Local Talent In Short Supply In Tucson Past 40 Years

by Ben Hansen | Posted on Monday, November 18th, 2019

For much of the past 40 years, the University of Arizona Wildcats have been among the nation’s elite college basketball programs. The Wildcats have played in multiple Final Fours, produced dozens of NBA draft picks and won the 1997 National Championship. Unlike major programs such as UCLA, however, Arizona is not blessed with an overflowing well of elite local talent in town. In fact, over the last 40 years while UofA has thrived as a college basketball powerhouse, the city of Tucson has barely produced a trickle of local high school players worthy of earning scholarships to major Division-I programs.

Dating back to 1978, when Lafayette “Fat” Lever led Pueblo High School to the second of two consecutive state championships, the city of Tucson – which has a decent-sized population of over 500,000 – has only produced (16) kids who played major D-I college basketball. Of those (16) kids, just a handful were star-level players: Lever at ASU (1978-82); Sean Elliott at Arizona (1985-89); Terrell Stoglin (Maryland 2010-12), and Bryce Cotton (Providence 2010-14).

Lever and Elliott both developed in to NBA All-Stars, while Stoglin led the ACC in scoring (21.6 ppg) as a sophomore in 2011-12 and Cotton led the Big East in scoring (19.7 ppg) as a junior in 2012-13.

There was also the tale of Sunnyside High School’s Jermaine Watts, an explosive 6-foot-1 guard who averaged 30 points per game, while leading his school to a perfect 29-0 State Title season in 1992-93. Unfortunately, once Watts got to college at DePaul in Chicago, he actually mailed himself marijuana to his dorm room and got suspended for his entire junior season in 1996-97.

Other than those guys, the rest of Tucson’s major D-I players were good, but mostly forgettable, including Fat Lever’s son, Anthony Lever, who was an All-State guard at Canyon Del Oro HS on Tucson’s northwest side in 1996-97 before a year at Collin County JC in Texas, followed by three seasons at Oregon.

The current landscape of local basketball talent at high schools across town is actually about as good as it has ever been, with seven younger prospects who project to be mid-major or above college recruits in the coming years. There are two class of 2020 seniors in town who are already college-bound, and they happen to play in the same backcourt as teammates at Salpointe Catholic, about a mile and a half from the UA campus. Those two players are Evan Nelson, who has already signed to play at Harvard next year, and Jordan Gainey, the son of UA assistant coach Justin Gainey. Jordan remains uncommitted heading in to the late (spring) signing period, which runs from April 15 through May 20, 2020.

Over the next three or four years, expect to see younger Tucson prospects like Catalina Foothills HS teammates Will Menaugh (a 6-foot-10 class of 2022 sophomore PF) and Quincy Geary (2022 sophomore PG and son of former Arizona point guard Reggie Geary), as well as a whole cadre of rising stars at Tucson High, including three class of 2021 juniors: Kam O’Bannon, Kaden Luna (pictured right) and Yahir Garcia (pictured left), plus two freshmen from the 2023 class: Antoine Green and O’Bannon’s younger brother, Khalil.

Tucson may never be Phoenix – which is literally 10 times bigger than Tucson is – let alone Los Angeles, the DMV or Tri-State Area (NY/NJ/CT) in terms of producing the most basketball talent, but it figures to make itself relevant once again in the next few years.

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