As I drove away from McKale Center after the Red-Blue Game, I saw Joe McLean, Dylan Rigdon and Kevin Flanagan walk across the street, mostly unrecognized by those who remained from the crowd of 14,252.
My takeaway from the sentimental afternoon wasn’t so much that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is going to be an impact defensive player, or that Brandon Ashley is likely to emerge as an all-conference player.
It was how much the UA’s 1994 Final Four team has excelled at life after basketball. Since leaving Charlotte, N.C., on a warm April morning almost 20 years ago, they became achievers.
McLean is the senior vice president of True Capital, a wealth management group representing more than 175 current and former pro athletes. He lives in San Francisco.
Flanagan is the CEO of the People’s Movement, a sports marketing and apparel firm that, among other things, develops footwear styles. He lives in San Diego.
Rigdon is the owner of Laguna Equity Funding, a mortgage firm. He lives near Los Angeles.
Andy Brown is vice president of A-Team Security in Tucson.
Ray Owes, who did not attend the reunion, is a senior probation officer for the state of Arizona. He lives in Phoenix.
Those who chose to pursue basketball have thrived. Corey Williams, an insurance executive, has made a mark as a college TV analyst. Joseph Blair, who played European basketball for more than a decade, operates his own nonprofit firm in Tucson. Reggie Geary coached a championship team in the Japanese pro league last year.
The personal and professional growth of those ’94 players was most apparent when Damon Stoudamire, once a quiet and sometimes camera-shy All-America point guard, stood at midcourt with a live microphone.
“I played on a lot of teams. I’ve played with a lot of great players; I’ve played with Hall of Fame players,” Stoudamire said. “But the memories — and I hope this current team is listening — the memories that you have of college will never go away. Because if you go to the NBA, you will never get ‘this’ right here. You’ll never get it.”
Perfect. After the games ended, Arizona’s ’94 Final Four team stepped it up.
Sabino's Bushman was destined for BYU
Sabino High School tight end Matt Bushman enters the final two regular-season games of his Sabercats career with 106 catches for 2,476 yards and 36 touchdowns.
That puts him ahead of the marquee receivers in school history, statistically ahead of Stanford’s Keanu Nelson, who caught 61 passes as a senior; ahead of BYU’s Quinn Gooch, who caught 18 touchdown passes as a junior; and ahead of UCLA’s Brian Poli-Dixon, who caught 44 passes and 17 touchdowns as a senior.
Bushman, a senior, announced last week he will play collegiately at BYU. That was no surprise. His grandfather, Nephi Bushman, who became a Mormon church authority in Snowflake, graduated from BYU. Matt’s father, Benjamin Bushman, a Tucson psychologist, graduated from BYU.
The lure of BYU is such to those of the Mormon faith that in 1985, Arizona’s highly-recruited tight end Chris Smith of La Cañada, Calif., interrupted his UA career to serve a Mormon mission. He then transferred to BYU where he caught 1,156 yards of passes in 1990 from Ty Detmer, who won the Heisman Trophy that year.
Bushman said he will first serve a mission before playing for the Cougars.
The next big decision at Sabino is tackle Andrew Mike’s choice. It wouldn’t be a shock if Mike chose to play for Vanderbilt.
Short stuff: Foul shooting a possible flaw in outwardly stellar Gordon's game
- One of Arizona’s most challenging coaching tasks this year will be to improve Aaron Gordon’s foul shooting, of all things. Gordon was a 56 percent shooter in high school. His first two free throws in the Red-Blue Game missed badly. When Gordon’s Archbishop Mitty team lost in a Christmas tournament to Oregon Jesuit last winter, Jesuit’s strategy was a hack-a-Gordon approach. He scored 43 points but was 3 for 14 from the foul line and his team lost in overtime. Similarly, against rival Archbishop Riordan last year, Gordon was 11 for 21 from the foul line but overcame those misses with 21 points, 23 rebounds and seven blocks. Gordon shot .529 from the foul line for Team USA in the World 19U championships this summer. Stay tuned.
- Tucsonan Brent Strom, who helped to develop so many of those young St. Louis Cardinals pitchers bound for the World Series, left the Cardinals last week to become pitching coach for the Houston Astros. Strom had been the Cardinals’ top minor-league pitching instructor for seven years. In Houston, he will join Tucson High grad Craig Bjornson, who is the Astros’ roving minor-league pitching instructor.
- Although he is 27 and has been playing in independent leagues for four seasons, CDO grad and former UA first baseman C.J. Ziegler is once again a prospect. Baseball America last week named Ziegler the No. 8 overall Independent Leagues prospect and Independent Leagues Player of the Year. He hit .318 with 30 homers. “I don’t want to just be in independent ball for the rest of my life,” Ziegler told Baseball America. Teams from Japan, Mexico and MLB are likely to evaluate him before spring training.
- Among the most intriguing story lines of the high school football season is whether Jeff Scurran can coach Catalina Foothills, 0-10 a year ago, into the playoffs. The Falcons are 6-2 with favorable games against Marana and Maricopa remaining. The unknown is that the playoffs are determined by a mysterious Maxpreps.com points system. It’s not a universally-hailed system. Scurran’s Falcons are currently ranked No. 15 in Division III; the top 16 qualify.
More short stuff: Catcher Goodacre, new Wildcats starring in fall-ball
- Arizona All-Pac-12 catcher Chelsea Goodacre hit eight home runs and had 24 RBIs in five weekend games against junior college competition last week. Wow. But the most promising numbers came from Mike Candrea’s freshman class. Pitcher Michelle Floyd allowed one hit, no runs and, most importantly, no walks, in seven innings. Shortstop Mo Mercado hit .529, and third baseman/DH Katiyana Mauga hit .533. Do those fall-ball numbers count? If you’re going to be a Pac-12 standout, you can’t expect anything less.
- Arizona’s 1994 Fiesta Bowl star, tailback Chuck Levy, won’t be watching his stepson, Jalen Brown, play for the UA. Brown last week committed to play for Oregon. The Phoenix Mountain Pointe receiver, who attended Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez’s passing camps, chose not to stay home and play for Arizona State. After committing to Oregon he tweeted, “There are 15 cop cars, a swat truck, and other undercover cop cars blocking my street, and they are all carrying rifles.” Life in Eugene, a college town, probably won’t be as stressful.
- The insightful new book about the dark side of college football, “The System,” by TV investigative reporter Armen Keteyian, paints a dreadful picture of Washington State coach Mike Leach and, among others, WSU assistant coach Joe Salave’a, a former UA coach and All-Pac-12 lineman with the Wildcats. I absorbed the 400-page book in two days. If you cling to the romantic and amateur notion of college football, don’t read “The System.”
- Skyline Country Club golf pro Don Littrell played in the on-going PGA Tour’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Littrell shot 77-72 and missed the cut, but he did beat, among others, former Arizona Wildcat Rory Sabbatini by a stroke.
- CBSports.com has ranked Palo Verde High School grad Bryce Cotton, a senior guard at Providence, as the No. 66 overall player in its Top 100 college basketball players list. Arizona guard Nick Johnson is No. 59. Cotton was chosen to the All-Big East first team in a preseason poll of the media.
More short stuff: Colorado's Dinwiddie views Buffs as 'the cream' in Pac-12
- Colorado basketball player Spencer Dinwiddie attracted attention at Pac-12 media day last week when he debunked Arizona’s ranking as the league’s top team. “I’d probably say we don’t view Arizona as the top, the cream, like everybody else,” said Dinwiddie. “We view ourselves as the cream.” Dinwiddie has earned the right to talk. He is 3-3 against Arizona, averaging 14.5 points against the Wildcats. In lieu of no home game against UCLA this year, Arizona and its fans are likely to anticipate a Jan. 23 showdown against Colorado as much as any other.
- Salpointe Catholic football players Taylor Powell, a junior linebacker, and Justin Holt, a sophomore lineman, have been invited to the U.S. Army All-American Combine Jan. 2-4 in San Antonio. The top 500 underclassmen in high school football have been invited to display their skills and be evaluated. Powell is a likely All-State player for the undefeated Lancers; he has made 9.1 tackles per game, including 14 for losses this season.
- Sad to report that Scott Balko, father of Arizona two-time NCAA championship softball catcher Callista Balko, died on Friday. He was 55. Scott Balko was a determined UA fan, attending dozens of home games even though he was a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair since he was 18. Services are at 6 p.m, Monday at Casas Church, 10801 N. La Cholla Blvd. After retiring from softball, Callista Balko earned a degree in history and now works for the UA Wildcat Club.
- In what is essentially the Ryder Cup of swimming, three Tucson-connected swimmers have been selected to Team USA for the Duel in the Pool, Dec. 20-21 in Glasgow, Scotland. Sabino grad Sarah Denninghoff, Sahuaro product Caitlin Leverenz and UA junior Kevin Cordes were chosen to the 33-swimmer roster last week.
My two cents: Wildcats more talented — but less deep — than last season
Sean Miller’s most revealing statement at Pac-12 media day was that his 2013-14 team faces some significant personnel choices.
“I think we were deeper last year, by numbers, than we are this year,” he said on the Pac-12 Networks. “One of the lessons I learned last year is that it’s such an evolving landscape. You can have too much. Trying to play nine players once in a while can work against you.
“No matter how much you try to make the ninth guy happy, he’s not.”
Call it the Angelo Chol rule.