I was very excited to hear the news of Jordan Howard committing to play for Central Arkansas and their new basketball coach, Russ Pennell. Howard has one of the best combinations of basketball skill and character that I’ve seen at the high school level.
I have had the opportunity to interview and talk basketball with coach Russ both while he was at U of A and while at GCU and he is such a great basketball mind and all around person. When he was at U of A, despite all the drama that went on with Lute Olsen coming back and then retiring for good, Pennell stepped in and was a great motivator and the perfect man to step in at that particular time. He ended up getting the Cats to the Sweet 16 that year and became a fan favorite in Tucson.
What has me most excited is the potential pipeline the he could create for valley products looking to play basketball at the division I level. Jordan Howard is an excellent example of someone deserving that opportunity and just needed someone with the knowledge of the local hoops scene to get him that opportunity. Pennell was that guy for Howard. Just imagine the other opportunities for other local basketball players that can Pennell and Howard and achieve that goal.
Speaking of great opportunity at the college level. Few seem to be talking about the job that Jack Murphy is doing up at NAU. He was very optimistic about this season and that was before the “face of their team” for this year, DeWayne Russell opted to transfer. That could have been a huge blow to the Jacks but in the end, NAU still ultimately finished third in the Big Sky conference and had one player emerge, junior transfer Quinton Upshor, as the conference’s new comer of the year and first team all-conference.
Murphy is showing that his philosophies and also his ability to bring in talent is taking the Jacks in the right direction.
I mentioned Jordan Howard above. How about the youth movement we learned we have in high school basketball with Jordan’s younger brother Markus at Perry as well as Corona’s Alex Barcello and Desert Vista’s Caleb Simmons. All weren’t just freshman playing on the varsity level. They were elite varsity players regardless of their age.
I played high school basketball in the state. I had the opportunity to play against Jerryd Bayless, former Stanford/Deer Valley stat Lawrence Hill just to name a couple. I thought the talent then was great. But it’s nothing like it is now. And to see freshman this advanced on the court, tells you Arizona as a basketball state is growing by leaps and bounds.