February’s Fab Five, Tucson’s five most intriguing sports figures of the month:
1. Abram Carrasco, Pima College basketball. Is that name unfamiliar? When the explosive point guard led Cholla High School to a 25-2 record and was the Star’s Player of the Year in 2015, he went by the name Jorge Carrasco.
By any name, Carrasco has become a force for the 23-2 Aztecs, ranked No. 5 nationally, leading the nation with a 107 points-per-game average.
Carrasco leads the Aztecs with 18.6 points per game, which seems impossible because he only plays 17 minutes per game. He doesn’t even start all the time. Yet in coach Brian Peabody’s get-it-and-go offensive system, no Aztec averages even 20 minutes per game.
The Aztecs are so deep that Keven Biggs, Isaiah Murphy, Jeremiah Bailey, Alize Travis and Ilunga Moise all average double figures while playing less than half the game.
This could be a historic season for Pima basketball, but it’s best not to look too far ahead. The Aztecs play at the league’s most traditional power, Cochise College, on Wednesday, and then must play Phoenix College, which is tied with Pima atop the ACCAC, 15-2, on Saturday afternoon.
2. Alex Bowman, auto racing. Yes, that’s the same Alex Bowman, 24, an Ironwood Ridge High School grad, who won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500, one of the most celebrated events in auto racing.
Talk about elite company: Previous pole winners for the Daytona 500 include Fireball Roberts, Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, and Dale Earhardt.
Now comes Bowman, who has an irresistible story.
In 2012, his first year out of Ironwood Ridge, Alex’s father, Tucson auto broker Sean Bowman, successfully persuaded Tucson corporate groups Century Park Research Center and the Port of Tucson to sponsor Alex in two NASCAR events. It was the only way the Bowmans could approach a NASCAR-level racing group and say something like “We’ve got the money and the driver if you’ve got the car.”
Bowman was coming off the ARCA circuit, which is sort of like Single-A baseball. But he got his foot in the door.
Now, five dues-paying years later — he did not compete in a NASCAR Cup Series event last year – Bowman is up front, on the pole.
3. Lake Mehalic, rodeo. The grand La Fiesta de los Vaqueros begins Saturday afternoon at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds, and one of the emerging names in Saturday’s competition is 19-year-old Tucsonan Lake Mehalic, a Pusch Ridge Christian Academy grad.
A year ago, while competing for Colorado State University’s rodeo team, Mehalic won the Rocky Mountain Region barrel racing championship and was fifth in the national finals.
In the summer, she competed with the pros, including Marana’s four-time world champion Sherry Cervi, and earned $1,201.
Over the weekend, Mehalic won the Yuma Jaycees Silver Spur Rodeo, which was stocked with pros.
She flew back to Colorado State for a week of school work, but will return to Tucson in time for her first run in the La Fiesta de los Vaqueros at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Mehalic began barrel racing when she was 6. Sounds a lot like the path Cervi took to her Hall of Fame career.
4. Roman Bravo-Young, wrestling. The ink is not yet dry on the final statistics to Bravo-Young’s unsurpassed 182-0 record as a four-time Sunnyside High School state wrestling champion.
After he won title No. 4 last week, Bravo-Young tweeted “time for bigger and better things.”
He won’t have to wait long for those bigger and better things. He will wrestle for No. 1-ranked Penn State next year and immediately discover the “better” part of his declaration.
Penn State has three undefeated wrestlers this season, and all arrived at State College, Pa., with the type of numbers Bravo-Young put up at Sunnyside.
Mark Hall, who is 23-0 in the 174-pound class for the Nittany Lions, was 277-4 with 171 consecutive wins in his days as a Minnesota prep wrestler.
Bo Nikal, who is 22-0 for PSU, was 183-7 and a three-time Texas prep champion.
And Zain Retherford, who is 22-0, was 130-3 in his high school days in Pennsylvania.
Last week, Bravo-Young was selected to the USA All-Star team for the 44th Pittsburgh Classic, which is wrestling’s equivalent of basketball’s McDonald’s All-Star game.
How good are the wrestling all-stars? They have a combined high school record of 1,848-86 and 30 state championships.
5. Dusan Ristic, Arizona basketball. After beating USC on Saturday, Arizona coach Sean Miller said Ristic belongs on the All-Pac-12 team.
“Statistically, there’s no denying that,” said Miller.
As good as Ristic has been of late, it’s going to be extremely difficult for him to make the all-conference team, which includes 10 players.
Five spots are already a lock, in my opinion: Arizona’s Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday, ASU’s Tra Holder, Stanford’s Reid Travis.
Three more seem likely to make the team: Colorado’s George King, Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle, Washington’s Noah Dickerson.
That leaves two spots for Ristic, USC’s Chimezie Metu, UCLA’s Thomas Welsh and Oregon’s Peyton Pritchard.
Ristic averages 11.8 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Welsh averages 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Metu averages 15.8 points and 7.3 rebounds.
If the coaches take a quick look at the statistics before they vote, Ristic might not make it.
But if they take a closer look, this is what they’ll see: In the last seven games, Ristic has averaged 16 points and 8.7 rebounds and has shot a remarkable 70.3 percent.
If he plays that well over the UA’s final five games, he should join Trier and Ayton to give the Wildcats 49 first-team selections since they were admitted to the league in 1978.