By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (May 7, 2016) — Though he’s been out of the newspaper business for many years now, Javier Morales maintains the curiosity of a newshound and a real appreciation for the facts and figures and personalities and history that are essential to the craft.
These days, Morales operates ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com, a website that gives him a chance to showcase his knowledge of and deep passion for sports in his hometown.
Morales, The Arizona Daily Star’s men’s basketball beat writer during the University of Arizona’s 1996-97 NCAA championship season, focuses on coverage of the UofA’s sports teams and the Pac-12 Conference. But his website provides a broader mix of coverage, including high school sports.
In a recent interview, Morales offers detailed insights about his website and how he runs the operation, plus perspectives on former University of Arizona sports personalities such as Steve Kerr, Jason Terry, Lute Olson, Luke Walton and Chuck Cecil, newspaper mentors and former colleagues and his love of the written word, among other topics.
Can you define the mission of ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com and why it was started?
The mission of the website is to provide a voice for youth sports at all levels in Tucson as well as professional insight into University of Arizona athletics with my knowledge going back almost 40 years.
With the afternoon newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, going under in both print and online, I believed it was imperative to provide as many opportunities for readers in Southern Arizona to learn more of what is developing around them in terms of athletics in the city. The more reports, the better, to allow the readers there in my hometown to become better educated of what’s going on.
What have been some of the website’s most popular articles to date? What have been, in your view, some of the key success stories of the site since it was launched?
Some of the more popular articles are the all-region teams compiled by my brother Andy Morales from votes of local high school coaches for various sports. We have also learned that readers love the compiling of our top 10 badasses in the history of Arizona football along with articles that list what former Arizona athletes are now up to, such as where they are coaching and where they are working as broadcasters. A very popular article was our compilation of male and female athletes at Arizona who became married after meeting during their time as competitors at the university. We always try to provide stories that our off the beaten path in order to generate interest both in our Web site and what’s happening at Arizona. People also like read our segments on social media reactions with the posting of tweets from athletes or members of the media pertaining to a specific event.
What do you most enjoy about running this website? What has been the most frustrating aspect of the ongoing project?
What I enjoy most is the creative aspect. Not only do I write blogs but I work on coding and designing some of the elements of the site. I would like to see it grow to where we have a solid group of writers contributing. We have been fortunate to have some here and there but nobody other than my brother has continued for an extended period of time. That’s the most frustrating is that we know we can be that much more impactful in the community with more voices. I believe that will come in time. Because the site is not a money-making site, I must work a regular job full-time which takes me away from concentrating 100 percent on the development of the site to make it more attractive for writers to come on board. We also cannot offer salaries to writers without advertising dollars. In order to reach that level, I need to devote much more time on the project but have not been able to do that nearly as much as I want.
Would you say your writing style for the website is quite similar to when you covered University of Arizona sports teams, or have you developed a distinct style of writing for an online audience?
I believe my writing is less of a reporting style such as it was when I worked at The Arizona Daily Star. It is much more opinion based with more of a feature style to the stories because it is a blog. While we would like to break stories at the site, we are not bent on that because of the unavailability of working on the site at all hours. Most of my writing is based on analysis and from a historical perspective. My brother offers features and roundups of high school athletes that are welcomed by their parents and coaches. He does not write with a negative slant at all because that is not necessary at our site, especially with kids 17 years and younger. He prides himself about not writing who committed an error in a baseball game, for example, just about why a team was able to win. Parents and coaches respect that a great deal.
With the success of the Arizona Wildcats under Sean Miller, do you consider this a second golden era of Wildcats basketball? Do you think the Wildcats fan base and Tucson have the same affection for him as Lute Olson?
They do not have the same affection for Miller that they had with Olson but they respect the way he is able to bring talent to Tucson to carry on the tradition of turning out NBA-level players. Miller will not enter the same realm of Olson until he coaches the Wildcats to the Final Four. He has come so close three times now in the Elite Eight with two of the three losses (to UConn in 2011 and Wisconsin in 2014) coming down to the last play. Arizona is at a high level again because of Miller, reaching No. 1 for eight weeks two seasons ago during a 21-0 start, but it will not reach golden era status until it gets to a Final Four again in my opinion. That might be an unfair opinion but that’s what happens with Olson setting the bar so high with four Final Four appearances, twice making the national title game. That combined with his ability to develop quality character guys sets the standard by which Miller must live by. Miller has it in him to continue challenging himself to reach that level. He is certainly right on the cusp.
What’s a typical week during college football season and basketball season for the website’s writing, editing and publishing schedule? And how does it differ from the demands of a daily newspaper?
The typical week during the college football season is writing blogs about that game through Thursday and offering an “off the beaten path” feature on Fridays before the game. In that blog are notes about that game that includes information that is not the standard preview fare. They are opinion notes, rankings and historical observations pertaining to that week’s matchup. We get great feedback from that blog especially with the Wilbur the Wildcat drawings our professional artist named Michael Hanaoka provides.
Since there are so many basketball games during various weeks, we offer analysis after every game with a breakdown of stats instead of game stories. We run what’s called a “Productivity Report” that has gained some interest from readers. It ranks the player by their overall production factoring positive stats (scoring, rebounding, assists, etc.) against negative stats (turnovers, fouls, etc.) divided by minutes played. How all of this differs from the demands of a daily newspaper is the lack of strict deadlines, especially after late games. Because most of my pieces are analytical I avoid play-by-play, which people won’t read the next day. They want perspective and analysis of where Arizona is headed not about who scored a touchdown or who made a basket as a specific time.
Regarding your previously named website, WildAboutAZCats.com, was it simply a practical move to have a different name? Or is it a completely different website, because of the expanded focus to include high schools, too?
It was a practical move because of my brother’s work covering high school sports diligently. He came on board at the beginning of 2014 because Gannett pulled the plug on TucsonCitizen.com. Andy was popular offering that Web site what he is doing now for AllSportsTucson.com. When the Citizen site went under, I asked him if he still wanted to publish his material (stories and professional quality photos) at my site. When he joined me, we realized we needed a different name. We came up with All Sports Tucson because that appropriately describes what is written about at our site.
Because you are based in Nevada, are you able to get to a number of Wildcats football and basketball games to enhance your reporting? Or is your primary way of gathering info for news via mass media and team and Pac-12 sports information directors (SIDs)? Do you participate in the teleconference calls throughout the season?
I follow the region religiously through media reports and tracking social media. I watch as many games as possible. I also keep in contact with media who cover Arizona. A few times a year I also travel to Tucson and visit the campus. Whenever a sporting event occurs in Las Vegas, I am there, especially the Pac-12 tournament. I do not interact with SIDs as much as I would like although I know individuals who work at the Arizona schools who from time to time provide information. But I would say most of my information gathering is from watching a lot of the games and reading as much as possible.
When the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 in 2011 did you embrace the idea or find yourselves thinking the conference had gotten too big for its own good? And has your view changed since the change was made?
I embraced the change because that’s the way of college athletics and the conference can’t be left behind. We see that now from the Big 12 that has only 10 teams. The conference needs more teams to have a conference championship game in football to have a better opportunity to land a team in the college football playoffs. I actually think the Power 5 should be structured as its own entity playing for a national title with balanced schedules devised as we see in the NFL to make it a more even, fair playing field.
What sparked your interest in becoming a sportswriter growing up in Tucson? And are there a few special memories and mentors that stand out above the rest?
What sparked my interest was following the Arizona athletic programs so closely from when I was in grade school. Back then, the Internet did not exist, neither did cable TV or ESPN. The main outlet for information was the newspaper. I remember looking forward to reading about the developments daily when I was old enough to comprehend what was going on. I remember clipping the front page of the Arizona Daily Star sports section the day after an Arizona football game and posting it on my wall like a poster. I am very appreciative of that experience because I realize things are a lot different now. I have always looked up to local sports journalists such as Jack Magruder, Bob Moran (rest his soul) and Greg Hansen. Their stories and style of writing interested me into becoming a sportswriter at a very young age.
Who are a few of your favorite sports scribes in the business today? Can you give a basic rundown on why you like/admire their work?
Some of my favorites are those I know personally such as Greg, Jack, Anthony Gimino (TucsonNewsNow), Steve Rivera (GOAZCATS.com) and Jon Wilner (San Jose Mercury News). I make it a point to read their work because I am so familiar with their talents as sportswriters. Greg is a veteran who knows his stuff and he does not hold back in many cases to let his opinion be know. Jack is a workhorse who is knowledgeable about his beat. Nothing gets past him. Anthony does so many things covering Arizona athletics and working annually on the Lindy’s college football annual. Steve has more than two decades of experience with Arizona hoops and has established meaningful relationships with Lute Olson and players over the years that has parlayed into memorable stories for his many books about the program. Jon deserves more notoriety nationally for his in-depth coverage and analysis of the Pac-12.He is another tireless worker who covers all of the bases with his information.
And as a news consumer who are a few must-read journalists nowadays for you, especially for Pac-12 insights? How about must-read websites and publications that fit that description?
Some of the more obvious must-read journalists are those who cover college basketball so closely such as Jeff Goodman of ESPN. The same goes for Dennis Dodd with college football at CBS. Rick Reilly as a national sports columnist is a joy to read. He keeps things fun and interesting to read. For Pac-12 insights, Wilner is a must to read as are all of the beat reporters for the publications through the conference. I read most of them throughout the year. Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic is one of the best covering Arizona State and the Pac-12. He is very informative and never disappoints.
Since he’s had a little over a year now on the job now, what’s your impression of the impact men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley, the former Duke Blue Devil, has made at ASU? Is he a good fit for the program, the university and the Valley of the Sun?
I think it’s the best hire ASU could have made all things considered. He has a basketball name from one of the best programs in the country. His name transcends the Pac-12. He is known. That can only help ASU’s image, which is lacking on a national scope. My only concern – and I’m sure it’s shared by many at ASU – is that Hurley will leave for a higher profile job once he makes the Sun Devils successful. Because of his East Coast background, the odds of that happening are greater than him staying at ASU for five-plus years.
How vital has your former Daily Star colleague Greg Hansen’s body of work been over the years in chronicling the history of Tucson and Southern Arizona sports?
Very vital. He is synonymous with Tucson-area sports and the University of Arizona. He was one of my mentors at the Star along with Magruder and Moran. The Sunday notes column has become legendary in Tucson, especially among those who follow the Wildcats and sports in general in the city. He knows how to piece together a story or column to make it interesting no matter the topic.
Over the years, what are five favorite UofA football games or moments you’ve witnessed? What made them especially significant to you?
Arizona’s win over ASU in 2014 to clinch the Pac-12 South was special because the Wildcats have rarely experienced that kind of success. The 1986 game against the Sun Devils was the loudest I’ve ever heard Arizona Stadium, especially when Chuck Cecil made the 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. Arizona’s shellacking of Miami in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl is even more impressive today because looking back the Hurricanes had Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. One of my favorites is the 1982 victory over ASU in Tucson, a game in which the Wildcats eliminated ASU from the Rose Bowl and started the streak. That game had two long touchdown passes thrown by Tom Tunicliffe and the Wildcats also did the unthinkable with two safeties in the game. The game at ASU in 1985 when Max Zendejas kicked a 57-yarder and 33-yarder in the fourth quarter to eliminate the Sun Devils again from the Rose Bowl was also special.
For Wildcats basketball, what are five favorite hoops games or moments you’ve witnessed? What made them especially significant to you?
I always look back fondly at the “McClutch” game in which Craig McMillan took a length-of-the-court pass from Steve Kerr and made the game-winning basket at the buzzer. The pass bounced off the hands of a couple of players into the direction of McMillan, who was in stride toward the basket. That was one of the few times fans rushed the court at McKale. The Arizona-ASU games during the Fred Snowden-Ned Wulk games were always intense and a must to watch. The double-overtime win over Gonzaga in the 2003 NCAA tournament is a wild game people will talk about forever. (In 1997), Arizona’s overtime victory over Kentucky of course was historic and one of the most significant in the program’s history, but to me, the biggest win was that over No. 1-seed Kansas in the Sweet 16 that season. The Jayhawks had only one loss all season entering the game while the Wildcats had nine and Olson’s team managed the upset on its way to a national title.
Which athletes and coaches from both teams make any top-10 players/coaches list you’d make for best interviewees?
The best interviewee in my time without a doubt is Jason Terry. Very personable guy. Says what’s on his mind. He is also very respectful. Another is Steve Kerr. One time at the NBA Summer League I approached Kerr for an interview during a game in the stands when he was the Suns’ GM. I did so because I was afraid he’d leave right after the game and I’d miss him. He was so cordial with me and answered every question. Most of Arizona’s players have been great to deal with such as A.J. Bramlett, Bennett Davison, Gene Edgerson, Josh Pastner, Richard Jefferson, Jason Gardner, Luke Walton, Damon Stoudamire and Reggie Geary. The list goes on and on. I have not had too many opportunities to go one-on-one with Sean Elliott but I know he is a class act, also. In terms of other programs, I enjoyed interviewing the late Pat Tillman when he was with the Arizona Cardinals. I asked him about his thoughts of Chuck Cecil (a hard-tackling walk-on who made it big like Tillman) and Tillman was very complimentary of Cecil. Tillman was very sincere but always open to talk with reporters.
What are your general thoughts on Luke Walton, who served as an assistant for Kerr on Golden State, being hired as the new bench boss by the Lakers?
(It’s) a great transition for him and acquisition by Los Angeles. It will be interesting next season when Golden State faces Los Angeles. Who will Lute Olson cheer for? Lute may have that same struggle this season if the Warriors face the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. He would have to choose from Kerr, Walton, Bruce Fraser and Andre Iguodala with Cavs assistant Bret Brielmaier, Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson.
Looking back to the fall, in addition to the Warriors’ remarkable talent, what character traits helped Walton make a seemingly seamless transition to interim bench boss in Kerr’s absence?
I believe Luke’s even-keel personality helped a lot. He was not overbearing. He was not a pushover either. He kept things on course and didn’t stray from who he is, which was the most important element of the Warriors staying focused for a record 24-0 start.
What prompted you to write “The Highest Form of Living?” Was the idea for the book, published in 2014, something you had in the back of your mind for a long time? Is it based on something you observed or experienced? Is it more fiction than nonfiction?
I love writing. I love sports. I am fascinated by war stories and the heroic developments of our soldiers throughout the years. I am especially interested in those soldiers who never made it home. I recall visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when I lived near D.C. for four years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was touched by how we don’t know of these fallen heroes but we know of what they meant to our freedom. The book is more fiction but it has very real elements dealing with a kid without his father, a lost prison of war, and how sports can lift somebody up from the depths of their life.
Is it your first book?
It is my first book and it is only available through Amazon. I hope to work on more, fiction and non-fiction. I am so into history. I’d love to piece together something sports related from a historical perspective.
What kind of feedback have you received about it?
Only positive. People have told me they love the positive message delivered. I wish it sold more especially at only $4.99. Last Christmas was the one-year anniversary of the book getting published. I donated the few dollars I made off the book to the Wounded Warrior Project. I would love to keep making donations off the book’s sales to that organization because that subject ties into the book.
Shifting the conversation back to your website … Is your website accurately described as a (modest) money-making venture or a labor of love? Or both?
Very much so a labor of love. My brother and I do not make money off the website itself. It’s more of a vehicle to tell stories about Tucson-area sports. Any notoriety we get off those stories is great, but that’s not our focus. I am not blind to realize journalism in most cases is not for one who wants riches in terms of money. Being creative and able to touch lives through the written words means a heck of a lot more.
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