The Star's longtime columnist checks in with Tucson's newest addition to the big leagues, why Jason Terry left the UA after one season, and why Brennan Carroll has the Wildcats poised to shock the football world.
Andre Jackson has 'really, really awesome' big-league debut
It seems fitting that exactly 100 years after Tucson High School graduate Lum Davenport made his debut in the major leagues, pitching for the 1921 Chicago White Sox, Cienega High School grad Andre Jackson debuted for the Los Angeles Dodgers last Monday.
Jackson became the 48th ballplayer from a Tucson high school to play in the big leagues.
Jackson, who was mostly an outfielder for Utah’s 2016 Pac-12 championship team and was recruited to the Utes by former Salpointe Catholic and UA pitcher Mike Crawford, was recalled by the Dodgers from Triple-A Oklahoma City and had a remarkable big-league debut a day later.
The 25-year-old right-hander pitched four scoreless innings in relief for the Dodgers, striking out five in a 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh.
"I don’t have words," Jackson said in a postgame press interview. "It was really, really awesome. It’s something I’ll never forget."
None of the 48 Tucsonans' journey to the big leagues was the same, which is what makes the process so special. Jackson’s path was fully unpredictable.
He was a robust hitter at Cienega, batting .444 as a senior, and was selected by Texas in the 32nd round of the draft. He passed on the pros, deciding to instead accept Utah’s scholarship offer.
"I viewed 'Dre as an athlete and wasn’t sure if he would make an impact for us offensively or as a pitcher, or both," said Crawford, now a real estate agent in Salt Lake City. "I wanted him to pitch for us a lot more than he did, but his arm was never consistently healthy."
Limited by injuries, Jackson pitched just 19⅔ innings for the 2016 Utes, but he struck out 19 and the MLB scouts were impressed. At 6 feet and 205 pounds, Jackson was a terrific athlete; he hit .299 for the Utes in 2016 as a starting outfielder.
Jackson twice required arm surgery before the Dodgers drafted him in the 17h round in 2017. His climb through the minor leagues took four seasons. The Dodgers put him on their 40-man roster last November, the first tangible sign that Jackson was considered a viable prospect.
Finally, last Sunday, his manager at Oklahoma City told him to get on a plane and fly to Los Angeles. He was a Dodger. But as it goes in pro sports, Jackson’s time as a big leaguer was brief. He was sent back to OKC the day after his dazzling, four-inning shutout.
Ordinarily, Jackson would be sure to be part of the September expansion of MLB rosters, when each team grows from 25 to 40 players. But this year, due to COVID-19 concerns, big league rosters will only expand to 28 players starting Sept. 1.
So Jackson waits for another phone call.
Here’s an update on the 48 Tucsonans, including Jackson, to play in the major leagues:
Tucson High (8): Lum Davenport, Eddie Leon, Tavo Alvarez, Willie Morales, Dave Baldwin, Ron Hassey, Chris Saenz and Tom Wilhelmsen.
Canyon del Oro (7): Chris Duncan, Shelley Duncan, Ian Kinsler, Brian Anderson, Jason Stanford, Colin Porter and Scott Hairston.
Rincon/University (6): Pat Darcy, Jim Crawford, Paul Moskau, Tom Pagnozzi, Jason Jacome and Dan Schneider.
Sahuaro (6): Sam Khalifa, Tom Wiedenbauer, Jim Olander, John Butcher, Pat McCoy and Alex Verdugo.
Amphi (3): Eubiel Durazo, Alex Kellner and Walt Kellner.
Salpointe Catholic (3): Ed Vosberg, Dan Slania and Mark Carreon.
Sabino (3): Jamie Vermilyea, J.J. Hardy and Tim Wood.
Palo Verde (3): Jack Howell, Andy Hassler and Bob Lacey.
Marana (2): Rich Hinton and Ryan Perry.
Cienega (2): Andre Jackson and Seth Mejias-Brean.
There is also one each from Catalina Foothills (Luis Gonzalez), Cholla (Mel Stocker), Pueblo (George Arias), Santa Rita (Anthony Sanders) and Sunnyside (Stefen Romero).
These 5 newcomers could help Cats right away
Classes begin on the UA campus this week, and for one of the few times in the last 35 years, the incoming class of recruits is not headlined by a mega-star basketball prospect or a potential NFL player.
Much of that can be traced to the messy departures of Kevin Sumlin and Sean Miller, whose recruiting abilities diminished because of (a) excessive losing or (b) an NCAA investigation.
The rest of the UA’s athletic department, which enjoyed one of its most productive years in school history in 2020-21, has stepped in and stepped up. Here’s my opinion on the five leading new athletes on campus:
1. Colton Smith, tennis (yes, tennis). As Clancy Shields’ program became a certifiable Top 25 program the last two years, mostly tied to Shields’ recruiting excellence in Europe, Arizona signed perhaps its top men’s tennis prospect in history, or at least dating to Tucson High’s Bill Lenoir in 1960.
Smith, from the greater Seattle area, is ranked No. 2 in the men’s tennis recruiting class of 2021. He finished fourth in the USTA 18 championships earlier this month in Michigan, beating No. 2-ranked Samir Banerjee along the way. Banerjee was coming off winning the Wimbledon Junior championship a month earlier. Shields believes that Smith has barely scratched the surface of how good he can be.
2. Noah Turley, baseball. As much as it hurt to lose freshman All-American designated-hitter Jacob Berry to LSU, the Wildcats might’ve found a suitable replacement. Turley, who is from the Salt Lake City area, was a first-team NJCAA All-American at Yavapai College last spring, leading the nation with 22 home runs while hitting .417. At the Perfect Game Showcase in San Diego this summer, Turley ranked No. 3 in exit velocity while hitting and No. 3 in arm velocity from the outfield, 97 mph. He was also the sixth-fastest player among the 60 invited to the showcase. Turley, a sophomore, will play first base or left field for Chip Hale’s Wildcats.
3. Koi Love, women’s basketball. Not much else needs to be said except this: as a starter at Vanderbilt last year, she averaged 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the rugged SEC. Love could be an immediate impact player in the Pac-12. She has three years of eligibility remaining. Love’s arrival is part of why UA athletic director Dave Heeke last week said Arizona’s women’s basketball team has sold 2,800 new season ticket packages.
4. Caitlin Whitehead, women’s golf. Coach Laura Ianello has been, year after year, one of the NCAA’s leading recruiters in any sport. This year, Ianello signed Top 100 global recruits from England, Italy and France. Perhaps the prize recruit from her four-woman Class of 2021 is Whitehead, who is from England and is currently ranked No. 38 in the world female amateur poll by Golfweek. How good is that? Returning UA All-American Yu-Sang Hou is No. 36 and three-year UA standout Ya Chun Chang is No. 49.
5. Madi Elish, softball. The younger sister of Texas standout Miranda Elish, who was 37-2 and a first-team All-American at Oregon in 2018, Madi has been ranked as high as the No. 11 overall softball prospect in America. She was 27-3 in her final two prep seasons in Crown Point, Indiana, and also played extensively for the national power Orange County Batbusters in the summer season. New UA softball coach Caitlin Lowe has an immediate need for an impact pitcher; Elish’s prep career fits that bill.
JET departs after one season
Jason Terry’s one season on the Arizona basketball coaching staff was surely as much a learning experience for him as for those he coached. His input to Sean Miller’s system was limited; he appeared to be more of a rah-rah guy than a first-year coach trying to work his way to be a head coach. My guess is that’s why Terry chose to join the Denver Nuggets organization and be the head coach of the Grand Rapids Gold in the G League. He’ll get to be a decision-maker and use his 19 years of knowledge as an NBA point guard instead of holding much of it back. However, the G League isn’t known for producing NBA head coaches the way Triple-A baseball is for turning out MLB managers. The history of the Grand Rapids franchise goes back to 2006, when it was the Anaheim Arsenal. The head coach of the Arsenal from 2006-07 was Arizona’s 1995 All-Pac-10 guard Reggie Geary, who is now an executive in the UA athletic department’s development operation. After leaving the Arsenal, Geary became an assistant at Arizona and SMU before spending five seasons as a head coach in the Japanese pro basketball league. Of the 10 Arsenal-to-Gold head coaches since 2006, only one, Sam Vincent, became an NBA head coach. He was fired after one season with the Charlotte Hornets.
'Harp' running UNLV's athletic department after AD's departure
The Pac-12 Networks last week broadcast the 2009 Territorial Cup game, Arizona’s 20-17 victory in Tempe when Alex Zendejas’ walk-off field goal ended 60 minutes of stress. In much of the game, the TV cameras focused on UA coach Mike Stoops in an agitated state. Almost every time Stoops became animated, he was calmed down by Erick Harper, who was the UA’s director of football operations for eight years. After Stoops was fired, Harper went to UNLV, serving in various staff positions. Last week, Harper was named interim athletic director at UNLV, replacing Desiree Reed-Francois, a 1997 graduate of the UA Law School who became the AD at Missouri. Harper appears to be fully prepared for the new responsibility. In his UA career, he was assigned oversight of academics, game schedules, team travel, nutrition, equipment, budget, and facilities. It is a well-deserved promotion.
Brennan Carroll's enthusiasm is contagious
It doesn’t take long to get a read on the energy Jedd Fisch has installed — and continues to install — in the UA football program and to the UA athletic department as a whole. His assistants are messengers with the same approach, and few, if any, have been more impressive than first-year offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll. If you get a chance, search for and watch one of the YouTube videos featuring Carroll in interview sessions and in on-field coaching situations. Every time I do, I feel like I’d like to suit up and play guard or tackle for him. A few days ago, I watched a Q&A session with Carroll in which he lauded the contributions of new strength and conditioning coach Tyler Owens, who worked last season for Nick Saban at Alabama. Said Carroll: “It’s really a cool opportunity to talk about what Coach Owens has done for our group. They’ve done a great job with their body composition. They’ve lost the bad weight, and they’ve added good weight. We can’t ask any more than that. They’re stronger, they’re more explosive, they’re faster.” That’s part of why I think Arizona will not finish in last place in the Pac-12 South this season. The Wildcats are clearly bigger, faster, stronger and more committed.
My two cents: Former Marana football star Sonny Campbell was all class
About a year ago, I was privileged to call former Marana High School football and track standout Sonny Campbell to tell him he had unanimously been inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.
It was an emotional conversation; I apologized that it took almost 50 years since Campbell played in the last of his three NFL seasons, as a running back and kick returner for the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions.
"Don’t worry about it," he said. "I can’t wait to see my friends and family at the induction ceremony. It’ll be a great day."
That induction ceremony, scheduled for Nov. 1, 2020, was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The man who grew up in poverty in tiny Rillito, near Interstate 10 and north of Marana, had spent most of his post-football days as a counselor to juvenile groups for Pima County. He made such a difference in this community.
A few months ago, I told Sonny the Hall of Fame ceremony had been rescheduled for this November. Again, he expressed gratitude.
Sadly, Sonny died at his home on Aug. 11. He was 72. A memorial service for the former NAU Lumberjack football standout was held Saturday at Evergreen Cemetery. A celebration of his life was held afterward at Rillito Vista Park.
Sonny Campbell was a gentleman to the core. He looked like a Hollywood actor. He often dressed like a fashion model. Talk about an American success story.
Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @ghansen711