The Star's longtime columnist checks in with a look at the highest-paid ex-Wildcats in professional sports, and why Aaron Gordon and Lauri Markkanen are now among them; Manny Barreda's long path to the big leagues; and why Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff's visit to Tucson is a change from the imperious Larry Scott.
Ex-Cat Aaron Gordon beats system with new deal
Sean Elliott was paid $42.4 million in his 12-year NBA career, peaking in 1999-2000 with a $5.4 million salary. It’s not that Elliott wasn’t paid commensurate to his All-Star ability, but the best basketball player in Arizona history soon won’t be among the 10 highest paid ex-Wildcats.
Not that $42.4 million isn’t enough to buy groceries for a lifetime, but the skyrocketing era of NBA salaries began when Elliott retired 20 years ago.
In the last few weeks, one-and-done Arizona players Lauri Markkanen and Aaron Gordon agreed to contract extensions of $67 million and $92 million, respectively, and although both are skilled NBA starters, they are not All-Stars and not even close to franchise players in the NBA.
Until now, Gordon has been paid $77.6 million by the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets. If he stays active through his contract extension, he will have been paid $165.6 million when his contract expires in four years. He will only be 30. Unless he is surpassed someday by Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton — Ayton has been paid $27.7 million through three seasons — Gordon will become the highest-paid ex-Wildcat in any sport. More than Annika Sorenstam. More than Rob Gronkowski. More than 36-year-old Mark Melancon, a San Diego Padres reliever who currently leads the MLB in saves.
Talk about good timing. If someone like Chris Mills came along now, he would surely surpass Gordon’s projected $165.6 million. Mills, the 1993 Pac-10 Player of the year, was a better basketball player than Gordon. Mills was the equivalent to a five-tool baseball player: He could shoot, rebound, was a defensive force, a strong ball handler and a skilled passer. More importantly, Mills wanted the ball at crunch time.
Gordon is more like a two-tool player: He is a terrific on-ball defensive player and a good rebounder. But he isn’t a reliable shooter. He’s not a go-to guy.
Mills earned $37.6 million in his NBA career, playing mostly for bottom-feeders in Cleveland and Golden State.
When Gordon’s $92 million extension was announced last week, Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla wrote: “Even by today’s crazy economic standards, there’s no way a player of Gordon’s skill set is worth an average annual salary in excess of $20 million.”
Gordon averaged 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game for the Nuggets last year.
“The laid-back Gordon seems more comfortable when performing one step out of the spotlight,” wrote Kiszla, whose point was that the Nuggets are a strong contender for the 2021-22 NBA championship and couldn’t afford to let Gordon walk, thereby risking team chemistry.
Here’s a list of the 10 highest-paid ex-Wildcat basketball players with contract extensions included, according to basketball-reference.com:
- Andre Iguodala: $184.3 million
- Aaron Gordon: $165.6 million
- Gilbert Arenas: $163.4 million
- Richard Jefferson: $116.1 million
- Jason Terry: $108.2 million
- Mike Bibby: $107.1 million
- Damon Stoudamire: $99.6 million
- Lauri Markkanen: $86.2 million
- Channing Frye: $68.9 million
- Solomon Hill: $56.5 million
Gordon might be one of the elite dunkers in basketball history; that’s his reputation. But his career scoring average is 12.7 points per game, and he only averages 28 minutes per game — meaning he spends 20 minutes per game on the bench.
If you can get $165 million for those numbers, you have beaten the system.
Ex-Lancer, Wildcat Trevor Werbylo makes PGA Tour debut
Four months after leading Arizona to its first Pac-12 men’s golf championship in 16 years, Salpointe Catholic High School grad Trevor Werbylo was on the PGA Tour, debuting in the ongoing Fortinet Championship in Napa, California.
Werbylo didn’t make the cut; he shot rounds of 73 and 75, but that’s not the point. It’s that he produced such a remarkable summer as the points leader on the PGA Tour’s Forme Tour — the equivalent of baseball’s Double-A — that he was signed by the Sportfive agency, which worked to get him a sponsor’s exemption at the Fortinet Championship. Among others, Sportfive represents golfers Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, as well as NFL standouts Christian McCaffrey and Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack.
Werbylo earned $39,800 in three months on the Forme Tour, No. 2 overall, and finished in the top 10 three times with a 68.59 scoring average. That earned him one of five available spots on the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour, which is the equivalent of baseball’s Triple-A league. Werbylo won the Fuzzy Zoeller Classic in Indiana in August.
As Werbylo put together his summer to remember, he got help from his father, Roger Werbylo, former state championship baseball coach at Canyon del Oro High School who periodically served as Trevor’s caddy while on the Forme Tour. In his PGA Tour debut, Trevor’s girlfriend, UA grad Dani Niichel, was his caddy. The 2022 Korn Ferry Tour begins Jan. 16 in the Bahamas.
Sahuarita grad Manny Barreda's long wait pays off
Manny Barreda graduated from Sahuarita High School in 2007; a few days later was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 12th round. Finally, two weeks ago, Barreda reached the big leagues, earning the win in the Baltimore Orioles’ victory over Kansas City.
Talk about a long journey. Barreda pitched in 492 minor-league games over the years, including multiple stints with Mexican League teams in Culiacan, Tijuana and Los Mochis. When he was summoned by Baltimore on Sept. 8, Barreda became the 49th high school baseball player from the greater Tucson area to reach the big leagues.
Barreda required a longer pay-your-dues stretch of any of those 49. He was 32 years and 345 days old when he stepped on the mound for the Orioles. Previously, Sahuaro High School grad Jim Olander required the longest climb to the big leagues. He made his debut for Milwaukee in 1991 when he was 28 years and 211 days old.
If anyone knows how fleeting success in professional baseball can be, it is Barreda. Four days after he pitched a hitless inning in relief, Barreda was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk by the Orioles.
Tucson golfers head to Pebble Beach
Tucson golfers Nathan Romero, a junior at Marana High School, and Jake Myre, a junior at Sahuaro High School, have earned a spot in the PGA Tour Champions PURE Insurance tournament this week at Pebble Beach.
Romero and Myre will join defending champion Jim Furyk, an Arizona alumnus, in the 81-team field as the junior golfers from the vast First Tee of America program will each be matched with a pro for the three-day event. In 2014, Canyon del Oro High School senior Chris Meyers won the junior championship in the same pro-am event.
Romero, who has been part of the First Tee of Tucson program for seven years, and Myre, who has been with the First Tee program for nine years, both are scratch players with 0 handicaps.
Before they left for Pebble Beach, Romero and Myre worked with Tucson’s two-time PGA Tour champion Don Pooley, winner of the 2001 U.S. Senior Open, at the El Rio Golf Course. Pooley spent time with Romero and Myre on Friday to help prep them for the three-day event that will be televised by Golf Channel.
Ex-Cat Hicham El-Mashtoub dies at 49
Sad news: Hicham El-Mashtoub, who started 22 games at center for Arizona’s 1993 and 1994 Desert Swarm football teams, died of cancer last week in Quebec. El-Mashtoub was 49. Even more tragically, he is the sixth starter from the 1994 Arizona Freedom Bowl football team to die, along with guard Warner Smith, linebacker Akil Jackson, tackle Pulu Poumele and defensive linemen Chuck Osborne and Jim Hoffman. El-Mashtoub is survived by three children.
UA running standout has famous bloodlines
Here’s a name to follow: Grace Driskill. The UA redshirt freshman distance runner finished third in Saturday’s 40th annual UC Riverside cross country invitational in California. Driskill, who was a standout runner at Rincon/University High School, is the niece of Amy Skieresz Wilson, who is the most honored female distance runner in UA history. From 1995-99, Wilson won seven NCAA championships at Arizona, and in 1997-98 was named the NCAA Track and Field athlete of the year. Wilson, who is married with three children, lives in Palm Desert, California.
UA coaches Chip Hale, Tommy Lloyd will be part of D-backs broadcasts
Two of Arizona’s first-year head coaches will be featured on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ “D-Backs Live” pregame show this week. Baseball coach Chip Hale will be program host Todd Walsh’s guest at 6 p.m. Tuesday prior to Arizona’s game against Atlanta on Bally Sports Arizona. On Thursday, new UA basketball coach Tommy Lloyd will be Walsh’s guest for 30 minutes prior to the Atlanta game, also on Bally Sports. Lloyd’s appearance will begin at noon.
Swimmers praise ex-coach Frank Busch at HOF ceremony
At the UA’s Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies last week, All-American swimmer Annie Chandler Grevers delivered a wonderful acceptance speech in which she termed her four seasons under former UA coach Frank Busch as a period of “imperishable confidence.” Said Grevers, who is married to four-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Matt Grevers: “I remember the reverence of wearing the UA’s cactus logo on our swim caps. The energy on our deck was contagious.” Grevers was a key part of Arizona’s epic 2008 sweep of the NCAA’s men’s and women’s national championships over an eight-day period. “When we finally captured the national title, I saw moisture in (Busch’s) stoic eyes. I saw tears of joy and exuberance in our parents sitting in the stands.” Grevers’ contemporary, men’s All-American swimmer Jean Basson, was inducted into the UA Sports Hall of Fame the same night. He, too, spoke of his UA days with respect, saying that “I felt more proud representing the UA than I did at the Olympics” while competing for South Africa.
Ex-Panther Tim Derksen finds new overseas team
Amphitheater High School grad Tim Derksen, the state’s 2011 basketball player of the year, is beginning his sixth season of EuroLeague basketball. Derksen, who was MVP of the Switzerland Pro league last season, has changed teams and will play for the Antibes Sharks in France. Derksen has already played in Spain, Slovakia and Switzerland.
My two cents: New Pac-12 commish George Kliavkoff strikes refreshing tone during Tucson visit
When new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff spent two days on the UA campus last week, it was totally unlike his predecessor, Larry Scott, who made his initial visit to Tucson in 2009.
Scott arrived on a private jet, with a chauffeur, presenting himself as a newly-crowned emperor, separated from media and others by a public relations escort and then sneaking out of Arizona Stadium at halftime of a UA football game. Kliavkoff spent time with almost every UA head coach, speaking at length with UA athletes and sitting down for a 30-minute press conference.
Kliavkoff has now visited 10 Pac-12 schools in a six-week period. He is engaging and seems determined to change the league’s image. He hustled from Tucson to Colorado and was on the sideline, taking a video of Ralphie the Buffalo’s run around Folsom Field at the outset of Saturday’s CU-Minnesota game.
That sort of connection to the public was not part of Scott’s playbook.
In accord with the league’s athletic directors, Kliavkoff will eliminate one conference football game per team, per year. That means the Wildcats will play just eight Pac-12 games, as well as one against a Big Ten team and one against an ACC team each season.
On paper, the first instinct is that Arizona’s football schedule will soon become more difficult than ever, even if it is bracketed against an Indiana or Maryland from the Big Ten, and a North Carolina State or a Georgia Tech from the ACC.
The last thing Arizona’s struggling football program needs is a more difficult non-league schedule, especially with future games against Mississippi State, BYU, Kansas State and Alabama — yes, Alabama, a home-and-home schedule in 2032 and 2033 — already scheduled.
But by 2032, that’ll probably be the problem of another athletic director and another head coach.
Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711