By Lindsay Gaesser, SDA Media Relations
When you think about the storied history of the Arizona State men’s diving program, the names of seasoned vets Dan Plant, Marc Briggs, and Joona Puhakka come to mind, along with recent phenom and three-time All-American Riley McCormick. Under the tutelage of ASU head coach Mark Bradshaw, the Sun Devils have earned a total of four NCAA individual titles, 48 All-American honors, nine Pac-12 Diver of the Year awards, and six Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year awards. In addition to these national and conference awards and accolades, there is a program award—Most Improved Diver—that stands out from the rest, largely due to the story behind it.
Bradshaw came to ASU in 1997 to head the diving program, one that had not produced a men’s diving All-American since Dan Plant in 1983. From the start, Bradshaw’s recruiting efforts were aimed at rebuilding the program and returning it to the spotlight. Bradshaw’s sight was set on Lee Brennan, a three-sport athlete at Aliso Niguel High School who had won a CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Southern Section diving championship in May 1998.
As a six-year member of the Crown Valley Diving Club in Laguna Niguel, Calif., Brennan competed in one Senior and three Junior Olympic National Championships. In 1998, he won the 3-meter event at the Western National Championships and set a new CIF Southern Section Division II diving record, scoring 565 points.
Brennan was every coach’s dream—raw talent, great potential, and pure dedication to the sport.
“I could see the physical talent there,” said Bradshaw. “Lee was multi-faceted in the diving events, meaning he did the two springboard events and the platform. That’s a little bit rare, especially to be good at all three.
He was my first signee and I put a lot of effort into him,” Bradshaw added. “I really had to work to get him. It was significant for me the day he called and said he was coming to ASU. I saw a great future for him, and there was an excitement on my part to start working with him.”
The excitement and anticipation were short-lived, however. In August of 1998, Brennan, with his bags packed to start school at ASU, was tragically killed during his drive out to Tempe.
“I was numb—it was numbing,” said Bradshaw of receiving news of the accident. “All I could think about was his family. I had just talked to him on the phone a few days earlier. It was very devastating.”
In an effort to rebound from such tragedy, Bradshaw wanted to honor the untapped potential and the legacy that Brennan could have created as a Sun Devil. The program’s Most Improved Diver award does just that.
“It’s more of a coaches’ award I guess,” said Bradshaw of the award. “There aren’t any hard and fast criteria. The award kind of speaks for itself in name—most improved. But I take very seriously the amount of effort that the individual puts into it. I like to highlight that it kind of goes to people who exude the qualities that I saw in Lee himself as a diver—someone who was kind of a raw talent.
The growth that Lee was going to experience when coming to ASU was going to be huge,” Bradshaw added. “He was a real go-getter. I saw a lot of potential in him. The award goes to someone who embodies that spirit of ‘I’m going to give it everything I have every day.’”
What makes the Most Improved Diver award so different from other achievement or memorial awards is that although Brennan was a Sun Devil, he never dived for ASU. Most awards typically honor someone who has actually spent time at the institution or has played a significant role for the program. For Bradshaw, however, there was no question that a Most Improved Diver award was going to have Brennan’s name on it.
“Although I only knew Lee for a short period of time, what I did get to know was that he was a high quality individual with a great family; that is why this award is so important,” said Bradshaw. “I think it also lends a little to the healing process to a certain degree that Lee is recognized here annually at our banquet through the award and its recipient.”
Bradshaw has a deeper, more personal connection with the award as well. Among past award recipients is Bradshaw’s son, Cameron, who was just 10 years old when Brennan passed away. It was not until Cameron’s freshman year of high school that he began to dive. Bradshaw saw a lot of Brennan in his son, also a late bloomer with lots of potential.
“Cameron was a lot like Lee,” said Bradshaw. “Cameron was a scrapper—the guy who went out there and never was satisfied with what he was doing. He wanted to improve all the time. And look at his results. He went from being a walk-on—kind of erratic in his diving—to earning a scholarship, taking third place at NCAAs his senior year, and qualifying for the Olympic trials.”
But Arizona State and the diving community never had the opportunity to see Brennan grow as a diver. Yet, his legacy as a Sun Devil lives on.
“Brennan’s excitement for ASU and diving for ASU was noted,” Bradshaw said. “I could just feel the pride in him when he called to tell me he was coming to ASU. He was going to be dedicated every day.
So for the divers in our program, that’s what I want them to take from his memory,” added Bradshaw. “And specifically for the divers who win this award, they’re not just improving their diving—they’re coming to practice and working every day with that idea that ‘I’m going to get better.’”
A fitting and continuing tribute to the memory of Lee Brennan.
The Lee Brennan Memorial Invitational takes place June 27-29 at Crown Valley Community Park Pool in Laguna Niguel, Calif.