Men's basketball 2007-2008 outlook
Arizona State coach Herb Sendek enters his second year as the leader of the Sun Devil program with an interesting mix of returning players (five of the top six scorers including three sophomores who averaged nearly 90 minutes per game), one of the best all-around student-athletes and big men in the Pac-10 (Jeff Pendergraph), a five-man freshmen recruiting class that garnered top-25 rankings and a 6-10 2006 McDonald's All-American redshirt sophomore who sat out last year (Eric Boateng) after transferring. He returns most of the players from one of the top defensive teams in school history, a team that despite going 2-16 in the Pac-10 played all but one team in the final 15 games to a 10-point game.
Just how close were Sun Devil games last year? Think about this numbing statistic. Nine Pac-10 games were decided by six points or less, including five straight contests in the middle of the season.
What does it all mean as his staff looks towards the 2007-2008 season? He knows that the community recognized their efforts last year and that he has some quality players to work with that will help six newcomers adjust to the rugged Pac-10 season that is loaded with arguably the nation's top talent. Winning games will never be easy, but the improvements are happening, both on the surface and behind the scenes.
"We showed consistent and significant improvement throughout our first season," says Coach Sendek, as ASU in the final two weeks of the season beat a ranked team for the first time since 2003 (68-58 over No. 18 USC on Feb. 18) and matched the program's best defensive effort in 522-game Pac-10 history in the regular season finale (42-41 win at California on March 3). "Our men were resilient, tough-minded and determined. They stuck together, maintained a positive attitude, worked hard and battled."
Coach Sendek also said his feelings about the Pac-10 were confirmed in his first year, and the second year will be much of the same. As many as seven Pac-10 teams have received top-25 rankings in the various summer polls, as the league matched its best mark by sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament. In the past seven years, the league has gone 52-32 (.619) in the NCAA Tournament and has sent 15 teams to the Sweet Sixteen.
"My first season in the Pac-10 confirmed my belief that the conference is as good as any in the country," he notes, and this is coming from a former head coach in the ACC for 10 seasons. "We feature outstanding academic institutions, future NBA players and rich basketball traditions. Pac-10 basketball is awesome."
Last year's team had to fight some adversity at a time when it figured its roster was set. Its top two scorers left the program in late summer, and the most notable was Kevin Kruger, who helped lead UNLV to the Sweet Sixteen. That opened up backcourt minutes, and three freshmen gobbled them up. Expect a deeper team this year with the minutes being spread. The squad will have just one senior, so there is going to be some mixing and matching and for the second straight year it won't be out of the question to see three sophomores or freshmen on the floor at some point, as senior Antwi Atuahene and 6-9 junior Jeff Pendergraph are the only players on the squad with more than one year of experience. Both have excellent leadership qualities.
Atuahene was second on the team last year with 86 assists and averaged 6.9 points per game. The 6-3 Atuahene, originally from Canada, has played in every game the past two seasons (58 with 31 starts) and has taken care of his body in the offseason, trimming weight and reducing body fat. He is in the best shape of his career and stayed throughout the summer to improve his game and continue to take classes with an eye on graduating next summer.
One of the most valuable players in the Pac-10 is Pendergraph, who also has transformed his body into a 230-pound rebounding force. He finished second in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage (.553), rebounding (8.9), offensive rebounding (3.3) yet was fourth in minutes per game (35.5) in the 18 Pac-10 contests. After missing all of fall conditioning and most of November due to surgery to remove a benign tumor in his left leg in his freshman year (2005-06), last year was his first full year of conditioning and strength training. In his past 37 games, he is averaging 12.7 points and 8.8 boards. He continues to gain confidence, and his coach is one of his biggest fans.
"Jeff had an outstanding sophomore season," notes Coach Sendek. "He works hard and is always eager to improve. We are so excited about his capabilities for the upcoming season. I love coaching him."
Sophomores Derek Glasser, Jerren Shipp and Christian Polk played more minutes than any freshmen trio in Sun Devil basketball history last year. They each stepped on campus last fall hoping for playing time and to contribute. They combined to average 87.3 minutes per game and posted 69 starts.
Each of them had solid moments. Glasser, a 6-1 guard, averaged 32.2 minutes per game in Pac-10 play, third-most in school history and just a shade under two of the top Sun Devil greats in Byron Scott (34.2) and Ike Diogu (33.3). After starting the season 18-of-69 (.261) from the three-point stripe, he settled down and gained confidence and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc in his final nine games (16-of-32). He averaged 9.1 points in the final eight games and hit the game-winning three-pointer at California with 13 seconds left on March 3. He was one of just six Pac-10 freshmen to start every league game.
Polk, a 6-3 native of nearby Glendale, Ariz., hit 64 three-pointers, second most in ASU history by a freshmen and eighth-most in the history of the Pac-10 by a freshmen. He also hit a game-winning three pointer in the final seconds in a big game as ASU topped defending Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa last November. He posted four 20-point games on the year and had double digits in 21 games and his 12.0 points per game mark was seventh-best among ASU freshmen.
Shipp, was steady all year and averaged 6.8 points per game in Pac-10 play and set the school mark with 23 points in his first game, the best debut by a Sun Devil freshmen. He comes from a basketball family, and his basketball smarts on defense were evident as he led the team in steals and was named best cutter and screener by the coaching staff.
Another returning letterman from last year is junior Steve Jones, who would not be denied playing time in 2006-2007. When the team needed a spark, he was inserted. He does all the little things on the court both in games and in practice and was invaluable last year with such a young squad. Expect the same leadership from him again this year. He saw action in 27 games last year and earned two starts.
All the returners come from winning high school programs and know the value of defense. Pendergraph played for an Etiwanda team that went 62-5 in his final two seasons. Glasser's Artesia High School team was 111-19 in his four years. Polk's Deer Valley team was 30-2 in his junior year and won 16 straight his senior year. Shipp's Fairfax team went 24-3 in his senior year and won 15 straight.
All those wins mean they must know how to play defense, and that was shown last year. Coach Sendek and his staff have always been man-to-man teachers, but they showed their flexibility and coaching acumen by quietly sneaking a zone into the arsenal. Pretty soon, it became an ASU trademark. Will they use it this year? Only the staff knows for sure, but one thing was clear last year and that the zone caused fits. The numbers were similar to his first year at NC State, when his squad set the ACC record by allowing just 54.7 points per game.
ASU ended the season ranked 30th in the nation in scoring defense at 61.8 points per game. Sixteen of the teams ahead of them were NCAA Tournament teams and 20 of the teams posted 20 wins. ASU's scoring defense was better than Ohio State (62.0), Duke (62.0), Florida (62.6), Pitt (62.8), Memphis (63.1) and Louisville (63.1). There were moments in 2006-2007 that ASU made very good teams struggle. Washington was just 5-of-21 (.238) from the floor in the second half of its Feb. 1 game. Cal was just 5-of-18 (.278) and posted just 16 points in the second half on March 3. Oregon lit up the NCAA Tournament with its offense but was just 6-of-21 (.286) in the second half against ASU on Feb. 8. Washington State was as efficient as any team in the country at times, but ASU held it to 12-second half points on Feb. 3 and just 4-of-20 from the floor.
"I have always been a man-to-man coach, but last year we used the zone," notes Coach Sendek. "By the end of the year, we were an excellent defensive team."
A team that hopefully will be improved with six additions to the roster. One has been here for a year, the other five are true freshmen that the staff is excited to coach. Coach Sendek has been around long enough to know that the transition period won't be easy. Having said that, he posted his fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2005-2006 with a team that had no one average more than 10 points per game the year before, so watching him work with this group should have Sun Devil followers excited.
"We recognize the potential this group has and admire their accomplishments, but at the same time, as someone makes the adjustment from high school to college, we have to make sure that we allow them to do that at a pace that makes sense."
Jeff Pendergraph won't be the only big man in the paint this year for ASU. Sophomore Eric Boateng, a 6-10 center from England, played one year at Duke in 2005-06 and had to sit last year due to NCAA transfer rules. Two things were established with Boateng's presence, according to Coach Sendek. It showed that recruiting was stepping up and increased the competition level in practice last season.
"Since he is a McDonald's All-American (2006), Eric's commitment sent a lightning bolt across the country. He gave us instant credibility and then helped us in practice last season. We are excited that he now will be helping us in games."
Boateng didn't waste a season physically. On game days, after shoot-a-rounds, he would put in 90-minute workouts that would make a boxer proud, as associate head coach Mark Phelps would push him with the use of the heavy ball, exercise bike and sprints and then mix in three-point shooting, free throws and work around the hoop while a manager hit him with pads.
ASU has five true freshmen on its roster this year. The fall class included McDonald's All-American James Harden, a 6-4 dynamic wing who averaged 18.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists last year while leading Artesia (Calif.) to a 33-2 record and the Division III state title. Harden was ranked all year as a consistent top-20 player and is the first McDonald's All-American to sign with ASU out of high school since Chris Sandle in 1984.
Coach Sendek's teams always recruits great shooters. His 2003-2004 NC State team led the nation in free throw percentage (.799) and his 2005-2006 squad was ninth in the nation in three-pointers made per game (9.0). That should be a perfect fit for Latvian Rihards Kuksiks, who helped Florida Air Academy win back-to-back state titles and averaged 29.0 points in his senior year mainly via the three-point shot.
Jamelle McMillan inked with ASU as well in the fall of 2007, and the son of Portland coach and longtime NBA standout Nate is advertised as being just what you would expect, a floor leader with three state titles on his resume. The 6-2 Seattle native averaged 13.5 points and eight assists in his senior year and led his team to a 25-5 mark last year.
Kraidon Woods signed with Villanova out of high school but elected to go to prep school last year. The 6-9 forward averaged 16.0 points in his senior year and has a tremendous athletic ability.
ASU lost two players at the last minute in 2006-07, but might have turned the tables in the spring class this year. Phoenix native Ty Abbott averaged 17.3 points for Desert Vista High School last year and had signed with New Mexico in the fall, but when a coaching change occurred he chose ASU over other Pac-10 schools. An outstanding student athlete, Abbott led his team to a 29-2 mark last year.
Two former Arizona prep players, Chad Goldstein and Trent Anderson, complete the roster. Goldstein played for ASU in 2005-06 before sitting out last year due to health reasons. Anderson, a Tucson native, injured his knee this summer and will redshirt.
All those newcomers mixing with returners means Coach Sendek will lean on his staff heavily. Associate Head Coach Mark PhelpsDedrique Taylor, a southern California native, enters his second season after helping lead Nevada to the WAC Championship in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Scott Pera enters his first year as an assistant coach after serving as the Director of Basketball Operations last year. Mike Gibson, formerly a graduate assistant with Coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State, rounds out the staff as Director of Operations. joined the NC State staff in Coach Sendek's first year following a very successful high school coaching career and enters his 12th season on his staff. Assistant Coach
The 44-year-old Coach Sendek knows all about working on a great staff as he currently has six former assistant coaches serving as head coaches on the Division I level, including three who took their squads to the NCAA Tournament last year.
"We continue to be blessed with an outstanding group of coaches. They are character-based, experienced and passionate. They are united and determined to continue to advance Arizona State Basketball."
Coach Sendek said last year each season is different and that each team develops its own identity. But he knows that parts are coming together for a different look this year, especially on the offensive end.
"Our offense will most certainly change. We're always trying to put the players we have in the best position to succeed, and I think this year our offense will be designed much differently.
"It should be an exciting season. Our fan support continues to grow and certainly reflects the excitement around the program. Our student section was outstanding. We are determined to demonstrate continued improvement.