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Sun Devil Superlatives: Five ASU award winners to round out the season

Anthony Totri Avatar
March 11, 2022

The ASU men’s basketball season may be over, but it wouldn’t be a proper ending without some Sun Devil Superlatives. Almost each ASU player could make a case for one award or another, but on this list there’s only room for five.

Thief Award (Best Defensive Player)

The two players up for this award are senior guard Marreon Jackson and junior forward Alonzo Gaffney. The easy favorite is Jackson who averaged nearly two steals a game.

Jackson had 10 games this season with three or more steals. With ASU’s defense being the lifeblood of the program, and Jackson being the effective heartbeat of the team, it makes sense he’d get the award.

Even so, down the stretch Gaffney proved to be a menace with his interior defense. Gaffney posted multiple games with two or more blocks, including one matchup against Stanford where he had five.

Ultimately though, Jackson’s consistency and tenacity down the stretch earns him the Thief Award.

Winner: Marreon Jackson  

Mar 5, 2022; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils guard Marreon Jackson (3) moves the ball as head coach Bobby Hurley reacts against the Stanford Cardinal in the second half at Desert Financial Arena. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Highlight of the Year (Best Play of the Year)

There are two moments from the ASU basketball season up for this Sun Devil Superlative. First on the list is the slam dunk from graduate student forward Kimani Lawrence in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. 

With three minutes and change, Lawrence ran the floor in transition before slamming one home to give the Sun Devils a 14-point lead over the Stanford Cardinal. 

Next up is the Jackson game winner against Utah in late February. The Sun Devils going back and forth with the Utes late in the game, but ultimately Jackson ran the length of the court and drove home a layup with six seconds to play. 

The difference maker for this award is the fact that Jackson’s shot won ASU the game, Lawrence’s dunk will live on as a painful reminder of a heartbreaking defeat.

Winner: Marreon Jackson layup to beat Utah 63-61

Most Valuable Player

There are a number of Sun Devils who stepped up for the team this season. What makes this award tricky is the fact ASU lacked consistency most of the year. 

Sophomore guard DJ Horne was once the easy answer for this award. A player who led the team in scoring at points this season and finished the year with a 21-point performance in a conference tournament. 

There’s a guy like Jackson who came off the bench down the stretch and provided a spark when ASU needed it most. Even so, Jackson was far too inconsistent to be the team MVP.

That leaves us with sophomore guard Jay Heath. Heath finished the year averaging the second-most points per game (10.6) on the Sun Devils’ roster. However, Heath’s consistency on the stat sheet night in and out is what gives him the slight edge for this one. 

When Horne and Jackson went missing on nights, it was Heath more often than not there to pick up the slack. 

Winner: Jay Heath

Most Improved Player

Similar to the other awards on this list, there are a couple of different Sun Devils who could make a case to be the recipient. Nonetheless, there’s one guy who is more deserving than the rest — junior forward Jalen Graham. 

Some may look at the box score of the ASU versus Stanford Pac-12 Tournament game and immediately cringe at this award. One game doesn’t tell the full story of Graham’s progress.

Graham struggled early in the year to find much of a scoring role, but when the month of January rolled around his game evolved. The once role player turned into a sure-fire star for ASU. 

Graham had a stretch in January and February where he put up point totals of 16, 12, 16, 15, 14, 18 and 19. The scoring paired with his improved defense earns him this Sun Devil Superlative.

Winner: Jalen Graham 

Mr. Sun Devil Award (Player that most encompasses the program)

There’s only one player who comes to mind for this award — Lawrence. During the year, Lawrence became the program leader in games played for the Sun Devils. Not to mention, the ASU veteran had some moments of stardom throughout his time in Tempe.

While the loss in Las Vegas stings, Lawrence’s dunk with three minutes to play was arguably the most electric play of his lengthy career. 

Despite Lawrence not always being the most gifted player on the court, it was impossible to question his heart. Even after the loss to Stanford in Las Vegas, Lawrence was among one other ASU player to speak to the media. 

Lawrence is Mr. Sun Devil.

Winner: Kimani Lawrence

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