It didn't take long for freshman guard Austin Nunez to settle in and make an impact on the ASU men's basketball team.
Originally from Garden Ridge, Texas, Nunez was a basketball sensation in the state. In his senior season for Wagner High School, he averaged 28.1 points per game, along with 2.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds.
On the hardwood, Nunez plays with a style and confidence on both ends of the court that can't be wavered, which comes from his hometown.
"Like I've always said, I'm from Texas, and where I'm from in Texas, nobody respects you," Nunez said. "Everybody thinks I'm not as good as them on the floor, so I have that mentality when I play all the time."
Nunez has operated under the primary backup point guard minutes since early in the season. His production played a massive role in a few of the biggest wins the men's basketball team has captured this season.
ASU's wins against Creighton, VCU and Michigan saw Nunez reach double figures, with his career-high of 15 coming in the head-turning win against Michigan early in the season. Those performances earned him the Freshman of the Week nod back in November.
It seems that when Nunez contributes as a productive scorer, ASU is in a much better position to come away with a victory. That's because throughout one of the best starts the men's basketball team has ever seen this year, ASU has primarily demonstrated its dominance on the defensive side of the ball.
For the last two years, junior point guard DJ Horne has been leading the Sun Devils in scoring; with the addition of sophomore guard Frankie Collins, the Sun Devils added an extra element to their offense. But they have struggled to find consistent offense to keep their heads above water against top-tier teams such as UA, UCLA, and USC.
Against UCLA, in front of a roaring crowd at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Nunez gained the valuable experience of guarding premier point guard Tyger Campbell for extended minutes.
"I wanted to take on the challenge just cause he's an older player who's played at this level and been to Final Fours," Nunez said. "He's been in positions I want to be, so I took the challenge face on. I wanted to guard him 94 feet, and he hit tough shots the whole game, but I wasn't going to back down from it."
Nunez has played a dramatic role in the Sun Devils' success in the backcourt this season; he's often the first substitute and plays significant minutes. Nunez is only averaging five points per game, but as a two-way player, his impact extends further than scoring points.
Head coach Bobby Hurley has trusted Nunez enough to thrust him into the fold of a loaded backcourt – where he has excelled – showing why Hurley placed that confidence in him. Entering the USC game, Sun Devil guards held opposing guards to 35.7% shooting and 7.3 turnovers.
"I knew he had some game to him from watching him in high school and everything," Horne said. "But the jump from high school to college is a big jump and to see how far he's come up to this point is crazy, and he's only going to get better."
Nunez is off to a great start in his freshman season, and he's been able to do so while only starting one game which was the Dec. 1 contest against the University of Colorado when sophomore transfer Frankie Collins missed due to illness.
As each game transpires, with each passing performance, Nunez is earning the trust of his coaching staff and ensuring his position as a focal point for Sun Devil basketball in the future.
"In these big games, he's proven that he belongs and certainly that he's capable of making plays," Hurley said.
Edited by Walker Smith, Jasmine Kabiri, Reagan Priest and Luke Chatham.