With a few days separating them and their first game in the Pac-12 Tournament, ASU men's basketball’s regular season reached a fitting conclusion Monday afternoon as three separate Sun Devils were named members of the All-Conference Teams.
Redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham was ASU's lone representative on the Pac-12 First Team, while freshman guard Luguentz Dort and sophomore guard Remy Martin were both named to the Pac-12 Second Team. ASU is the only team in the conference to have three separate players represented across the two different teams, serving as the perfect encapsulation of the team’s next man up mentality.
“We’re battling,” Cheatham said. “We’ve overcome a lot of things. There’s been a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs. It’s been a rollercoaster of a season, but for the most part we’re being resilient, we’re staying with it, we’re getting better every day, and we’re believing in each other. So as long as we continue to do that, we’re going to win a lot more games.”
For Cheatham, the honor caps off a magical single season in Tempe where he drastically transformed the outlook of ASU basketball on and off the court. His versatility and ability to play all five positions redefined the Sun Devils offense this season.
“It’s a blessing, I’ve put in a lot of work for it,” Cheatham said. “It just kind of shows the impact I’ve had on this team and the blessings I’ve been able to accomplish. Bigger picture though, I’m really excited about it, but I’m excited to keep going.”
Martin’s inclusion on the Second Team is well-deserved, yet Hurley joined a number of other Sun Devil supporters who questioned why Martin wasn’t honored alongside Cheatham on the conference’s first team.
His play for ASU has debatably been more impactful than that of his first-team teammate, and his 58 combined points in ASU’s two victories over the Arizona Wildcats hold a special place in the hearts of ASU fans everywhere.
“Down the stretch, he’s pretty special. He’s made so many big shots for us this year,” Hurley said. “Those last 8-10 minutes of a game tell you a lot about a player. Do they want the ball? Do they want to make plays? He’s been making a lot of plays out there and he’s been doing it all year.”
Dort was also named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year after a stellar first season with the Sun Devils, making him the fifth Sun Devil recipient and the first Sun Devil to win the award since Jahii Carson took home the honors following the 2012-13 season.
His tenacity and acumen on the defensive end of the floor elevated everyone around him, and Dort's relentless attack of the basket on offense has helped him lead the Sun Devils in scoring this season.
“When I first got here, I was just trying to make an impact,” Dort said. “But when I saw the news (about making Second-Team) I was just happy and really proud of myself.”
Up next for the Sun Devils is their quarterfinal matchup on Thursday against the winner of the first-round matchup between the Stanford Cardinal and UCLA Bruins.
From there, only three wins separate ASU from a conference championship and a guaranteed spot in the NCAA Tournament. Even without a Pac-12 championship though, ASU’s ticket for the tournament is likely already punched after finishing the regular season winners of five of their last six.
Essential or not, the conference tournament still represents a unique opportunity for a team to definitively stake their claim as top dog in the Pac-12. For a team weathered by a year riled in inconsistency and instability, this week in Las Vegas could go a long way in proving their legitimacy on a national stage.
“The guys are very focused, I think they know what this is all about,” Hurley said. “We’re playing with confidence right now, and there’s a lot of hope for what we can accomplish this week and beyond.”