Saturday musings… As I read about the misadventures of some of the high-profile recruits arriving next year at University of Arizona, it brought back memories of the old TV show, “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
You’ve gotta wonder if these new kids are going to settle in as bonafide Wildcats, or just fall into the less-appreciated category of “Sweathogs.”
If you’re old enough to remember the popular TV show of the ’70s starring Gabe Kaplan – or maybe have picked up reruns on Hulu – you’ll recall the derogatory name ‘sweathogs’ was given to the high school class of remedial misfits that Mr. Kotter was assigned to teach. (The term came from the fact that the classroom was located on the top floor of the school building)
Each of the Sweathogs had their own endearing traits, from the heartthrob, Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta’s first big break), to the nerdy and annoying Arnold Horschach. But they couldn’t adapt to school life.
Unfortunately for the Cats’ coaching staff, there are similarities between Mr. Kotter’s ‘sweathogs’ and a couple of the heralded basketball recruits heading for Tucson in the Class of 2011.
This past week, the talk centered on the exploits of Sidiki Johnson, a coveted 6’9″ power forward from New York. He is one of four high-profile recruits to sign a national letter of intent with Arizona for the coming season.
Johnson is a much-traveled young man. He began his high school career with St. Raymond High School in the Bronx, where he grew up, then transferred to St. Benedict High School in New Jersey.
Then he decided he wanted to play his final year at the prestigious basketball powerhouse in Virginia, Oak Hill Academy.
He missed most of the season at Oak Hill, thanks to a foot injury. When he did return, it didn’t last long. Johnson was dismissed from the program for violating undisclosed team rules. Some reports say it involved a family matter that needed to be resolved, but Johnson hasn’t addressed the issue directly.
Now he’s transferred to Wadleigh High, a public school in Harlem, N.Y. He will complete his final year of course work there, but won’t be playing basketball.
UA head coach, Sean Miller, has tried to put a good face on the episode and says he still expects him to report to campus this summer.
Before Johnson, it was another prized recruit that took a long, winding path through high school and then ended up with a tumultuous senior season.
And this one is expected to be a key piece in Miller’s rebuilding program in Tucson.
Josiah Turner, Miller’s first-ever 5-star recruit, entered California’s Cordova High School as a freshman, then transferred the next year to Sacramento High.
Then he tried to jump to Sheldon High School, but lasted just eight days there before the state governing body wouldn’t clear him to play basketball at that school. So he returned to Sacramento High for his junior and senior years.
He averaged 28 points a game during his junior season and earned the Sacramento Bee Player of the Year honors. But his senior year took a disastrous mid-season turn.
When Turner told his coach he was leaving the program, the coach tried to resolve the issue and bring his young star back into the fold. But, when Turner began missing games and practices, the situation went south.
After the point guard missed a conference rivalry game, the hammer came down and he was dismissed from the team “for violating athletic rules and regulations and team rules and regulations.”
One report indicated the whole issue arose because someone in the family, likely his mother, was unhappy that Turner’s playing time had dropped because of the blow-out games they were having, and thus his per-game average dropped by about five points.
There’s no way to know the real story because Turner isn’t talking about it.
So the Turner family packed it in and moved to North Carolina, where the young man is now enrolled at Quality Education Academy, which just happens to have an elite, nationally-ranked basketball program. Unlike Johnson, he was able to suit up for the national prep school’s hoops team.
Since the Arizona coaches haven’t heard anything to the contrary, they are still expecting Turner and Johnson – and whatever baggage they will be bringing with them from their prep careers.
We’ll have to wait and see if this Class of 2011 earns the top-10 ranking it has been given, supposedly one of Miller’s best ever.
Or if it will be just the first new episode of Welcome Back, Miller.