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Associate head coach Jermaine Kimbrough schools players on defense and in life

Kimbrough joined the staff in 2021 and has transformed ASU’s defense ever since


ASU associate head coach Jermaine Kimbrough consoling senior forward Warren Washington (22) in Las Vegas on Friday, Mar. 10, 2023. UA beat ASU 78-59.

Defense is the backbone of the ASU men's basketball team. Much of the Sun Devils' success can be traced back to one man with a calling.

Associate head coach Jermaine Kimbrough is a defensive mastermind who has helped ASU build a cutthroat defense since joining the staff in 2021. Season after season, the Sun Devils have shut down offenses due to the effective game plans Kimbrough has drawn up.

"In terms of overall defensive philosophy and concepts and teaching those concepts and game planning for our opponent, he's lights out," head coach Bobby Hurley said. "I just give him a lot of leeway to put together and develop those game plans defensively. Our players trust what he's teaching, and you're seeing that reveal itself on the floor."

Kimbrough's defensive mindset starts beyond the arc with his point guards. ASU's guards are responsible for picking up the first man with the ball and orchestrating their defense. Their efforts originate from Kimbrough's coaching. 

"He's always intense, and he's very good with his details," junior guard Frankie Collins said. "So I think that helps us as a team, you know, understand where we need to be on the floor, when we need to help, when not to help, and things like that."

Collins is the undisputed leader of the Sun Devils' defense. He currently leads the team with 68 steals while contributing 3.5 defensive rebounds per game. Kimbrough can call on Collins because he takes pride in his defending and always wants to guard the opposing team's best player.

Kimbrough's defense doesn't stop with his guards. When he's calling the shots, Kimbrough expects all five players on the floor to contribute on defense. 

"Everybody here has got to play defense," Kimbrough said. "That's how you see the floor, and we take pride in that. And that's something that has to be who you are; it has to be part of your identity and your DNA makeup."

Defense is in Kimbrough's DNA. In high school, he played for Bob Watson, who coached under former Washington State head coach George Raveling. He then started his playing career at St. Catherine College before playing two seasons at Virginia Tech.

"I was more of a defensive stopper than I was a scorer," Kimbrough said. "So my game, my identity and my core values stem from just playing college basketball."

After donning No. 3 as a Hokie, Kimbrough began bouncing around college basketball to jumpstart his coaching career. He got his start as an assistant at Howard College before quickly moving between Cleveland State, Massachusetts, and Purdue Fort Wayne. 

The Ohio native then returned home to CSU and spent nine seasons as an assistant coach under Gary Waters. During his tenure, the Vikings had five 20-win seasons and an NCAA Tournament appearance. 

No matter where he's coached, Kimbrough said he's always worked under defense-first coaches. Notable defensive head coaches he worked under include Mississippi's Chris Jans, Arkansas’s Eric Musselman, UMass' Allen Edwards, and the aforementioned Waters. 

The most notable stop of his career was a two-year stint at Loyola Chicago. Kimbrough helped lead a defensive-focused Ramblers team to a 21-win season and a Sweet Sixteen appearance the following year. Kimbrough's success in Chicago helped him land his first Power Five job with ASU.

"At that point, we were number one in the country, defensively, top three offensively," Kimbrough said. "So we took pride on both ends on the floor, and that has carried over to Arizona State."

Now, Kimbrough is nearly three seasons into his role with the team. His defensive knowledge has helped ASU stay competitive and knock off higher-ranked teams like UA. Kimbrough's career has allowed him to stay close to the game he loves and the excitement of postseason play, but he's focused on more than wins and losses.

"I think the best thing about coaching is you get a chance to impact and change the lives of young people," Kimbrough said. "And for me, it's not a four-year commitment or a four-month commitment, it's 40 years."

Kimbrough wants to see his players develop into men ready to lead lives outside of basketball once they hang up their sneakers. His player-first mentality has kept him close to players he hasn't coached in years, such as Loyola Chicago's Lucas Williamson and Cameron Krutwig. Kimbrough said he checks up on his former players to make sure they are OK and likes to stay involved in their lives.

Kimbrough said the highlight of his career is being invited to a player's wedding or getting called about the birth of a player's child. To Kimbrough, those small actions mean he did his job as a well-rounded coach.

"A lot of people look at me as a basketball coach," Kimbrough said. "I feel like a life coach. I'm here for the rest of your life — and that's the best thing about it."

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Alysa Horton and Grace Copperthite.

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