[B][SIZE=5]COACH AND PROGRAM[/SIZE][/B]
While Blue Ribbon is more about previewing the season to come rather than detailing the season that was, it’s impossible to talk about Arizona State basketball without wondering how the Sun Devils finished tied for fifth in the arguably the nation’s toughest conference last season and wasn’t invited to the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Herb Sendek turned this program in near-record time, and in just the second year coaxed 21 wins – a 13-win improvement from 2006-07, tied for the nation’s best turnaround last season with UNC Wilmington – out of the Sun Devils. Alas, for Sendek and ASU, the final two of those wins came in the NIT Tournament, where few outside of the war room of the selection committee believed Arizona State belonged.
[B]Arizona State Sun Devils[/B]
Last Season [B]21-13 /B
Conference Record [B]9-9[/B] (t-5th)
[U][I]Starters Lost/Returning 0/5[/I][/U] *** All 5 starters are back ***
Coach Herb Sendek (Carnegie-Mellon '85)
Record At School 29-35 (2 years)
Career Record 283-193 (15 years)
RPI Last 5 years 183-68-180-221-83
To make matters worse for the ASU faithful, archrival Arizona was invited despite having lost twice to the Sun Devils.
For the most part, to his credit, Sendek didn’t rant and rave, simply saying that Arizona State could have won an extra game here or there or knocked off USC in the Pac-10 Tourna-ment quarterfinals. The lone argument against Arizona State was its RPI rating, but as Sendek explains, it’s not always the fairest evaluator.
“First, our basketball team had won two conference games and eight games overall the year before, we knew we were going to be extraordinarily young last year,” Sendek said. "We started with a great field in Maui, we had an obvious top-10 or 15 team in Xavier, and we had the Big 12 Challenge. So we had five non-conference games that could have come against top-25 teams. You add to that what was expected to be the top conference in the country, 19 games, now we’re at 24. So you’re sitting there in your office, the year before is when this had to be done, and you’re saying, we just won eight, we got 24 on the ledger right now, how many more is prudent? Should we go to 25? Should we go to 26? Should we schedule the Suns? Should we include the Lakers? How do you do that unless you’re clairvoyant?
“You can also schedule yourself right out of a season with a young team, and that wouldn’t be very wise.”
Not making the Big Dance hurt, but it didn’t diminish the fourth 20-win season in the last 27 years at ASU. And this from a team picked ninth in the Pac-10 preseason poll. (For the re-cord, Blue Ribbon tabbed ASU eighth, writing, "ASU should make significant strides. An NIT berth isn’t out of the question.)
“If the committee would have put us in, that didn’t make us any better,” Sendek said. “By them omitting us, it doesn’t make us any worse. It was a good season.”
This year, RPI shouldn’t be an issue. The non-conference schedule is a little tougher, although it’s not brutal.
And while Sendek is fine with the preseason hype, he knows that will win him exactly zero games this season.
“It’s good that people are talking positively about our basketball program,” Sendek said. “It doesn’t translate, unfortunately, into any wins. It’s a sign that we’ve made improve-ments and people are thinking favorably about ASU basketball, but we don’t get bonus points to start any games this year.”
Sendek has become a sort of cult figure in Tempe, with many of the student body wearing “Herbivores” t-shirts at games. It’s also worth noting that over his first 16 months or so on the job, Sendek reached out to the community as few coaches in the nation do, attending every luncheon and lodge meeting he was invited to and shaking hands and kissing babies along the way.
“The fans and students here have been absolutely incredible,” Sendek said. "The support last season was tremendous, especially in that home stretch; our home crowd noise levels were among the best in the country.
"We have made some tremendous strides with the presence of our program, not just here in the valley, but nationally.
“Just around town this spring and summer, I’ve bumped into people here and there and they have a great interest in this team. We need success to sustain that excitement.”
It’s hard to imagine Arizona State not only sustaining the excitement this season but increasing it as every bandwagon fan in Tempe is about to hitch up.
[B]PG-DEREK GLASSER [/B](6-1, 180 lbs., JR, #12, 6.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 26.8 mpg, .384 FG, .315 3PT, .841 FT, Artesia HS/Marina Del Rey, Calif.). Somewhat under the ra-dar, Glasser has developed into one of the better pure point guards in the Pac-10. He does all those things coaches love – takes care of the basketball, doesn’t force bad passes in transition, runs the half-court offense to perfection, hits his free throws, doesn’t force shots just because he hasn’t taken one in seven or eight trips down the floor.
No one is saying he’s perfect – Glasser, like five of the team’s top eight scorers last season, shot less than .400 percent from the field – but many a major conference team would take him as its starting point guard in a second.
“Derek has played an important role in each of the last two seasons; he’s been our primary ball distributor,” Sendek said.
In Pac-10 play, Glasser registered 69 assists and 32 turnovers, a ratio of 2.16 that ranked second in the league. He’s passed for 231 career assists, putting him on pace to break the program’s record of 454 set by Bobby Thompson (1983-87).
Glasser started 19 games last season, but he seemed to have secured his role as the man later in the season. Perhaps his most staggering statistic, though, is that he was whistled for just 38 personal fouls in 912 minutes of action.
He is also a .816 career free-throw shooter, so look for ASU to keep the ball in his hands late in games when it has the lead.
[B]SG-JAMES HARDEN [/B](6-4, 218 lbs., SO, #13, 17.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.1 spg, 0.6 bpg, 34.1 mpg, .527 FG, .407 3PT, .754 FT, Artesia HS/Los Angeles). Arizona State’s basket-ball games saw an increase of 196 percent in the local Nielsen ratings last season, and while taking nothing away from the remainder of the team, the No. 1 reason for that monumental leap was the youngest player in the Pac-10 – James Harden.
This kid did everything but sell popcorn, and who knows, maybe he snuck that in during halftime. Where to begin when talking about who the Arizona State sports information office refers to as “the most famous southpaw at Arizona State since Phil Mickelson.”
" He became just the fifth freshman to lead the Pac-10 in steals, joining the likes of Cal’s Jason Kidd, UCLA’s Baron Davis, Stanford’s Brevin Knight and Arizona’s Mike Bibby.
" Harden, who just turned 19 on Aug. 26, led ASU and finished fifth in the Pac-10 in scoring. He had 16 20-point games and led ASU in scoring in each of the first eight Pac-10 games.
" While his 89 turnovers were a tad high for a slower-paced offense, he’s an exceptional passer, especially when driving to the basket. His rebounding is also rare for a guard his size. He could average seven this season.
" His 44 three-pointers were second on the team, and he shot nearly .530 from the field. After making 224 trips to the free-throw line as a freshman, that number should increase as well. This guy knows how to score.
“I think that everyone expected James to be a terrific player and he was and then some,” Sendek said. "He just had a fabulous freshman year. He really continues to give our program national publicity because of his presence. We want to see him advance on a broadband front like all of our players.
“James is somebody who has great confidence in his ability. He knows his game, and he knows what he has to do better than anybody.”
Some were surprised that Harden returned for his sophomore season because he was a projected first-round pick in the NBA draft, but he didn’t even test the waters, saying in March that was staying. This is likely his final year as he should vie for first team All-America honors.
“James will continue to improve, he’s humble and very coachable,” Sendek said. “He’s also blessed with great talent. We’re going to further engage his versatility this season, too.”
[B]SG-JERREN SHIPP [/B](6-3, 214 lbs., JR, #44, 5.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.9 apg, 26.3 mpg, .386 FG, .352 3PT, .817 FT, Fairfax HS/Los Angeles). Last season was a bit disappointing season for Shipp, and it’s by no means a lock he’ll start, but he did earned 16 starts last year and has the potential to become a double-digit scorer.
He shot just .386 from the field, but he was fourth on the team with 31 three-pointers. A good free-throw shooter, Shipp needs to drive to the basket more rather than settling for an outside shot, much like his older brother Josh at UCLA. He finished with just 28 turnovers in 893 minutes, which is outstanding.
“I think Josh will really benefit us this season; he offers a lot to us offensively and can score in a variety of ways,” Sendek said.
One Pac-10 coach said this summer, “He hasn’t become the player some of us were expecting, but the talent is there. This could be his year.”
Shipp is also able on the boards, as evidenced by his career-high nine at Cal last season.
[B]SG-TY ABBOTT [/B](6-3, 200 lbs., SO, #3, 9.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 32.7 mpg, .392 FG, .353 3PT, .731 FT, Desert Vista HS/Phoenix). One of three sure-fire without question starters this season, and last for that matter, Abbott started all 34 games and placed second to just Harden in minutes played.
It’s amazing the role freshmen have played in Sendek’s two seasons. In 2007-08, freshmen accounted for 69 of the 150 team starts, while last season it was another 96 starts, mean-ing 165-of-320, or 51.6 percent.
Harden and Abbott broke Byron Scott’s long-standing record for most minutes played by a freshman. Scott set the mark with 32.3 in 1979-80.
Abbott easily led the team in three-pointers made (76) while placing second in steals with 39. He was careful with the ball, which always makes Sendek happy, finishing with just 44 turnovers in 1,112 minutes. A decent rebounder and strong defender (13 blocked shots) Abbott should see as many minutes as any player in the conference this season.
And yes, we have three shooting guards listed in the projected starting lineup. On some nights, Sendek might start a second post player based on match-ups, but this team is going to play small as are several other Pac-10 programs this season. Defensively, Abbott will more often than not match up with the three, and if need be, he can slide into the post depending on the player’s size.
[B]PF-JEFF PENDERGRAPH [/B](6-9, 230 lbs., SR, #4, 12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 1.6 bpg, 28.4 mpg, .593 FG, .793 FT, Etiwanda HS/Etiwanda, Calif.). There’s one statistic next to Pendergraph’s name that greatly needs to be improved this season for Arizona State to join the nation’s elite, and it has nothing to do with scoring, rebounding or defense.
It has to do with him staying on the court, that 28.4 minutes per game needs to increase to more than 30. It’s not that Sendek doesn’t want to play him that much or Pendergraph isn’t in the shape for those minutes, it’s that he can’t stay out of foul trouble some nights.
“Ideally, if Jeff would stay out of foul trouble, we’d love to have him on the court,” Sendek said. “He has to be aware of his foul situation this season.”
One of Sendek’s all-time favorite players, Pendergraph is Arizona State’s man in the post, which at times is a lonely gig. He takes an absolute pounding defensively and on the boards and dishes it out just as well. He was whistled for 104 personals last season and was disqualified five times.
He thought about testing the NBA waters but decided not to in mid April. He’s the lone senior on the team.
“I am having as much fun as I have ever had in college, both on the court and in the classroom,” Pendergraph said. “I thought about the situation a lot since the end of the season and decided to put total focus into improving at Arizona State. We have unfinished business to take care of, and have so much left to accomplish. I want to leave a legacy.”
Pendergraph has 56 blocked shots last season and finished third in the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage. He tallied five double-doubles and has 18 in his career.
While he’ll come up short of the program’s career rebounding record – Tony Cerkvenik’s 1,022 from 1960-63 – he should finish top three as he enters this season with 652 career boards.
[B]C-ERIC BOATENG [/B](6-10, 245 lbs., JR, #2, 3.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 11.6 mpg, .615 FG, .365 FT, Duke/St. Andrews (Delaware)/London, England). Coming out of high school as the na-tion’s 11th ranked player and expected to see immediate playing time at Duke, Boateng might just be what he is, a nice – yet hugely inconsistent – role player capable of offering 10-15 minutes a game.
Is it possible he’ll make the leap this year? Perhaps, but it would be highly unusual for that kind of significant leap after three seasons – including the red-shirt when he transferred to ASU – in the college ranks.
He did play better in the latter stages of last season with a career-high 12 points at Oregon State in the regular-season finale and eight points and 10 rebounds against Alabama State in the first round of the NIT.
"Eric’s improvement was dramatic in the second half of the season, and with increased confidence this season I believe we’ll see his productivity increase,’’ Sentek said. “He worked really hard this off-season, and I’m excited about the level of play he can offer us.”
Depending on match-ups, Boateng would be the obvious choice to start if ASU wanted two legitimate big men on the court for the opening jump.
“This team should have the ability to play different ways, both small and big,” Sendek said.
[B]G/F-RIHARDS KUKSIKS [/B](6-6, 218 lbs., SO, #30, 5.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 17.2 mpg, .386 FG, .367 3PT, .615 FT, Florida Air Academy/Miami). Kuksiks could easily crack the start-ing lineup; he started 11 of the final 12 games of last season, and it’s really anyone’s guess whether it’s Shipp or him that starts this year.
Over the final 12 games, Kuksiks averaged 26.6 points and 8.7 points. He also drained 25 three-pointers over that stretch, more than two per game. That’s after scoring just 42 points the first 22 games.
“He’s going to continue his development this season, and we expect him to embrace a larger role as he continues his transition process from high school to college,” Sendek said.
[COLOR=Red][B]Kuksiks, who’s from Latvia, is the classic designated shooter – 98 of his 132 field-goal attempts were from three-point range. He also made just 13 trips to the free-throw line. [/B][/COLOR]
[B]G-JAMELLE MCMILLAN [/B](6-1, 165 lbs., SO, #10, 2.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 14.2 mpg, .402 FG, .357 3PT, .600 FT, O’Dea HS/Seattle). The son of Portland Trailblazers coach Nate McMillan, Jamelle started 16 games as a freshman. He played well at times and like the majority of first-year players, he was also inconsistent.
His assist-to-turnover ratio was nearly 2-to-1, which for a freshman, even in an offense like Sendek runs, is impressive.
He’s not much of a scorer, although he did knock down 15 threes. McMillan added 17 steals on defense.
[B]F/C-TAYLOR ROHDE [/B](6-8, 225 lbs., FR, #32, 29.5 ppg, 12.0 rpg, Pinnacle HS/Phoenix). One of the top players in Arizona the last three seasons, Rohde was a smart acquisition for the program for multiple reasons, first, he’s a good player and by all accounts a hard-working, smart kid. Second, his signing breaks rival Arizona’s two-decade stranglehold on nabbing the state’s elite players.
“Having Taylor sign with Arizona State allows us to build momentum in the Phoenix area,” Sendek said. “On the court and off the court, he is a winner and plays very hard. His skills are very good, and he has a chance to be a very good big man in the Pac-10.”
Solid on both ends of the court, Rohde led his high school team in charges taken each of the last three seasons. Offensively, well, that won’t be a problem. He poured in 47 points in a game last January.
Look for him to log some minutes in the post, and if he shows the ability to rebound in the Pac-10, look for those minutes to increase in match-ups with bigger teams.
“The thing I developed most was my defense on the wing,” Rohde told the Arizona Republic. "I need to get more athletic. I’ll play the four and the five at ASU. I’ll need to polish my post moves, learn to read my new teammates. “I always feel I can do more.”
[B]G-JOHNNY COY [/B](6-7, 200 lbs., FR, #33, 28.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, Benton HS/St. Joseph’s, Mo.). Though he was chosen by the Philadelphia Phillies in the seventh-round of last June’s 2008 Major League entry draft, Coy nevertheless decided to attend Arizona State, where he’ll play both baseball and basketball.
The Phillies were reportedly willing to pay Coy the $500,000 he wanted to sign if he were to give up basketball and play baseball full-time but Coy said no thanks.
“I’m going to get a lot stronger and quicker by going to college. I’ll be drafted a lot higher after being there,” Coy told stjoenews.net "That’s my dream to play both [sports]. I don’t want to have to give up one so early.
“Maybe halfway through I can realize which one is going better and which one I’m better at so that I can focus on that one more.”
Coy’s mind was made up in early June, when he and his family received a call from Sendek and ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy. The coaches wanted to make it clear they were on board to allow Coy to play both sports. Murphy also assured Coy he could improve his baseball stock with three years of high-level competition.
“[Murphy] pretty much made it a no-brainer, I’m not going to lie,” Coy told Rivals.com. “I feel so comfortable with both coach Sendek and coach Murphy; I know they’re not going to lie to me and they have my best interest at heart. They’re going to tell me about the situation honestly and it’s really sweet to have that.”
Coy is obviously an exceptional athlete and has the quickness to contribute from the first day of practice. And he should be a strong rebounding guard at 6-7, allowing Arizona State to play four guards with him on the court.
[B]BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Arizona State enters this season somewhat as Washington State did last year. While the Sun Devils didn’t quite have the success of WSU in its turnaround season, both went from last place in the Pac-10 to 20-plus wins. As Baylor coach Scott Drew referred to it this summer, “We’re going from the hunters to the hunted.”
And that’s the case with Arizona State. There’s no more feel-good underdog theme; the Sun Devils are appearing in every preseason top-25 poll this season, and with good reason.
“Right now, we as a basketball team have a lot of work to do,” Sendek said. "We could be a good team – we have that potential – but how that translates into achieving our goals, po-tential is not relevant.
“People are expecting a lot from us this season, and that’s a good thing, but there’s certainly no reason for us to add to that speculation. We have an enormous amount of work ahead of us; instead of plotting, we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work. I’m glad that we have high expectations, though, it beats the alternative. That’s what we’re all striving for, but for anyone that follows sports, they know the illusion of preseason polls.”
As for Blue Ribbon, we love Arizona State this season, enough to rank the Sun Devils second in the Pac-10 behind only UCLA. Let’s say 30 wins – imagine going from eight to 30 wins in two seasons – and a 14-4 run in the conference. Harden should vie for All-America honors and is hands down the best player in the Pac-10 outside of UCLA point guard Darren Colli-son.
Come NCAA Tournament time, Arizona State has all the pieces for a Sweet 16 run, although a match-up with a deliberate, post-orientated team could cause problems in the sec-ond round. No matter, come Selection Sunday, there will be no RPI issues this season. The Sun Devils are an absolute lock for the Dance.