Valley ties: Arizona connections run deep in 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

Dalen Terry went from Hillcrest Prep to Arizona, where his versatility has helped land the Wildcats a high seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. (Photo by Wesley Johnson/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Every March, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament commands the national spotlight, bringing the country’s best teams and players onto people’s screens. This year’s tournament features numerous ties to the state of Arizona, including star players and several coaches who call the 48th state home.

The players

Dalen Terry, Arizona

Terry is the Wildcats’ do-it-all wing who blends the styles of the guard play of sophomore guards Bennedict Mathurin and Kerr Kriisa and the bigs, sophomore Azuolas Tubelis and junior Christian Koloko. Hailing from Tempe, Terry played his high school basketball at Hillcrest Prep and grew up seeing the jerseys of Wildcats greats hanging from the rafters around the state during AAU tournaments. Attending the school in Tucson was always his dream. A four-star prospect, his commitment to Arizona gave the school its 12th straight top-50 recruit.

After a dominant 31-3 season, the Wildcats are the No. 1 seed in the South region, with immense potential to go all the way to the national championship game. A 6-foot-7 wing, Terry is as versatile as they come. He ranks in the top five on the Wildcats in every statistical category and leads the team in steals, averaging 1.2 a game. He’s been an instrumental piece in the team’s March success. With an injury to Kriisa in the Pac-12 Tournament, Terry will be one of the primary ball handlers for the Wildcats through the first few rounds, a role he’s ready to take on.

“I was prepared for this challenge,” Terry told the Pac-12 Network after the title game. “It hasn’t really happened very often, but I was always prepared for it. The coaches have prepared me for it, so it wasn’t anything too crazy when it happened.”

Jordan Mains, Arizona

Mains, a junior forward, took a decidedly different path to the Arizona team. The forward attended Pinnacle High School and played with former Arizona and NBA guard Nico Mannion with the Pioneers. He earned third-team all-state honors at Pinnacle before transitioning to Arizona, originally as a manager for the team.

At the end of his first semester of his freshman year, Mains joined the team and appeared in two conference games. In his sophomore season in 2020-21, he would appear in two more contests. Mains made 14 appearances this season for the Wildcats.

Remy Martin, Kansas

Look away, ASU fans. Martin is best known in the Valley for his four years spent with Arizona State under coach Bobby Hurley. A three-time All-Pac-12 selection, Martin made an immediate impact as the Pac-12 Co-Sixth Man of the Year in his freshman season. In his two final years in maroon and gold, Martin averaged over 19 points a game, good enough to earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors both years.

After graduating from ASU, Martin elected to withdraw from the NBA Draft and transfer to Kansas, taking advantage of his final year of eligibility. Due to injuries and struggles finding his role in Lawrence, Martin played in only 24 games this season, mostly coming off the bench. For the first time in his career, Martin is on a team that can go beyond the first round. He’s an essential piece to this Jayhawks squad.

Due to injuries and struggles finding his role with Kansas, former Arizona State guard Martin played in only 24 games this season, mostly coming off the bench. He is excited to play for a team that could go beyond the first round. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“My first time here was full of great energy,” Martin said, recalling his trip to the tournament with ASU for a first round matchup with Buffalo. “Going to the tournament was something I always thought about as a kid. … March brings an entirely different energy to college basketball that I love.”

“Being on a team that has a good chance to go as far as we want is exciting and I’m thankful that we get to see fans and see people (in the stands). The most exciting thing is being back to normal and I’m grateful to be able to play here.”

Mitch Lightfoot, Kansas

A key contributor off the bench for the Jayhawks this season, Lightfoot hails from Gilbert and played his high school ball at Gilbert Christian. After averaging a double-double as one of the best forwards in the country, Lightfoot was named the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season. Across his six years playing for the Jayhawks, the super senior has racked up 161 career games played with 11 starts.

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“Arizona means a lot to me,” Lightfoot said. “It’s where I figured myself out as a basketball player and where I figured out what I wanted to do with my career as a person. Being here helped me grow my confidence. I played high school ball there and had great coaches and made great friends, that’s what means the most to me.”

TyTy Washington Jr., Kentucky

The freshman guard is one of Kentucky’s brightest young stars, and its biggest contributor in the backcourt. Washington Jr. split his high school career at Cesar Chavez and Compass Prep, where he played his final two years. He was named the MaxPreps Arizona Player of the Year after he averaged 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his senior year to lead his team to a 30-2 record.

Washington Jr. is in the top three on the Wildcats in points, field goals made, three pointers made, free throws made, assists and steals. In the SEC Tournament, Washington Jr. scored 25 points in the quarterfinals against Vanderbilt and 17 in their semifinal loss to Tennessee. 31.5 percent of all brackets on ESPN have Kentucky reaching the Elite Eight. 12.9 percent of brackets have Kentucky in the Final Four.

Timmy Allen, Texas

The senior forward was the Longhorns’ leading scorer and rebounder across the 2021-2022 season, averaging 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Allen calls Mesa home and attended Red Mountain High School, where he averaged 29.5 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. He was the No. 2 overall recruit in the state of Arizona, earning first-team all-region honors and an all-defensive team selection as well.

Allen spent his first three years in college basketball in Salt Lake City as a key contributor for the Utah Utes, starting all but three games across his 85-game career. He climbed up the ranks as a member of the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team in 2018-19, an All-Pac-12 Second Team selection as a sophomore in 2019-20 and an All-Pac-12 First Team selection in 2020-21.

After Texas fell to TCU in Big 12 Conference Tournament semifinal, Allen said his team is focused and that “you learn from it. You grow, reflect for a couple days and forget about it. We’ve got another tournament here real quick, so we’ve got to get up for the next one.”

The coaches

Randy Bennett, St. Mary’s

Like Allen, St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett is also a native of Mesa. Bennett graduated from Westwood High School and started his collegiate basketball career at Mesa Community College, where he played for his father, Tom. Bennett moved on to play at UC San Diego. His coaching career began as an assistant under Hank Egan at the University of San Diego. Over the next 15 years, Bennett would make stops as an assistant at Idaho, Pepperdine and Saint Louis before taking the St. Mary’s job, which he has held since 2001.

With a 479-199 overall coaching record, Bennett has won three West Coast Conference (WCC) titles and four WCC Coach of the Year awards. The Gaels are making their eighth appearance in the March Madness this season under Bennett, their best being a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2010. Bennett’s team has made postseason appearances in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT in all but six years of his coaching tenure. As a No. 5 seed in the East this year, Bennett’s squad has tremendous upside, especially after beating No. 1 Gonzaga by 10 to close out the regular season. St. Mary’s plays No. 12 Indiana in the first round on Thursday.

Todd Golden, San Francisco

A graduate of Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix, Golden went on to play at St. Mary’s for four years under Bennett. When he graduated, Golden was the Gaels’ all-time leader in free-throw percentage (.832). He would play for two years in Israel for Maccabi Haifa in the Israeli Basketball Premier League.

To begin his coaching career, Golden joined Kyle Smith’s staff at Columbia in 2012. In 2014, he coached for Auburn before he headed west as an assistant for San Francisco in 2017. He was promoted to the Dons’ top job in 2019. As a member of the WCC, Golden competes against his former college coach, Bennett, in two conference games a year, with postseason implications always on the table. In 2022, the Dons are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since their 1998 first-round exit at the hands of Utah. San Francisco faces off with No. 7 Murray State in the first round on Thursday.

Dedrique Taylor, Cal State Fullerton

Hailing from California, Cal State Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor is making his second appearance in the NCAA Tournament at the helm of the Cal State Fullerton Titans after leading CSF to a Big West Tournament Title and automatic berth to March Madness in 2018. Taylor was an assistant coach at Arizona State from 2006-2010 under Herb Sendek and an associate coach for the Sun Devils between 2010 and 2013. Taylor coached former Arizona State guard James Harden during his two years in Tempe.

Eric Musselman, Arkansas

Arkansas coach Eric Mussleman spent two years in Tempe as an assistant alongside Taylor under Sendek. He was promoted to an associate coaching role in the 2013-14 season, helping ASU reach the NIT in 2013 and the NCAA Tournament in 2014. His Razorbacks are the No. 4 seed in the West, facing off against No. 13 Vermont.

Scott Drew, Baylor

Drew is the head coach of the defending national champions after the Bears took down Gonzaga in the 2021 National Championship. Scott is the older brother of GCU coach Bryce Drew. His Bears are the No. 1 seed in the West region and face off with No. 16 Norfolk State.

Mac Friday(he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Mac Friday expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Friday, who reports for and does play-by-play for Pac-12 Insider, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Wesley Johnson expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Johnson, who has interned as a digital editor and social media manager at Arizona PBS, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.