Consistency Is Key For 2000-01 Men's Hoops
Oct. 26, 2000
TEMPE, Ariz. -
Basketball season has just started, and Rob Evans knows his team is already ahead of last year.
How can that be?
Take a look at Arizona State's roster and you can tell what a difference a year makes.
Last year at this time, ASU had three returning lettermen, six true freshman and needed to ask one senior who had posted his share of ups and downs to be a leader, as he was the only player with more than one year of Sun Devil experience.
The team was coming off a 14-16 1998-99 season that had Evans and his staff disappointed.
'That year was very difficult for us as a staff as we were implementing a new system,' says Evans of his first season in Tempe. 'We don't like excuses, so we simply used that year as motivation to take this program to a higher level.'
Indeed they did.
ASU posted 19 wins for just the fourth time in the past 17 seasons, finished tied for fourth with eventual Sweet 16 participant UCLA, tied the school record with 14 wins at home and won four straight Pac-10 games for the first time since 1995. It made a run for the NCAA Tournament that had ASU 'on the bubble' until the final game was over.
But the best part? True, ASU loses the Pac-10 Player of the Year in Eddie House, but nine lettermen return to the program, including four starters. ASU has just one newcomer this year. By the time October 15 rolled around, it was time to get to work, not learn how to work. And a program that for more than a two decades has been searching for consistency on its roster now has it.
'There is no question we are a lot further along this year in a number of areas. The conditioning is better, the academics are taking care of themselves.. Now you have guys like Donnell Knight and Tanner Shell teaching, guys that have now been around the program for almost three years since the day they signed their letters-of-intent. Guys can look after one another, teach each other things and stay on top of each other with regards to academics, practice and anything else that happens around the program. I don't think we will have to stop practice and teach as much this year as we did last year.
'I told everyone last year we would have to be patient, and I had to practice what I preached a few times. We sometimes forgot how young that team was. Almost everyone played every game. We made two trips across the country together to North Carolina, plus a trip to Puerto Rico and a trip to Brigham Young. These young guys had a great basketball experience last year, and also had great times together off the court. They like being around each other. That can't be overstated about how important that is to a program.'
The team went 3-1 in overtime games, all of them in the Pac-10 and on the road. They swept four Pac-10 teams (California, Washington, Washington State and Oregon State) and swept a road trip in league play (Washington) for the first time since 1996. They beat UCLA by 29 and ended a 22-game losing streak dating to 1989 against the Bruins. Although they were led by Eddie House and his 23.0 points per game, the other players certainly weren't standing around and watching.
So as the 1999-2000 season is put in the rear view mirror and as one thinks about this year, it is good to know all the internal parts of the program are in great shape. Evans knows what it takes to build a winner. The SEC Coach of the Year and College Hoops Insider National Coach of the Year in 1996-97 led Ole Miss to a 42-16 (.724) in his final two seasons and produced back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, the first time that has happened in school history.
This, of course, happened because Evans stayed with his plan that he had when he was named the Ole Miss basketball coach in 1992 at a school that, according to Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson 'was below ground.' Evans had to fight a diverse amount of problems, many of them not basketball related, as Ole Miss became an SEC powerhouse. The script was somewhat the same at ASU.
'I'm proud of the fact our kids want to excel in the classroom and are very active in the community. I've always felt your best recruiting tools are the quality individuals you have on your team. Good prospects want to play with other good players. I feel it is only a matter of time that all these positives lead to victories.'
There is no question that Evans is building something special. His practices are tough and competitive, and they should become even more fierce this year with more players on the squad.
'There is no question that you need depth, not so much for the games but for competitive practice situations. We need to make our practices as hard and as tough as the games. We want players who like competition, and we have that this year. These guys are going to get after whoever is standing in their way.'
THE LONE SENIOR...
Point guard Alton Mason has started the past two seasons slowly, but has come on strong at the end. Even when he lost his starting job to Kyle Dodd in the middle of the Pac-10 season, he kept his head up and kept playing and was back in the starting lineup a little time later.
'It is time for Alton to be a leader from the first day of practice,' says Evans. 'We need consistency from him every game and every possession. He can be one of the best in the league when he is focused. He's had a lot of things happen to him in the past few years, but he has persevered and become a solid young man.'
Mason, ASU's lone senior this year, averaged 12.7 points in his final seven games as his end-of-season stretch started at Washington on Feb. 12 when he posted eight points in 12 minutes off the bench, all in the second half, as ASU came back to beat the Huskies. In the final seven games, he averaged 12.7 points, shot 46.8 percent from the field and was 20-of-23 (.870) from the free throw line. His biggest improvement was the charity stripe, as he shot 80.7 percent (46-of-57) after shooting just 59.5 percent (47-of-79) in 1998-99.
'We have a lot of confidence that Alton can lead this team. We need him to be consistent at both ends of the floor.'
Chad Prewitt saw a lot of time early in his freshman season (1998-99), but as the season went on playing time decreased as All-Pac-10 players Mike Batiste and Bobby Lazor were on the floor most of the game. Last year, Prewitt took his game to another level that was often overshadowed by House's heroics.
'Chad is the perfect example of what can happen between a freshman and a sophomore year,' says Evans. 'He realized what it takes to be good in this league, and he worked at it. He has developed a great offensive game and his post defense has been outstanding. He needs to learn how to stay out of foul trouble, but that will happen with better inside depth this year.'
One of the five local products on the roster, Prewitt averaged 4.1 points per game in his initial season and had two double-digit scoring games but last year he averaged 9.0 ppg, third on the team. 'Big Red' had his best game at No. 1 Stanford, posting 18 points and 10 rebounds (six offensive) in 33 minutes and also had another double-double with 12 points and 10 boards vs. USC on Feb. 19. He sets one of the best legal screens in the nation and averaged 10.2 points in Pac-10 play (second on the team) after averaging just 2.1 the year before and was the only Sun Devil to start in all 32 games.
'As I have stated, Chad wants to get better and accepts coaching very well. You put those two qualities together and usually you have a guy that will succeed. That was evident last year.'
THE OLD MAN...
Another starter returning is 6-6 forward Awvee Storey, a guy who never met an offensive rebound he did not like or a defensive assignment, whether it be a 6-9 center or a 6-5 wing player. Storey led the Pac-10 with 105 offensive boards last year despite being listed a 6-6, and he tied for fourth in the loop with 7.6 rebounds a game. He plays the game above the rim and has a competitiveness that can't be matched. And since he transferred from Illinois and had to sit out the 1998-99 season and also attended prep school out of high school, he is a 23-year old junior.
'Awvee excites the fans, no question about that. He does things above the rim that makes people jump out of their seats. The best thing about Awvee is how hard he practices. He's not a great shooter, but he is improving. Our system helps him because he can get a lot of opportunities near the basket.'
Storey led ASU in rebounding in 18 games and also was the second-leading scorer (9.3 ppg.). He posted 21 points at UCLA on Jan. 22 to go with eight rebounds, including 7-of-8 (.875) from the free throw line, and averaged 8.6 points and 7.3 boards in Pac-10 play.
'Awvee simply needs to channel his enthusiasm and make sure he is always doing what is best for the team. But he's only a junior, and the young guys look up to him, and that is good for our program.'
LIKE KNIGHT AND DAY...
So how do you replace a player like Eddie House and his 23.0 points per game?
Although they won't be expected to score 61 points, Evans points to a combination of two players specifically.
'I really felt Tanner Shell and Donnell Knight stepped up their game late last year, and that was why we were able to win 19 games. Those guys need to pick up right where they left off last year. They have the ability to do that, and they need to do that for us to win.'
Last year was not easy for Donnell Knight early, but the Parade All-American did not stop working hard. And as a result, he had a great dozen games to end the year that has everyone excited about him this year.
'It would have been very easy for Donnell to lose confidence early last year. I give him a lot of credit, and I also give a lot of credit to the staff. The coaches stayed on him, and Donnell did not get down on himself. He is a great team player who cares about his teammates and is a very respectful young man. It is going to be fun watching him mature even more this season.
Knight posted a season-high 29 minutes vs. California on March 8 and matched a season-high with 16 points as ASU topped the Bears in a key late-season Pac-10 game. He was 5-of-6 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line in that game. Knight averaged nine points, five rebounds and 19.6 minutes in a five-game stretch from Feb. 5-Feb. 19 and was a key part of ASU's four-game winning streak in that time and shot 35-of-61 (.574) from the field in the final 12 games of the year.
How comfortable and confident was he at the end of last year? He finished the season by making 17-of-18 (.944) free throws in his final nine games.
'Donnell is a leader and he has been a great representative of this program already. When you have kids like Donnell in your program, you feel good about your kids off the court.'
Continuing with the Arizona prep products, Mesa Mountain View won back-to-back state championships with Tanner Shell in the lineup. After one year at ASU, it is not hard to believe, considering how hard Shell plays. At 6-6, Shell possesses intensity and can be 'a real mean, hard-nosed son of a gun' according to Evans. Shell played his senior season with a bum ankle that required surgery. Last year, he started slowly but hit his stride in Pac-10 play. In his 18 league games, Shell came off the bench in each one and contributed 9.1 points per game, third on the team in league play, and had six double-figure scoring games. He also played a huge part in ASU's first home sweep of the LA schools since 1986, as he was 10-of-13 (.769) from the field, 4-of-5 (.800) from the line and made all four free throws in the sweep of UCLA and USC on Feb. 17-19. He had 17 points, 14 of them in the second half, vs. USC and had 12 vs. UCLA. He also posted 24 points at USC on Jan. 20 and also had 13 at UCLA on Jan. 22.
'Tanner is a tremendous competitor who only knows one speed-full throttle,' says Evans. 'He improved greatly as the season went on last year. He was a tough player down the stretch. He was one of the most underrated players on the team last year.'
The question has been asked a lot lately.
How good Tommy Smith can be?
At 6-9 with long arms, long hands and a point guard's understanding of the game, Smith needs to hit the weight room and training table, but that is easy. Smith takes to coaching very well and according to Evans, his potential is unlimited.
'I said last year that Tommy Smith potentially is the best player I have ever recruited. I say that because of his build, his fundamentals and most importantly his work ethic. He is going to keep growing physically. He wants to be a part of a winner, and last year he saw the work ethic that Chad Prewitt and Eddie House had. That made a big impression on him.'
The Phoenix North High School product played in all 32 games and averaged 4.9 points and 13.4 minutes per game. Smith opened the season with a season-high 15 points and seven boards vs. Portland State on Nov. 20 and also posted six blocks vs. Oregon State on Feb. 3, the most by a Sun Devil since Bobby Lazor had six vs. Texas A & M on Dec. 19, 1997. In his sole start on Feb. 12 at Washington, he posted eight points and six boards as ASU swept a road trip for the first time since 1996 and also posted 10 points at Oregon March 2.
Kyle Dodd proved to a lot of people last year he was not just a leaper and a good quote...he was a winner. He brings a great understanding of the game, a great sense of humor and a leadership qualities that a coach needs out of a point guard.
'I knew our fans were going to love Kyle. His athleticism is incredible. He's deceptively quick and he pushes the ball up the floor. With guys like Awvee and Donnell filling the lanes for the next two years, Kyle is the perfect player to get it to them.'
The 6-0 point guard showed tremendous poise in his rookie year, even nailing the game-winning three-pointer in overtime as ASU won at Washington State 81-79 and began its first four-game Pac-10 win streak since 1995. ASU was 5-2 when he started, and he started every game of the four-game Pac-10 win streak. In his final 24 games, Dodd posted 56 assists and just 16 turnovers in 466 minutes, an average of one turnover every 29 minutes and he did not turn the ball over in the final six games of the year (62 minutes). He had a season-high 10 assists and four steals vs. UCLA on Feb. 17, as ASU ended a 22-game losing streak to the Bruins in convincing fashion, 104-75.
Shawn Redhage was nicknamed 'Charlie Hustle' by his teammates for his work ethic last year and he carried the team early when House was struggling.
A top student-athlete who posted a 3.4 grade point average in his first year, Redhage averaged 8.3 points and shot 52 percent from the field. He shot 83.1 percent from the FT line, including 32-of-36 (.889) in the Pac-10. His all-around game was evident, as he was fourth on the team in assists (63) and led the team with 24 blocks. He produced two of the best all-around games of the year with 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists vs. WSU on Jan. 15 and had 14 points, seven boards and five assists vs. USC on Feb. 19 as the Sun Devils improved its Pac-10 win streak to four.
'Shawn wore down towards the end of last year and that had a lot to do with how many minutes he was playing early in the year. He was a big spark for us in December and January when we needed him. He played big in some really tough games.'
REMEMBER THE BIG GUY IN STREET CLOTHES?...
Two years ago, Evans had a first-team all-practice team player in Awvee Storey. It was the perfect set up for a transfer - sit for a year and then have three years of eligibility. Last year, that person was 7-0 Tyson Johnston who played at Utah the previous season.
Johnston puts the nice clothes on the bench away this year.
'Tyson is getting better, and he's a legitimate 7-0 and I have yet to meet someone who can teach height. Down the road he has a chance to be a great big man in the league.
The difference between a three-year transfer and a two-year transfer is amazing. This was the perfect situation for Tyson, to sit last year and get bigger and stronger, and then have three years to play. I'm excited to think that Tyson will still be on our roster in the 2002-2003 season. That is a long way down the road, and that is a lot of time to work with someone.'
Johnston is 250 pounds and athletic. He will bring to the team something that was sorely lacking last year - shot blocking.
'One of the reasons teams were able to score was we gave them a lot of easy baskets. Tyson can prevent that.'
Freshman Jonathan Howard, one of the best student-athletes on campus, chose ASU last year over California and Notre Dame and reported to school at 6-4 and 207 pounds. He will have six sophomores to learn from and although he is going to play, it's a much different situation than it was last year, when all six freshmen played a tremendous amount of minutes.
'Jonathan can help us with his shooting, and he was able to play with the team this summer which should help his confidence and learning curve. He already is learning the system.'
The best part of the roster, you ask? Local fans would probably say it's the influx of Arizona talent on the roster, the most in the 90s.
'I said this when I got the job...we need to take care of home and be constantly in contact with the local high schools. Not only do we want these five guys, we want every good player in Arizona. We want people to not want to waste their time recruiting them, because it should be a given that they will be at Arizona State.'
PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE...
All this winning and losing stuff seems so small when you get to Justin Allen's name on the roster. Allen, from Malta, Ill., has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, but it was detected early in the Stage II phase in September. He is expected to begin chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments and will redshirt this season. He is expected to return to the court in 2001-2002 and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
'We monitored Justin's situation ever since there was a concern in early September, and now that we all know what obstacle he faces, the program has put its energies towards helping him and his family,' says Evans. 'We take pride in being a family in our program, and I can tell you that his teammates are already making sure he is going to get the most support possible. Justin's attitude has been tremendous. If his teammates and our coaching staff have the same kind of attitude that Justin has, everything will be fine. He's a tough kid who is handling this in a great way, which is a great inspiration to us all.'
Allen was part of the six-member true freshmen recruiting class last year, the most in the nation. He played in 29 games, averaging 8.3 minutes per game, and played a season-high 26 minutes in ASU's 77-74 overtime win at Oregon State on March 4 and added six points and three boards. He averaged 16.3 minutes in the final three Pac-10 games of the season.
Also, 1998-99 walk-on Brad Nahra is a good shooter and has been rewarded for his work ethic with a scholarship for the second straight year. Nahra improved much last year and could see playing time this year. New walk-ons Brandon Goldman and Jonathan Bray finish the roster.
'Brad has done a fabulous job of helping to lead this team. His experience is invaluable to this program.'
Since the 1991-92 season, ASU has had just seven four-year players.
No chance to watch a group of players mature. As soon as a media type or fan became familiar with the players, they were gone.
Those days are over. Get used to the words 'chemistry' and 'experience' when it comes to ASU basketball. ASU fans can watch this group win games for the next few years, as only Alton Mason is a senior.
'Some people might have better talent, but no group is going to work harder. They already are believers in the system. We don't have to convince them this will work. They already believe in it, because of what happened last year. The kids like each other and pull for one another. They slap five when they run off the court and tell their new teammate what to do. The program is very healthy right now.'
'This has been a lot of work but has been a lot of fun. This is what our fans and community have been waiting for. These guys have a lot of pride in being Sun Devils. They know they have a chance to be a part of history here. That is in front of them.'
Obviously there are holes to fill, better stated by saying a 'House' needs to be replace. Eddie House did it all last year.
'Eddie gave us some great efforts and some great memories. His work ethic rubbed off on those kids, as did his demeanor. He made a big impact on the team, and especially the freshman.'
House was the first Sun Devil to earn Pac-10 Player of the Year and was the nation's fourth leading scorer. With his 40 points vs. UCLA on Feb. 17, he became the first Pac-10 player to notch four 40-point games in one season. House also averaged 7.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.6 steals in his final eight games. He finished his career as ASU's record holder with 2,044 points and 258 steals and is just the second Pac-10 player to notch 2,000 career points and 250 steals. Oregon State's Gary Payton is the other.
'You don't just replace those numbers,' says Evans. 'You find other ways to make your team better. We were very concerned about losing Bobby Lazor and Mike Batiste's rebounding numbers last year, but we finished third in the league in rebounding. You recruit players who will improve and take over when someone leaves. That is what we expect to happen.'
THE LEAGUE AND THE SCHEDULE... If ASU is to win this year, Evans knows the road will be tough. As many as four Pac-10 teams could be in the preseason top 15, and six different Pac-10 teams have reached the Sweet 16 in the past six years on 12 occasions. Every Pac-10 team has reached the NCAA Tournament in the 1990s.
'I have learned a lot about the Pac-10. Its quite different than the SEC, where you can fly in on one day and get out with a win quickly. You really get a chance to focus with your team on the road, but trips from Arizona to Washington and Oregon can be long and tough. I felt we played very well on the road last year. We won three overtime games and could have won a few others with one more rebound or one more shot. Also, The atmospheres in each building are all so different. It makes for some interesting road trips and now we won't have to educate the kids about the arenas this year. They know that the Stanford floor shakes and that Eugene is a great atmosphere. It all goes back to the learning curve of a freshman.'
The Sun Devils waste no time in getting into the season. The Sun Devils open with Elite Eight participant Tulsa, who was 32-5 and returns eight lettermen, at the NABC Classic in Chapel Hill in North Carolina, along with Winthrop and North Carolina. Kent State visits ASU on Nov. 25, and the Golden Flashes were 23-8 last year. BYU comes to town Dec. 2, and the Cougars beat ASU in 1999-2000 en route to a 22-11 mark. ASU plays host to Ohio in the first round of its holiday tournament, and the Bobcats were 20-13. ASU then opens its Pac-10 season against one of the best - defending Pac-10 co-champion Stanford.
'Just like I said last year, I guarantee our fans that they are going to have a program they can be proud of both on and off the court, and the staff and I are determined to get ASU back in the NCAA Tournament. These kids have been nothing short of fantastic in their preparations for this year. We can't wait to get started.'