Jan. 19, 2005 - In basketball, the "three" is the most coveted of all scoring options. At Pima Community College, the "three" takes on a new meaning as a trio of former Northwest players has brought its game to the Aztec's men's basketball team.
Sharp shooting is the weapon of choice for Dylan Johnson, Jeff Blair and Rusty Mitchell, who bring a new level of long-range bombing to PCC.
"When our shooting is on, we can't be beat," said Johnson of the team's stealthy long-range accuracy. The Aztecs (5-7, 2-6 in the ACCAC) lead the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference in 3-point field goal percentage, firing at a .400 clip.
Before any of the three could check in at the scorer's table for their first game, they first needed to prove themselves on the high school level. Mitchell, 21, is a Marana High School grad while Blair, 19, and Johnson, 19, were in the first graduating class at Ironwood Ridge in 2004.
Out of high school, all three got offers from several colleges to play basketball before opting for PCC. Mitchell entertained the idea of going to Avila University in Kansas City, Mo., but chose PCC and its Interpreter Training Program for the deaf instead. Both his parents are deaf.
Staying close to home is the reason why Johnson settled on PCC rather than attending Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa or Northern Arizona University.
At PCC, in accordance with school policy, all players must hail from Pima County. In theory, that should make recruiting easier for new Aztec head coach Mario Ramirez. And although he didn't actually recruit the three Northwestern players, Ramirez couldn't coach without them.
"I wouldn't trade them for anything," said Ramirez of his trio. Ramirez likes the hard work and fundamentals he sees in the three. The first year head coach knows a thing or two about players from the Northwest. The coach's resumé includes a stint as junior varsity coach at Mountain View High School. Now he takes over a squad of 14 players, three of which hail from the Northwest.
Blair has earned a spot in the team's starting lineup. At the Aztecs' last home game Jan. 12, a 96-71 throttling of Glendale Community College, Blair posted a dozen points and played a key role in the team's second conference win. Slowed by injuries, however, Johnson (wrist) and Mitchell (tissue tear in foot) both sat during PCC's win over Glendale. Both saw time in the Aztec's next game, an 80-66 loss to Eastern Arizona.
All three fit in well on what they describe as a "very close" Aztec squad. The three have bonded over a game other than basketball, however. With its popularity on the rise throughout the nation, poker is the trio's game of choice. Whether it's at each other's house or killing time on road trips, a friendly game of Texas Hold 'Em is often in the cards for these freshmen.
Johnson and Blair played an instrumental role in the development of IRHS' basketball program, which began when the school opened three years ago. After spending their first year in high school at Canyon del Oro, Johnson and Blair moved to IRHS and its fledgling basketball program being built by Karl Pieroway.
"They had a choice and they took a chance leaving an established program," said Pieroway, the only coach the Nighthawks have ever had. "They were a big part of putting the program on the map."
At IRHS, Blair earned first team all city honors, and with the help of Johnson led the Nighthawks to its first Class 4A Sonoran Region title in 2004.
Blair's legacy lives on IRHS in the form of his younger brother, Troy who shouldn't be considered Jeff's "little" brother. Standing some 4 inches taller at 6-foot-5-inches, Troy's game is vastly different from Jeff's.
"They have two completely different styles of play," said Pieroway who has coached both players at IRHS. "Both are similar in that they can play all spots on the floor, the point, wing and post."
A reunion of the two brothers on the court at PCC doesn't seem likely, said Jeff who added that his younger brother is looking at other junior colleges to play his collegiate ball.
The elder Blair believes Troy will make a seamless transition into the much faster paced college game.
"He wouldn't need to adjust much," said Jeff. "With his size he can play the wing. What he'll need to work on is his speed, weight and strength."
Jeff tries to attend all of Troy's home games. As for his own future goals, the business major wants to move onto the University of Arizona once his days at PCC are over. Whether that includes an attempt to walk onto Lute Olson's squad, still remains to be seen.