Hi 91 / Lo 76
|Volume 68, Issue 158,
Monday, July 21, 2003
Debut plays huge dividends to UH
UH has had a strong connection with all the major pro leagues. Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were honored as three of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1996. Carl Lewis is arguably the greatest American athlete ever. The PGA is littered with former Cougar golfers -- Fred Couples and Bruce Lietzke ust to name a couple. Football has two of the biggest first-round busts in recent history (former quarterbacks Andre Ware and David Klinger) but even their lack of success can be deemed positive.
That's great. Most schools can't boast those numbers or names. But if you re-read my first sentence, you'll notice I said UH had a strong connection with the pros. And that is the problem. UH hasn't had any visible superstars in the pros for the past five years.
Enter Ryan Wagner. Yeah, he's only made one appearance in a major league uniform. And yeah, he's just 21 and he's little more than a month removed from pitching with the Cougars at the NCAA Super Regionals. He probably only rocketed to the pros this quickly because the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff seemingly throws batting practice pitches most games.
Yeah, but it's a start to something this University has not had since Olajuwon and Drexler led the Rockets to their last championship. In 1995.
What happened Saturday with Wagner was special. He stymied the Astros, tossing one and two-third scoreless innings of relief with one strikeout. Wagner's slider was suicide to most college hitters and it appears that he may parlay that pitch to a successful major league career.
At this point, UH needs Wagner and other professionals to show high school recruits that the University is once again the place to develop your skills to dominate at the next level. Per NCAA regulations, former star athletes cannot assist in the recruiting process. But name recognition goes a long way.
You think when Ware won the Heisman in 1989 or when Phi Slama Jama ruled the college basketball landscape in the early '80s that kids from this area and across the country didn't at least think about donning the scarlet and white sans an official recruiting visit or phone call?
In this age of greed before need, high school kids want to go to programs where their talents will be showcased and cultivated, yielding them, their family and friends lifestyles that Robin Leach would love to televise.
Excuse me if I'm a tad overzealous with Wagner's debut. It's been awhile since I could defiantly point to someone on ESPN or the local sports telecasts and boast "He went to UH."
It takes special athletes and a special school to send kids to the next level. We've already got one of those ingredients in stock.
And Ryan, no pressure, huh?
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