Although the quality of competition was strained, Arizona's two-game basketball series in the Bahamas revealed that the recruiting polls were correct: UA freshmen big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett can fill up a box score.
In two games, the freshmen scored 63 points, pulled down 51 rebounds and shot a cumulative .616 from the field. Ashley himself shot 12 for 13 from the field and had 17 rebounds; those are good numbers against anybody.
Therefore, in my annual rankings of the UA's incoming freshman class, Ashley, Tarczewski and Jerrett will be listed as a single entry: No. 1 overall. Here's how it breaks down behind them:
2. Bonnie Brandon, swimming. Ranked by some recruiting services as the No. 1 women's recruit in the country, Colorado's Brandon reached the finals of the U.S. Olympic trials in two events, finishing fourth in the 200 backstroke and fifth in the 100 backstroke, less than a second from making the Olympic team in both events.
3. Jackson Willeford, baseball. One of just a handful draftees in the first 12 rounds of the major-league draft not to sign (Willeford was taken in Round 12 by Kansas City), the second baseman/shortstop hit 11 home runs as a senior at Ramona (Calif.) High School and then batted .425 through 47 summer games for the Connie Mack World Series national champions, hitting No. 3 in a stacked lineup.
4. Traci Hicks, track. On paper, it's unlikely Fred Harvey has ever signed a more touted high school sprinter/hurdler than the Long Beach Poly All-American. Her time of 13.22 in the 100-meter hurdles is in the top 10 in American prep history. As a bonus, she has gone 19-7 in the long jump.
5. Janie Jackson, golf. UA women's golf coach Laura Ianello beat Georgia, Alabama and LSU on the Huntsville, Ala., golfer who won three consecutive Alabama state championships, shot a 62 in April (with 11 birdies) and made the cut in last year's LPGA Navistar Open by shooting a second-round 67.
6. Aaron Castle, track. In Newport, Wash., Castle took recruiting visits to Stanford (he has a 3.9 GPA) and Ohio State before choosing Arizona's formidable throws program under Craig Carter. Castle finished in the top 10 in the U.S. junior nationals in both shot put and discus and, at 6-5, 280, won't need to grow into his role.
7. Nancy Bowling, softball. Bowling was so good at Royal High in Simi Valley, Calif., (25-3 with an 0.43 ERA) that she could challenge as the ace of Mike Candrea's pitching staff immediately.
8. Kevin Newman, baseball. A three-year starter at shortstop for Poway (Calif.) High School, Newman hit. 403 as a junior and then turned down offers from Oregon and UCLA and is the likely replacement for All-America shortstop Alex Mejia.
9. Halli Amaro and Olivia Magill, volleyball. Both are projected to be four-year starters for Dave Rubio's young volleyball club; both were ranked among Volleyball magazine's top 50 national recruits of 2012.
10. Keyahndra Cannon, women's basketball. Cal, Louisville, Texas and ASU pursued the San Diego Mission Bay guard who almost averaged a triple-double: 16.8 points, 9.4 assists and 7.1 steals last year.
Wildcat just getting started
Barrett heads list of locals with good shot at '16 Games
Olympic silver medal high jumper Brigetta Barrett took a brief visit to France last week and turned down a chance to jump in Sweden later this month, returning to Tucson on Thursday night for her senior year at Arizona.
"I thought going in, she had a 50-50 chance to get a bronze medal," said UA jumps coach Sheldon Blockburger. "She didn't have competition for five weeks leading up to the Olympics, and that's tough on your competitive edge."
Blockburger believes Barrett can win gold in '16 and '20.
"She wants to win two more (indoor, outdoor) NCAA titles here, and then she's going to be able to capitalize financially on her ability and personality," he said. "The world record hasn't been broken in 25 years; women's high-jumpers seemed to have hit a barrier at 6-10 1/2. But if anybody can do it, Brigetta can."
Barrett is No. 1 on a list of Tucson athletes who project to be on their national teams at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Here's the rundown:
1. Barrett. She improved her best from 6-5 to 6-8 this year, rising to the occasion at the Olympic trials and in London.
2. Georganne Moline. She will attempt to win the NCAA title in the 400 meters in June and then pursue the American record of 52.47. Her best is 53.92.
3. Kevin Cordes. The UA sophomore, No. 3 at the Olympic trials, projects as America's top breast stroker by his senior season in Tucson.
4. Lawi Lalang. As imposing as Kenya's 5,000-meter Olympic team is, Lalang has a realistic chance to be in that group by 2016.
5. Caitlin Leverenz. The Sahuaro grad will be 25 in 2016, peaking as a gold medal favorite in both the 200 IM and 400 IM.
6. Corben Sharrah. Only 20, the Amphi grad stacks up as one of America's top BMX riders in the coming four years.
7. Michaela Crunkleton-Wilson. Only a junior at Salpointe, No. 2 in the American junior 100 meters at 11.75, Crunkleton-Wilson could become one of Team USA's top female sprinters for the next eight years.
8. Margo Geer. Arizona's All-America junior swimmer was seventh at the Olympic trials in the 50 freestyle and 12th in the 100 free. In four years she could be near the top of both.
9. Nick Ross. He finished third at the USA Olympic trials in the high jump but was an agonizing 1 1/4 inches shy of the Olympic standard. He enters his senior year as the NCAA's top men's high jumper with a career best of 7-5 3/4.
10. Sean Miller. If this core of UA basketball players is as good as advertised, Miller is a natural to be absorbed by USA Basketball and added to its staff for either the 2016 or 2020 Olympics.
11. Bonnie Brandon. One can picture her with new UA teammate, Cordes, heading to Rio de Janeiro on a flight with USA Swimming's Olympic squads.
So far, Tucsonan Smith having happy returns for NFL's Bucs
Sunnyside High grad Michael Smith has greatly improved his chances to open the NFL season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The rookie running back from Utah State returned a kickoff 74 yards in the Bucs' opener and on Friday, in Game 2, had five kickoff returns for a 26.2 average, plus a 17-yard run from scrimmage. … Salpointe and USC grad Kris O'Dowd, waived by the Jets in May, was in uniform for the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday in Denver. He is an injury replacement fill-in at center, but is playing for his former college coach, Pete Carroll, which improves O'Dowd's slim chances to make it to opening day. … Ironwood Ridge senior swimmer Sara Borendame finished seventh last week in both the 100 breast stroke and 200 breast stroke at the U.S. Junior Nationals in Indianapolis. She opens the high school season as one of Tucson's leading recruits. … Tucsonan Eric Rustand, who once finished seventh in the Tucson Open, has restored his amateur status. He won the USGA's Mid-Amateur qualifying last week in Prescott, shooting a 5-under 67. He will thus be in the field for next month's U.S. Mid-Amateur championships in Illinois (for players 25-over). … Former UA athletic director Jim Livengood told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week that he declined a chance to be commissioner of the Big East Conference. At 67, the UNLV AD's reputation outside the west appears to be stronger than it is in this region. … The UA's opening soccer game of the season, a 2-1 loss at No. 18 Long Beach State on Friday, was a Catalina Foothills High reunion. Former Falcons state champ Alex Balcer, an all-conference player at Foothills, scored one of the 49ers' goals. She played opposite ex-Falcon state champs Emily Lai and Sheridan Cohen, a UA freshman who played all 93 minutes in her first-ever college soccer match. … Not sure what the UA accomplished by shutting Joe Fan out of Saturday's steamy, mid-day scrimmage at Arizona Stadium. It invited 2,000 Wildcat Club members, but essentially told the guy in the cheap seats that he isn't important enough to watch Rich Rodriguez's first UA team. This is a school that averaged close to 8,000 empty seats per game last year. As marketing ploys go, that's about as confusing as Tucson City Golf attacking its $6 million deficit by raising greens fees.
My two cents
Shooting range of UA's Lyons may give other Cats open looks
The two most telling developments of the Pac-12's basketball offseason:
1. Washington lost top recruit (it's only 2012-13 recruit) Mark McLaughlin, a shooting forward who led the nation's junior colleges in scoring last season. He quit the team last week, leaving the Huskies desperately thin for 2012-13 and certainly no one's idea of a Pac-12 title contender.
2. UA senior point guard Mark Lyons, a transfer from Xavier, averaged 17.5 points during his team's two-game series in the Bahamas. More important, Lyons made 8 of 12 three-point attempts (.667).
That's more three-pointers in two games than last year's starting point guard, Josiah Turner, 7 for 31 (.226), made over the entire season.
Lyons' shooting ability, and range, will mean that Kevin Parrom, Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes should get more open shots. Parrom made six three-pointers in the Bahamas; he continues to re-establish himself as a player of note.
The UA's 12 off-season practices (and two games) were valuable if for nothing else than to restore the oft-injured Parrom's confidence and bearing.