Chance Comanche sits in the front row. He sits, and sits and sits. Of the 1,350 minutes of Arizona’s basketball season, he has had the best seat in the house for 1,217 minutes.
Anyone who sits that long at Arizona usually exits with a quick announcement that he has transferred to (a) LSU or (b) San Diego State or (c) is moving home to Ukraine.
And, indeed, you can make a case that Comanche’s time at Arizona is going to be short.
“I don’t think he’ll ever be a senior here,” UA assistant coach Book Richardson said Wednesday. “I think he’ll be an early entry player to the NBA.”
Comanche has scored a bare 43 points at Arizona. He has not moved from the bench in 11 games. Most UA fans don’t even know what Comanche’s jersey number is (hint: it’s 21).
“When I watched him as a high school freshman at (Los Angeles) St. Bernard’s High School, he was teammates with Brodricks Jones, who was the No. 1 freshman in the country,” Book remembers. “I told his coach, the guy I want is Comanche. He’s going to be the better of the two.”
As recently as Feb. 27, it would’ve wondered if Book had been reading from the wrong pages. But then, in a moment of desperation at Utah, Comanche started in the second half and was a revelation. He scored four quick points and more than held his own against the Pac-12 player of the year, Jacob Poeltl.
“When they told me I would be starting, I had to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” Comanche says. “It was like, ‘Wait, I’m starting?’ I had to justify their faith in me.”
He did that and then some.
In the Pac-12 Tournament against Oregon, Comanche again went from just-another-guy-on-the-bench to where-has-this-guy-been-hiding?
He scored six points in what seemed like six seconds. He slammed a thundering windmill dunk that brought 12,500 people the MGM Grand Garden Arena to their feet.
Now, as Arizona readies to play Wichita State in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament, you ask yourself if the Wildcats can beat the Shockers without Comanche. Yes? No?
If nothing else, he has put himself in the conversation.
Sean Miller talked dreamily — OK, maybe not dreamily, but with a gleam in his eye — about how valuable Comanche might be next year and thereafter when he gains 20 more pounds and plays his way into the rotation.
“So far he’s been like Bambi, stepping up to the water and getting his nose wet,” says Book. “But the thing is, you don’t often get someone with Chance’s size, with his touch, and with his athletic ability.
“I tell you what: I’m like a proud father watching him develop.”
Comanche could’ve played almost anywhere. He visited UConn, North Carolina State, you name it. Even though he is averaging just 2 points, that’s more than his former highly touted St. Bernard’s teammate, Brodricks Jones, who is averaging 1.3 while deep on the bench at UTEP.
Book was right when he first saw Comanche five years ago. The Comanche who grew from 6-2 and maybe 160 pounds to 6-11 and 210 pounds, is growing into an irresistible prospect.
“I’m a different guy than I was a few months ago,” Comanche said before Wednesday’s workout at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. “I’m going to be a different guy when the season starts next year. I’m going to work my butt off.”
This work-my-butt-off stuff gets a lot of play in college basketball and much of the time it doesn’t mean much. The prospect-in-waiting often transfers to a smaller school like so many former Arizona Wildcats. Names? Zane Johnson to Hawaii, Ruben Douglas to New Mexico and Casey Schmidt to Valparaiso.
But none had Comanche’s size or inside/outside game.
“I’ll tell you what he has going for him — toughness,” says Book. “His mother (Melissa McGee) is one tough lady. That’s where he gets it. You can see the flashes. Now it’s in his hands to be more than just a flash.”
No one on the UA roster has a better basketball lineage than Comanche.
His mother, who played as Melissa Gower in college, averaged 23.6 points and 13 rebounds as a Long Beach State senior in 1994-95. In early March that season, she scored 40 one night against New Mexico State and 36 against UNLV three days later.
His father, Fred Comanche, was a rotation player — a 6-9 power forward — for the Southern University Jaguars, a team that went 18-12 in 1991-92.
Comanche’s heritage is fascinating. He is one-quarter Choctaw Native American, one-quarter Comanche Native American, one quarter African-American and one-quarter Caucasian. His mother named him after a intriguing character from the mid-90s TV show “Strange Luck,” an enterprising photographer named Chance Harper.
Now there’s a Chance this could all work out.
In 1991, Melissa Gower was offered a chance to play in Tucson when Long Beach State’s Joan Bonvicini left the 49ers to be Arizona’s new coach. Melissa stayed home, but a quarter-century later, her son is not only a new Chance at Arizona, but maybe, someday, its best Chance.