day tailgating. … Running in a professional Diamond League track meet in Paris, France, last week, UA senior-to- be Lawi Lalang, a seven-time NCAA champion, knocked three seconds off his school record in the 1,500 meters (3:33.2) and also beat Olympic silver medalist Bernard Lagat in the process. Dropping three seconds at 1,500 meters is like a reliable 40-yard field goal kicker hitting regularly from 50 yards. Lalang was paid only expenses for the European meet. UA track coach Fred Harvey says it's inevitable that Lalang will be tempted to turn pro and bypass his final year at Arizona. But Harvey believes Lalang can't match in a pro contract opposed to what his final year at Arizona will be worth: about $50,000 to $60,000. That's when you include academic costs, access to medical care, physical therapy and coaching. "Plus," said Harvey, "Lawi gets all the gear here that someone like Nike could offer him." Lalang is intrigued by the chance to become the all-time NCAA leader in distance running championships. He needs four to tie Washington's State's Gerry Lindgren, who has 11. When Lalang arrived at Arizona, the 1,500 record was 3:39.1, set in 1989 by John Quade.
More short stuff
Title caps strong summer for Ford Aquatics
Tucson Ford Aquatics, coached by Johno Fergusson, Darian Townsend, Sam Rowan and Brandy Collins Maben, won the Arizona State Senior Long Course Championships in Phoenix last week. Multiple winners for the Tucson team included Sara Borendame, Grace Finnegan, Kelly Moody and Zach Hojnacki. Also winning key races for Ford Aquatics were Matt Lujuan, Brianna Leverenz, Kelsey Wuoti and Brian Stevens. It's been a good summer for Ford Aquatics; a week earlier at the USA Nationals in Indianapolis, Ford Aquatics finished second overall in men's national club standings, and fourth in women's standings. … Talking about the seven golf management groups who are actively bidding to take over the five Tucson City Golf properties, City Councilman Steve Kozachik told me: "These groups aren't chumps. These are major players." Here's an example: Kemper Sports Management, based in Northbrook, Ill., operates the Rio Salado Golf Course in Tempe; Heron Lakes Park, which has played host to the U.S. Amateur Public Links; and, better yet, Chambers Bay, which will stage the 2015 U.S. Open, and all of Oregon's Bandon Dunes facilities. … Here's the ballot I returned to Pac-12 headquarters for the annual Football Media Poll: South Division, 1, UCLA; 2, ASU; 3, USC: 4, Arizona; 5, Utah; 6, Colorado. North Division, 1, Stanford; 2, Oregon; 3, Oregon State; 4. Washington; 5, Cal; 6, Wazzu. Most underrated team? The Sun Devils. Todd Graham inherited a strong core from Dennis Erickson, and it'll be manifest this year. Most overrated? Washington. Hasn't it been that way for the last decade?
UA swim team's reputation paying dividends for coach
UA swimming coach Eric Hansen, part of the Team USA coaching staff that departs for the World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, said his team's reputation as a national power has made recruiting less frenetic. "On July 1, I was ready to start calling the top breast-strokers in the country but by the time the NCAA allowed me to make calls, about 20 top breast-strokers had already reached out to us," he said. … Salpointe Catholic High grad Augie Busch, who helped coach Arizona to the 2008 men's and women's NCAA swimming championships, accepted the head coaching job at Virginia last week. Busch had been the head coach at Houston for the last two seasons. … Sahuarita sophomore-to-be Sati Santa Cruz opened his high school and freshmen season last year with an 11-game hitting streak, batting .482 and becoming one of the top prospects in the state. The 6-foot 2-inch 210-pound first baseman made even more of an impression in summer ball, earning a spot on the 40-man roster of USA Baseball's 17U national team, which will hold its camp Aug. 12-16 in Cary, N.C. Not only that, Salpointe sophomore-to-be Jio Orozco, who hit .435 as a sophomore, and Cienega senior-to-be Andre Jackson, who hit .409 as a Bobcat junior, also made the 40-man list. … Former UA pass rusher Joe Tafoya, a seven-year NFL player, owns a Seattle-area firm, Jump It Media, that has been hired by the Seattle Seahawks in an attempt to set a Guinness Book of World Records standard for crowd noise. Tafoya, a Wildcat starter in 1999 and 2000, will attempt to create a decibel level in excess of 131.77 at the Seahaws-49ers game Sept. 15 at Seattle's Century Link Field. I'm a bit dubious about those numbers: Some of the UA-UCLA basketball games at McKale Center had to come close to that level. … Cienega High grad Brandon Burnett, whose freshman basketball season at Indiana State was highlighted by a six-point second half in the NIT against Iowa, has been selected to play on an NCAA D-I all-underclassmen's team next month for eight games in Germany, England and Belgium. Burnett played 18 games at ISU last season and is expected to contend for a starter's job in 2013-14.
My two cents
Memorial today a proper tribute to Metz
It's fitting that late Tucson educator, coach, ballplayer and sports official Dean Metz will be remembered today in a special McKale Center celebration of his life at 5:30 p.m.
Metz, who died at 78 of heart and kidney problems recently, played basketball for the Wildcats in 1955 and 1957 and coached Canyon del Oro into the state baseball finals in 1977 and 1979. He was the timekeeper at McKale Center and Arizona Stadium for about 30 years. He seemed to know everybody; his big, bold laugh and happy face made him a friend to thousands.
Among those scheduled to speak tonight are NFL referee Ed Hochuli, who played for Metz at CDO in the late 1960s and got his start, as a high school official, under Metz's guidance in the 1970s. Also, former Amphi teammate Glenn Ezell, who was the director of the Detroit Tigers minor-league system, will return to Tucson for the occasion. Ex-Pac-12 football referees Bobby Rauh and Jim Fogltance and two-time Pueblo High School state champion basketball coach Roland LaVetter plan to attend and speak about their old friend.
That's a good start on a Who's Who list of Tucson sports figures of Metz's generation. It's a group to which he comfortably belongs.