Some say Arians has a little bit of Buddy Ryan bravado in him, but unlike Ryan, Arians delivered. After a 3-4 start that saw the offense struggle to learn each other's tendencies and a new and complex system, the Cardinals rattled off wins in seven of eight games. A season-ending loss to San Francisco left them at 10-6 and just outside the NFC playoffs. Arians' creative practice approach and ability to relate to players despite his age (61) have endeared him to the team. Winning has endeared him to the Valley.
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After Arizona high jumper Brigetta Barrett won the silver medal at the 2012 London Games, she was said to have the potential to be a world champion. She's inching closer with every meet. Barrett concluded her Wildcat career with six NCAA titles, broke the NCAA record in the high jump (6-4 1/4) and was named the Pac-12 female athlete of the year. Then, after turning pro, she jumped 6-8 1/4 to win the U.S. championship, followed by a silver medal at the World Championships.
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Bauman, who had been overlooked by Arizona's two Pac-12 programs, concluded a record-setting career at Northern Arizona. The Chandler Hamilton product became NAU's all-time leading rusher two games into the season and shattered the old record by finishing the year with 1,456 rushing yards -- 10th most in the FCS. Bauman topped 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons and also set school records in carries, all-purpose yards and points scored as he led NAU to its first FCS Playoff appearance since 2003.
For an aging Suns team previously rebuilt for sustained mediocrity, adding perhaps the most coveted of the NBA’s available young prospects was a revelation. Bledsoe arrived in Phoenix via trade that sent popular Jared Dudley to the L.A. Clippers, bringing with him a dose of swagger the franchise and its fans were craving. A young man of few words, Bledsoe has made good on star-related proclamations from highly regarded peers while meshing well with Goran Dragic in the Suns' twin-point backcourt.
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Carey was unsuccessful in defending his NCAA rushing title (his 1,716 yards were second to Boston College's Andre Williams) but did become Arizona's first offensive player to be a two-time consensus All-American. He also became the Wildcats' all-time record holder for rushing yards and touchdowns. If he returns for his senior season, he has a chance to become the Pac-12's all-time leading rusher. He is 2,175 yards shy of USC's Charles White and needs nine TDs to match the Pac-12 record of 59 held by Oregon State's Ken Simonton.
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It seems unfair that a guy who stood by his franchise and community for so long -- passing up a chance to escape by signing a four-year deal during the height of uncertainty in 2012 -- should suffer this fate just when the Coyotes had finally achieved ownership stability. Doan was off to the best goal-scoring start of his career when he was felled by a mysterious illness finally diagnosed as a form of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. His return remains uncertain. The outpouring of public concern made it clear that not only the team but an entire city misses him.
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Corbin entered spring training as one of three candidates for the final spot in the Diamondbacks' starting rotation, but three months later had become one of the top candidates to become the National League starter in the All-Star Game after winning his first nine decisions through the end of June. Corbin threw strikes with his fastball and used his hard slider as an out pitch, causing veteran major leaguers to gush. Corbin finished 14-8 and goes into his next spring training as a potential Opening Day starter.
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Carson proved to be worth the wait in his first season at Arizona State, showing the kind of quickness and offensive skills that prompted Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek to rework his offense into an up-tempo style. Carson scored 32 points in a tour de force against Washington on Feb. 2, and by the time the season was over, he was the Pac-12's co-freshman of the year with Shabazz Muhammad, averaging 18.5 points, 5.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He's bettering each of those stats early in his final season at ASU before moving on to pro ball.
Goldschmidt's second full season with the Diamondbacks was full off firsts. He tied for the National League lead with 36 home runs and led the league in RBI, slugging percentage and OPS. He won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards and even led the D-backs in stolen bases. When not terrorizing NL pitchers, he was preparing for life after baseball, earning his degree in business science and management from the University of Phoenix, doing most of his homework on plane flights and in hotel rooms on the road.
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There have been 19 McDonald's All-Americans on Arizona's roster, but few have come as heralded as the 6-8 Gordon. Before arriving in Tucson, he led Team USA to a gold medal and was named tournament MVP at the U19 World Championship in Prague. His freshman year hasn't been without struggles, but he's averaging 12.5 points and a team-leading 7.6 rebounds for the nation's top-ranked team. If that's where the Wildcats end up, there would be less incentive for a Gordon encore, but that's a trade-off Arizona fans would gladly accept.
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Phoenix provided the perfect landscape to absorb Griner's first WNBA footprints. The Mercury offered talented teammates to share on-court responsibilities, a solid organizational base and a legion of committed fans. But even though her highly anticipated arrival bestowed the gift of visibility upon the league, there were a few potholes along that rookie road. Griner provided 12.6 points per game and led the league in blocked shots, but a balky knee limited her availability and compromised the agility and bounce that make her special. After losing in the Western Conference finals, the Mercury and Griner have bigger plans in the years to come.
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In his first season as a head coach, former Suns star Hornacek has provided Phoenix with a renewed sense of stability. By stressing an attention to detail and team-first accountability, Hornacek is coaxing a high level of play from a roster that initially inspired little hope for sustained success. More than a third of the way through the season, the Suns had the eighth-best record in the league. Hornacek has merged the franchise’s commitment to analytics with tactical application, yielding a significant rise in efficiency at both ends of the court.
Most heralded them as saviors, but some considered them nut jobs for buying a cash-strapped, success-starved franchise. They had to jump through countless hoops to do it, including the circus that is the Glendale City Council, but Gosbee, LeBlanc and Co. accomplished something so many others could not: They closed the deal. In short order, GM Don Maloney, coach Dave Tippett and goalie Mike Smith were back in the fold and free-agent Mike Ribeiro signed on. Wherever the team's fortunes go from here, Gosbee and LeBlanc restored hope to a franchise on the brink of relocation.
Draft analysts termed it a major risk when the Cardinals selected the baggage-laden Honey Badger in the third round of the 2012 Draft, but GM Steve Keim reasoned that with good friend Patrick Peterson in town, the Cardinals could convince a first-round talent to toe the off-field line. They were right. Mathieu had 65 solo tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, two interceptions and looked like the defensive rookie of the year before a torn ACL and LCL ended his stunning debut season in Week 14.
In 33-year-old general manager Ryan McDonough, the Suns hired a young man with a plan. And the blueprints of this plan offered a rebuilding model many local fans were eager to embrace. While unloading veterans whose presence failed to keep the Suns relevant, McDonough acquired draft picks and increased the team’s salary-cap flexibility. He also brought to town some flesh-and-blood assets, igniting the present with a level of performance that’s ahead of schedule. These include Coach Jeff Hornacek, who might end up as one of the most important acquisitions in McDonough’s porfolio.
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When the Cardinals traded a seventh-round conditional pick for Palmer, there was no debating he was an upgrade over their QBs the past three seasons. But was he good enough to elevate them to playoff contention? A 3-4 start, accompanied by 13 inteceptions, screamed "no." But Palmer's greatest attribute may be his ability to shut out noise and quickly forget mistakes. His passer rating was among the NFL's best since Week 8, and he became the first QB to top 4,000 yards for three teams. At 34, he's not the team's QB of the future, but he's a major reason the Cardinals are relevant again.
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Arriving from Spain to join the Arizona State golf team, Jon Rahm set a high bar in his freshman season. He set an NCAA Championship record with an opening-round 9-under 61 and eventually settled for second place. He was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year with two wins and five top-10 finishes -- a debut season that rivaled ASU's greatest golfers, including Phil Mickelson. (Photo courtesy of Arizona State athletics)
It's hard to imagine a high school football player anywhere who had a better year than Scottsdale Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer. The senior, who is committed play at Cal, capped his high school career with a second state title over Queen Creek, but what made his season so special were the records he toppled along the way. His 61 touchdown passes are a new state record, as are his career totals of 9,648 yards and 130 TD passes. (East Valley Tribune photo)
Despite enduring criticism over reduced numbers, Sutton produced again in 2013, anchoring ASU's often-dominant defense as the Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South. Sutton, who surprised many with his decision to return for a senior year, tallied 11 1/2 tackles for loss, including four sacks. Even with constant double-teams from opposing offenses, Sutton repeated as an Associated Press All-American, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman.