There was a lot of uncertainty in November of 2021 within the Arizona men's basketball program. New head coach Tommy Lloyd was responsible for a group he had not recruited. Lloyd, however, landed transfers Justin Kier, Pelle Larsson and Oumar Ballo to Tucson from their previous schools.
Specifically, Kier was the rock for the Wildcats all season long. Having experienced five years of college basketball, Kier impacted each person in the locker room since day one. His experience, personality and strong leadership helped bring Arizona a Pac-12 regular-season title, conference championship and a Sweet 16 appearance. Despite his success on the court in Tucson, he had a stellar career at George Mason University and the University of Georgia.
Kier, who grew up in Grottoes, Virginia, had a four-year stint at George Mason University, where he averaged double figures in points his sophomore and junior year. Kier’s junior year was arguably his most impressive year out of the four in Fairfax, Virginia. He was named the Atlantic 10 Most Improved Player and was on the Atlantic 10 Second-Team.
Throughout his season he was efficient. Seeing the ball go through the net in conference play at a high rate, he averaged 14.2 points per game. Against the College of William and Mary, Kier witnessed a career-high having 32 points on 12/15 shooting.
Unfortunately, after his terrific junior year, some of his fourth season took place from the sidelines due to a stress fracture in his right foot. However, he still contributed when healthy. The Patriot’s game against La Salle University highlighted his senior year as he had 18 points on the road, leading the Patriots to victory. Following his four years at George Mason, Kier decided he was not ready to part ways with college basketball.
After suiting up in his hometown for four years, the Virginia native decided to test the waters in the transfer portal. He re-opened the recruitment process, ultimately heading south to Athens, Georgia, to play for head coach Tom Crean.
A loaded backcourt surrounded Kier in Athens. K.D Johnson and Sahvir Wheeler, who now play for Auburn University and the University of Kentucky, did not interfere with Kier’s success. Averaging 31 minutes a game, he averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Kier was active in the passing lanes as well. Averaging 1.7 steals per game, Kier ranked No. 4 within the SEC conference. Likely, his most memorable game came in Baton Rouge, connecting on six 3-pointer shots from behind the arc, leading to a season-high 25 points.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its toll on college basketball, the NCAA decided to give student-athletes an extra year of eligibility. Kier took advantage of the opportunity. Ultimately, his time in the South was done, and he was ready for a change, choosing to take his talents to Tucson.
This young Wildcat team lacked veteran leadership with having no seniors. Thanks to Kier, Lloyd and the rest of his staff could fill this void. Averaging 20 minutes off the bench, Kier averaged 6.8 points per game alongside 3.1 rebounds. Kier also shot an impressive 44.3% from the floor, converting at a high rate. The 6-foot-4 guard enjoyed playing to his strengths, attacking downhill, getting to the glass, finishing at the rim and dumping the ball off to his big men. He scored in double figures 11 times this season and always was a reliable option off the bench.
Kier’s most impressive performance of the season might have been when Arizona traveled to Southern California and beat USC 91-71. Kier finished with 12 points and six rebounds, shooting 2/4 from behind the arc. Arizona fans will also remember his breakaway left-handed dunk as he soared above on a transition breakaway.
Another similar performance occurred at home against the University of Colorado. In only 15 minutes, he scored 14 points on 3/4 shooting from three. McKale Center loved when number five stepped onto the court because he was always efficient. He always seemed to find a way to impact the Wildcats.
Kier saw action in all 37 games this season for coach Lloyd. The senior's consistent presence and leadership were crucial in a year when the Wildcats were plagued by injuries down the stretch of the season. During postseason play, Kier had to put the Wildcats on his back when starter Kerr Kriisa suffered a sprained ankle in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament against Stanford University.
In the semi-finals against the Colorado Buffaloes, tensions between both teams were already high before tip-off. The two teams split the regular season, each picking up a win at their place. As a result, Kier was presented with an opportunity to leave his mark in Tucson. Because of Kriisa's absence, the team was counting on Kier. His leadership and experience were evident, finishing with 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Ultimately, Kier's clutch play propelled Arizona to a championship matchup against UCLA, which they went on to win, becoming Pac-12 Tournament Champions for the first time since 2018.
Kier was everything and more to the 2021-22 Arizona basketball team. Lloyd praised Kier numerously for being a vocal leader while keeping everyone engaged on and off the court throughout the season. The team also gave him the nickname "gramps," meaning grandpa, for being the only "old" guy this season.
The Tucson community will certainly feel his absence next fall.
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