As 2015 draws to a close, we look back at 15 personalities who make a memorable impression on the Arizona sports scene.
The straight-shooting Cardinals coach had an even better third season in Arizona than he had in 2014, when he was named the NFL Coach of the Year, building off last season's success, leading the team to the best record in franchise history and positioning them for a deep postseason run in which they could well be Super Bowl favorites.
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The NBA's youngest player (he didn't turn 19 until two games into the current season) has plenty of room for growth physically and developmentally, but his out-of-this-world shooting ability has been a bright spot in a down season for the Suns. The first-round draft pick from Kentucky is knocking down 57 percent of his 3-point shots, and now he gets to accelerate his learning curve while taking on extra playing time following Eric Bledsoe's season-ending injury.
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
NAU's redshirt freshman, a late addition to the program after being unrecruited as a high school senior, set a freshman record with 37 touchdown passes while leading NAU to a 7-4 record and being named FCS Freshman of the Year.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY SportsCasey Sapio
Is it too soon to label the 20-year-old rookie as the heir apparent to Shane Doan as the face of the franchise? Maybe, but he sure seems up to the task with his effervescent personality and his combination of speed and skill that haven’t been seen in these parts for decades. Sure, he’s a work in progress, but he’s got all the makings of the franchise’s first Arizona-grown superstar.
The Mercury's third-year center kept the internet clicking throughout the off-season due to her turbulent relationship -- domestic-violence arrest/marriage/expected parenthood/annulment -- with Glory Johnson, but it didn't stop her from another dominant season on the court. Despite being suspended for seven games, she was WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, and with the expected return of Diana Taurasi in 2016, the Mercury should be positioned to challenge for another championship.
The D-backs' first-year manager earned high marks for wringing 79 wins out of a team that had lost 98 games the year before -- building up a belief system in the clubhouse that good things will happen if the team focused on playing hard and battling for 27 outs in every game.
Johnson's road to the NFL third-round draft choice went through Northern Iowa, where he mixed football with $9-an-hour janitorial work. That same ethic has spilled over into the NFL. Despite starting the season as a third-team running back, he's set a franchise rookie record with 13 touchdowns, scoring by run, pass and kick return, and piled up four consecutive games with 100-plus yards from scrimmage after Chris Johnson's season-ending injury.
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Mathieu was in the midst of a Defensive Player of the Year type season when he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee 14 games into the Cardinals' season. It was the second major knee injury in three seasons for Mathieu, whose struggles to overcome personal demons have made him a favorite of fans, teammates and especially coach Bruce Arians. "I've just gotten real attached to him," Arians said. "I love the player. but I love the person more."
After starting his career at Duquesne, McConnell quickly endeared himself to Arizona fans as the heart, soul and guts of the Wildcats in his two seasons of eligibility, leading them to a pair of Elite Eight finishes. After going undrafted by the NBA, he's fought his way onto the roster and into the starting lineup of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Palmer is having a career season at age 36 -- leading the Cardinals to a franchise record for victories while putting up numbers that are equal to and better than the great Kurt Warner. And he's doing it after coming back from a major knee injury a season earlier that many worried would jeopardize the rest of his career.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Peralta made the jump from failed minor-league pitcher to major-league outfielder in 2014, but he cemented himself as a big-leaguer in 2015 – amassing 53 extra-base hits, a league-leading 10 triples and ranking in the top 8 in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging while playing with an all-out intensity that endeared him to fans and earned him the "Freight Train" nickname.
APRoss D. Franklin
Pollock's breakout season was put on one-year hiatus when a Johnny Cueto pitch fractured his right hand, but he came back with a vengeance and then some. He earned his first All-Star berth with a monster season, finishing fourth among National League position players in WAR (wins above replacement). In more conventional terms, he was second in runs scored and hits, fourth in doubles and stolen bases and fifth in batting average while also winning his first Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY SportsJoe Nicholson
Larry Fitzgerald (Emeritus)
While not exactly written off as over the hill, there's nonetheless been a gradual tapering of salary, expectations and roles for Fitzgerald. But with the Cardinals on course for what could be their second Super Bowl appearance, the lone holdover from their first one is showing there's plenty left in his tank. He needs one more catch to break his own franchise record of 103 set 10 years ago and became the youngest player in NFL history to top 1,000 career catches.
Paul Goldschmidt (Emeritus)
America's first baseman has gotten so good that we can't even say he's underrated anymore, so good that his greatness can't be ignored. This year's accomplishments: Second in the NL MVP voting, a second Silver Slugger Award and a second Gold Glove Award. He ranked in the NL's top three in RBI, runs, hits, batting average, slugging, on-base percentage and OPS. He was a measly fifth in home runs. No way he can get better than this, right? Well, we've heard that before.
Shane Doan (Emeritus)
No list of Arizona personalities would be complete without Captain Coyote -- for however long as he's in uniform. But he's no honorary figurehead. On a team re-energized and infused with young talent, he remains the go-to guy for leadership and setting an example of how to prepare and carry oneself as a professional athlete on a day to day basis. Oh, and with 13 goals already, he now owns own the franchise all-time record (381 and counting) and is on track for his most prolific season since 2009.