Monday Musings: Please Save The Phoenix Suns, Collin Gillespie

Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

I hope everyone had a long, safe and happy holiday weekend- and hello to any old friends out there. It’s been a minute since I’ve had an article on, and thanks to Brad Cesmat, it looks like we’re going to make this a regular thing.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to help tell the stories of Arizona’s athletes, but Mondays aren’t going to be about that around here. Mondays are for getting organized and solving all the unanswered questions out there in the Arizona sports world.

So let’s get to it. Here are Monday’s Musings for July, 9 2024:

Please Save The Phoenix Suns, Collin Gillespie

If you’re like me, you’ve been taking a mental vacation from the pain of the lackluster finish to the 2023-24 Phoenix Suns season. But the NBA Draft, as well as the start of Free Agency have me wondering what, if anything, can be done to repair the chemistry of a supremely talented (and expensive) roster to provide hope for the season ahead.

One thing is painfully obvious- someone needs to be able to handle the ball.

Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal are three of the top players on earth, but they combine for an infuriating 8.4 turnovers per game between the three of them. That’s 71% of the Boston Celtics entire team average per game split between just three players.

It’s still a torturous obstacle to try and slow down the Phoenix Suns on offense, but when a team that doesn’t exactly play sound defense picks two occasions per quarter between its best three players to just hand the ball to the opposition, that’s how you end up with the third worst turnover differential in the entire league.

So… it’s all up to you, Collin Gillespie.

You might be asking yourself “who?” That’s completely fair. Not everyone is a fan of Villanova basketball. For those Suns fans that do have some crossover Villanova knowledge, this probably wasn’t the player from the 2017-2018 Wildcats roster they were hoping would make his way (back) to the roster.

Shout out to Mikal Bridges.

But Collin Gillespie is going to have to do.

And yeah, I know the Suns also signed Monte Morris. I know that Monte Morris is the proven player…  but I also remember rooting against Morris in the playoffs in both 2021 and 2024 when he was with the Nuggets and Timberwolves. He wasn’t exactly a world beater in both those series. Morris shot 38% (21/55) over seven playoff contests vs Phoenix, and was benched in several games of the Wolves 2024 run.

Then again, Morris did have a 24:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in those seven games. Maybe he’s not so bad after all.

Age is a factor, however, and Collin Gillespie is four years younger, and his performance in the G-League has me wondering if we just haven’t seen what he can do on display at the NBA level.

Regardless, last year’s Suns have me putting my hopes in the hands of either a G-League legend or a fellow playoff team’s sixth option off the bench. It doesn’t feel good, but Steve Nash circa 2005 isn’t walking through that door.

Bittersweet Reunion

Over the years, both Sports360AZ and ArizonaVarsity (where I came from) have shared several contributors. One of those people, Andy Luberda, left a lasting impact on both Brad Cesmat and I. Unfortunately Andy passed away in December 2020 due to complications from COVID 19.

At the time, Andy was in the process of moving to Kentucky to help his wife, Kelli, through some health challenges.

Over the weekend, Kelli Luberda passed away at age 58.

Andy loved his wife very much, and spending time with her is the only thing that would have ever drawn him away from covering prep sports over on his beloved county line. 

While I’d love to have them back, I believe they’re together today, somewhere better than here.

A couple years ago I was asked to write something to be read aloud at the annual Andy Luberda Classic, a game between Queen Creek and American Leadership Academy- Queen Creek. As a tribute to Andy and Kelli, I’m posting a portion of it below.

Andy Luberda was humbled and filled with gratitude that he got to share the sideline with these teams as a reporter. 
Andy Luberda was humbled and filled with gratitude that any coach or player would grant him the time to give an interview, or to read something that he wrote. 
Andy Luberda was humbled and filled with gratitude that the people he worked alongside, and the coaches he covered, would eventually come to be counted as his friends. 
In any interaction having to do with high school football, or the town of Queen Creek, Andy Luberda always considered himself the fortunate one. His friends would often push him to remind himself that he belonged amongst the people he shared space with. While Andy put in the work to show that he not only belonged, but that he was a vital part of this community, he never lost that sense of gratitude and wonder over his inclusion. 
And when you never lose your sense of gratitude, you never really lose.
While we lost Andy Luberda in December 2020, let us use his example of gratitude to challenge us to be thankful to be here with each other, in this community, as part of this game.
And if we can do that, then our own Andy Luberda is not lost to us after all.

Adair Devil

New Arizona State University Athletic Director Graham Rossini is making the media rounds, and so far I’ve really enjoyed what he’s had to say. He seems curious, motivated, competent, aware, humble, excited, and a whole other list of adjectives that fail to describe his predecessor. If attitude is any indicator of success, the Sun Devils are on the right path.

But if we’re predicting Graham Rossini’s first big challenge, it has to be ASU women’s basketball.

Since the retirement of Charli Turner-Thorne, and the decision by former AD Ray Anderson to ignore her suggestion to promote Nikki Blue as her successor, the Sun Devils have had their first (and second!) 20-loss season since 1996- the year beofre Turner Thorne was hired.

Beyond that, ASU President Dr. Michael Crow has referenced women’s hoops as the university’s biggest financial liability, operated at an annual loss of multiple millions of dollars.

I know it doesn’t draw a lot of attention, but I’m extremely curious how Graham Rossini deals with a sport that is losing, and hemorrhaging cash.

Is Natasha Adair the right person to get ASU women’s hoops back to the trajectory it was on before Covid stopped the team short of a seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, at a time when women’s basketball is more popular than ever? Or is Rossini going to have to make a change?

Controversy at Chase

No, I’m not talking about the fact that Pete Alonso made the All-Star game over Christian Walker. That’s not a controversy, it’s a travesty.

I’m talking about the fact that Arizona-based sports betting analyst and content creator Taylor Mathis said on an episode of The First Base Podcast that the food at Chase Field sucks.

What happened to the ballpark I loved? I suppose it has been over ten years since the introduction of the Sonoran Dog. But has it really gotten that bad? I need a season ticket holder to hit me up on Twitter/X and let me know.

Mercury Mural

The Phoenix Mercury will play host to the 2024 WNBA All-Star game, and because of that, the basketball coaurts over at the Rose Mofford sports complex got a little facelift, courtesy of a mural by local artist Antionette Cauley. I’m curious which one you like more, this mural, or Devin Booker’s court renovation in partnership with the 2k FOundation?

Best in the Country?

I took a tour of Lake Forest College’s athletic facility this morning. If you’re unfamiliar with Lake Forest College, it’s a private university about an hour north of Chicago that just happens to have a third of its college football players hailing from the great state of Arizona.

The head coach, Jim Catanzaro, has been a good friend and resource to the media members in what he calls “The Southwest Suburb,” and so it’s always been on my bucket list to check the school out.

Afterward, I posted that I believed they had the best player in all of Division 3 on their roster- AJ Jackson.

Now, do I have enough knowledge of divison 3 football to have made this statement? Definitely not.

But do I believe the statement enough to defend it anyway? Yes. Yes I do.

AJ Jackson is a 6th year senior (injury/COVID season) from Centennial High who has turned down opportunities to “level up” and hit the transfer portal in order to finish what he started at Lake Forest.

And what did he start? Well, after turning in a masterclass defensive performance against Jake Smith, the National Gatorade Player of the Year in a 60-7 2018 5A State Championship blowout win, he went on to become an All American as a freshman at Lake Forest, scoring in four different ways during the 2019 season, and returning in 2021 to repeat as an All-American.

Last year Jackson battled injury to be the team’s second leading receiver, while also housing his ninth special teams touchdown in his Lake Forest career.

Las Vegas is Big 12 Country

The last thing I thought about this weekend is how strange it is to have Arizona State and Arizona participating in the same Las Vegas preseason media circus they always do… but this time as part of the Big 12 Conference. I suppose it would feel like more of an end-of-an-era event if the Pac-12 didn’t spent the last 6-8 years teetering on the edge of both relevance and competence.

More than anything, I’m excited to share a conference with teams whose fans live, eat, and breathe this stuff.

I look forward to Brad Cesmat, Jordan Spurgeon, and Jordan Hamm’s coverage of the event for Sports360AZ.