2001-02 Men's Basketball Outlook
Oct. 5, 2001
When rebuilding a program, Rob Evans knows the road to success might have a few stop signs and bumps. Last year saw the ASU program get hit with season-ending injuries to two players at the beginning of the year and a mid-season injury to a starter. But if you do things the right way, eventually good things happen to good people. And right now, the ASU program is doing things the right way and those associated with the program know that the 2001-2002 season has the chance to be a real good one.
'Last year was very difficult for us with some of the adversity that these kids had to fight through,' says Evans of his third season in Tempe, as ASU went 13-16 overall. 'We don't like excuses, but it was obvious that we were hurt by the injuries and that was without a doubt a big reason for some of the struggles. We had nine lettermen returning last fall and suddenly we were playing with six at the beginning of the Pac-10 season. We started 0-7 in the league but we were closer to a .500 team the rest of the way, especially when Chad (Prewitt) was healthy. What I hope last year becomes is a learning experience. Sometimes you have to take a step back to get better. It is like I said after we beat Oregon in Eugene, that even though we were 1-7 before that game and although we weren't a Pac-10 Championship team, I knew we were better than what we showed early. These kids now have had a good season and a tough one behind them. Now it is time to have a great one.'
The good season Evans is referring to was in 1999-2000, as ASU posted 19 wins for just the fourth time in the past 18 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. And that was with six true freshman seeing quality time, the most in the nation, and all of those players remain in the program.
But last year the season got derailed early and the young Sun Devils never got in a groove. Justin Allen learned he had to fight Hodgkin's Disease in early September, which put winning and losing in perspective. Tanner Shell played one game before having to take six weeks off with a back injury and then when he was close to returning he broke his hand in practice, putting him on the redshirt list. When Pac-10 play started, Chad Prewitt went down with an ankle injury in practice that saw him miss the better part of four games.
'When last season ended, we were excited to begin the new season right away. As a staff, we feel we are not as far away from being a great program as maybe our won-loss record last year would indicate. Off the court, the program is in great shape. On the court, we made great strides already with the trip to Australia. It was a perfect spring to go on that trip.'
The Sun Devils got a jump start on the 2001-2002 season as they traveled to Australia from May 15-26 and won all five games in the 11 days. Thirteen players made the trip, but the best part was the 10 days of practice beforehand.
'Every player got better, not just from the 11 days of the trip but the 10 days of practice before we left,' says Evans. 'When we came here in the spring of 1998 we started putting this trip together knowing last spring would be the best year to do it. Most teams take at least one graduated player with them, but we had all underclassmen and it helped bring Tanner and Justin back into competition. The 10 days of practice were great, the one thing about this group is they understand the value of practice. That happens with experience. We also were tied or in a close game every game at halftime, but the kids got a killer instinct and put teams away. We won a couple of close games and different guys had to take big shots. You can't teach those things in May during a normal year. It was great to have Tanner's competitiveness out there, he never lets up, and Justin already knows that he can compete. Tommy (Smith) has unbelievable potential. There were times when he simply took over a game. That happened a lot at the end of last year and it was important for us to continue his growth. We made the same trip with our teams at Ole Miss and it was amazing how much you learn from a trip like that and what it takes to become a winning program.'
Awvee Storey, a 6-6 junior who led the Pac-10 in offensive rebounds in 1999-2000, averaged 9.1 rebounds per game overall and 9.7 per game in Pac-10 play and led the league in both categories this year. He was named Pac-10 Player of the Week (Feb. 1-4) after averaging 20 points and 9.5 rebounds during the Oregon road sweep. Storey also grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds at WSU and had 16 again vs. UCLA. The 16 boards is the most by a Sun Devil since Mike Batiste had 18 in triple-overtime at Texas A & M on Dec. 19, 1998. His 9.1 rebounds per game is the best by a Sun Devil since Alton Lister averaged 9.7 rebounds in 1980-81. Lester Neal, the only other Sun Devil to lead the league in boards, had 9.0 boards per game in 1992-93. Storey also posted 11 double-doubles, tied with Dan Gadzuric of UCLA for the Pac-10 lead.
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 is somewhat the same at ASU.
'Our kids are doing well 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. It is only a matter of time that all these positives lead to victories. And now that we have some older players in the program, I expect good things to start happening soon. 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.'
ASU practices are tough, and they should become even more fierce this year with more healthy players on the squad.
'You need quality 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 each other and push each other into becoming better players and tougher competitors.
'This group has made three trips across the country together to North Carolina, plus trips to Australia, Puerto Rico and a trip to Brigham Young. These guys have had a great basketball experience and also have 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.'
FINALLY SOME EXPERIENCE...
ASU will finally have some experience on its roster this year. Chad Prewitt will be a four-year player, something that the ASU program has not had the luxury of having. The ASU program has not had more than one four-year player in a graduating class since 1993-94 and since the 1991-92 season, ASU has had just seven four-year players. In Rob Evans' three years, ASU has had just four seniors, only one of which was a four-year player (Eddie House). Bobby Lazor was a two-year transfer, Mike Batiste sat half of his senior year due to academics and Alton Mason was a three-year junior college transfer who was signed late due to the April hire of Evans. When Evans took over, he wanted to make sure that the program had some stability, and now with a full compliment of players on scholarship that is the case.
'Chad's experience is a big plus for us, and from now on we expect to have more four-year players in the program,' says Evans of his senior, who has played in 89 games in his three-year career. 'Chad understands what it takes to be good in this league, and he has worked hard at it. I love the way he plays, because he is so smart on the court. He has added the three-point shot to his game, and that will help our inside game as well as he forces big men to come outside and guard him. Chad has been our most consistent player the past two years. I make it a point to tell the players to look at his uniform after practice. It is wringing wet. That is how hard he works.'
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. In 1999-2000, Prewitt took his game to another level that was often overshadowed by Eddie House's heroics.
One of the six local products on the roster, Prewitt averaged 4.1 points per game in his initial season and had two double-digit scoring and then averaged 9.0 ppg. (third on the team) in his sophomore year. '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.
Last year, Prewitt averaged 10.1 points per game despite playing for most of January with a badly sprained ankle, and also was 13-of-35 (.351) from the three-point stripe.
'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. I feel he is one of the most underrated players in the league.'
Another two-year starter returning is 6-6 forward Awvee Storey, a guy who never met a rebound he did not like or a defensive assignment, whether it be a 6-9 center or a 6-5 wing player. Storey, a senior who led the Pac-10 in offensive rebounds in 1999-2000 with 105, averaged 9.1 rebounds per game overall and 9.7 per game in Pac-10 play and led the league in both categories last year. He was named Pac-10 Player of the Week (Feb. 1-4) after averaging 20 points and 9.5 rebounds during the Oregon road sweep. The Chicago native also grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds at Washington State and had 16 again vs. UCLA. The 16 boards is the most by a Sun Devil since Mike Batiste had 18 in triple-overtime at Texas A & M on Dec. 19, 1998. His 9.1 rebounds per game was the best by a Sun Devil since Alton Lister averaged 9.7 rebounds in 1980-81. Lester Neal, the only other Sun Devil to lead the league in boards, had 9.0 boards per game in 1992-93. Storey also posted 11 double-doubles, tied with Dan Gadzuric of UCLA for the Pac-10 lead.
|A TOUGH LOSS...
The Sun Devils received a boost last year on Jan. 24 at Arizona when Chad Prewitt (10.1 ppg. and 4.9 rpg.), who badly sprained his right ankle on Jan. 9, returned to the lineup after playing just 16 minutes the previous four contests. Prewitt missed the Washington (Jan. 11) and USC (Jan. 20) games and played just 12 minutes at Washington State (Jan. 13) and just four minutes vs. UCLA (Jan. 18) as ASU lost all four games. At Arizona, Prewitt had 18 points on 7-of-11 (.636) shooting, including two three-pointer, and added six rebounds in 31 minutes. Prewitt averaged 10.2 points in Pac-10 play in 1999-2000, second on the team, and had started 45 straight games before missing the Washington game. A look at ASU stats with and without Prewitt last year:
'Awvee excites the fans and causes match-up problems for a lot of teams. He does things above the rim that makes people jump out of their seats. A big part of Awvee strength is how hard he practices and he has improved his shooting. Our system helps him because he can get a lot of opportunities near the basket.'
Storey 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 24-year old senior.
'We think that Awvee will benefit from the depth we will have this year and have even more energy. His minutes might decrease but it won't be because of a lack of effort. He can now afford to take a breather and we don't think he will be in foul trouble. When he is focused, he is great. He needs to be focused every time he steps on the court.'
Last year, 1998-99 walk-on Brad Nahra proved he is more than a good shooter who plays hard. Nahra has improved much and saw quality time last year and has a tendency to make players around him better as he is one of the smartest players on the team. In coach-speak, Nahra has 'basketball smarts' and common sense that has helped Evans and his staff.
'Brad has done a fabulous job of helping to lead this program, especially with all the young guys over the past three years. His experience is invaluable to this program.'
Nahra has appeared in 45 games in three-year career and averaged 7.8 points and 20.0 minutes in final five games of 2000-2001 as injuries took their toll on the Sun Devils. He had a team-high 12 points in 19 minutes vs. No. 8 Arizona on Feb. 21 and had 11 points in career-high 26 minutes in the win over Oregon March 3. He averaged 11.4 minutes per game and made 13-of-17 (.765) free throws in Pac-10 play.
'Coaching Brad is very rewarding. He listens and it is like having another assistant on the staff. Last year he showed he can help us, and we expect him to do the same this year.'
POTENTIAL IS UNLIMITED...
The question was asked last year.
How good Tommy Smith can be?
At 6-9 with long arms, long hands and a point guard's understanding of the game, Smith continues to get a little bigger and more confident. In the second half of the Pac-10 season last year, Smith turned in All-Pac-10 performances. Simply put, he has become very hard to guard.
'I have said that Tommy Smith potentially is the best player I have ever recruited because of his build, his fundamentals and most importantly his work ethic. Last year he showed that in the second half of the Pac-10 season. I remember the California game (Smith had 21 points and 12 rebounds) and he was doing some things that were amazing. I can't put into words how excited we are to coach him the next two years.'
Smith, voted the Most Improved Player at the team's banquet, matched a Pac-10 record for field goal percentage by making all 11 shots against Washington on Feb. 10, and played well from mid-January until the end of the year. The 6-9 forward averaged 12.5 points in the final 15 games and had a career-high 24 points vs. the Huskies and had 21 points and 12 boards at California on March 8. His 11-of-11 effort put him in the Pac-10 record book with Steve Johnson of OSU (13-of-13 vs. Hawaii-Hilo on Dec. 5, 1979), Marques Johnson of UCLA (11-of-11 vs. Cal on Feb. 27, 1976) and Bryan Bracey of Oregon (10-of-10 vs. Washington on Jan. 20, 2000). Smith scored in double-digits in 12 of the final 15 games after posting double digits in just five games in his freshman season (just two Pac-10 games). He had 15 points at Oregon on Feb. 4, then had his first double-double with 11 points and 12 boards vs. Washington State on Feb. 8 before his 24-point, seven-rebound and five-assist effort against Washington. In his final 10 games, Smith was 52-of-78 (.670) from the field and averaged 12.9 points.
Tommy Smith, voted the Most Improved Player at the team's banquet, matched a Pac-10 record for field goal percentage by making all 11 shots against Washington on Feb. 10, and played well from mid-January through the season. Smith, a 6-9 sophomore, averaged 12.5 points in the final 15 games and had a career-high 24 points vs. the Huskies and had 21 points and 12 boards at California on March 8. His 11-of-11 effort put him in the Pac-10 record book with Steve Johnson of OSU (13-of-13 vs. Hawaii-Hilo on Dec. 5, 1979), Marques Johnson of UCLA (11-of-11 vs. Cal on Feb. 27, 1976) and Bryan Bracey of Oregon (10-of-10 vs. UW on Jan. 20, 2000). Smith scored in double-digits in 12 of the final 15 games after posting double digits in just five games last season (just two Pac-10 games). In his final 10 games, Smith was 52-of-78 (.670) from the field and averaged 12.9 points.
The Phoenix North High School product played in all 32 games and averaged 4.9 points and 13.4 minutes per game in his freshman year. 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.
'Tommy is a great kid and his teammates like him and know he is a big key to turning this program around. With kids like Tommy leading your program, good things will happen.'
Two players who could be across the court from each other are going to have to play big roles for ASU this year, and with their experience and talent that should happen.
Arizona prep products Donnell Knight and Tanner Shell now have two years on campus behind them and big things are expected. Knight played well at the end of his freshman year and had an up-and-down sophomore year, but one aspect that is not up-and-down is his attitude. Shell had to redshirt last year but played well - and not surprisingly played hard - on the team's trip to Australia. Look for Shell to be playing the off-guard and Knight to be at the small forward a lot this year.
'Donnell has been positive through some tough times his first two years. Last year we asked him to play the off-guard when he is more suited for the small forward. It would have been very easy for Donnell to lose confidence. He could have gotten down on himself, but he stayed with it. He's a lot farther along now and he can play a major role for us as a scorer and defender. He has quickness, athletic ability and size. He can become one of the better players in the league.'
Last year Knight posted double digits in 18 games and had 10 points and six boards at California on Mar. 8. His top games were on the road vs. Oregon (11 points and four assists), No. 12 Arizona (12 points) and Washington (first career double-double with 15 points and 13 boards). He also posted solid numbers vs. NCAA teams USC (17 points and six boards), Charlotte (15 points), Kent State (18 points) and Southern Utah (career-high 21 points).
His freshman year (1999-2000) was not easy for Knight early, but the Parade All-American did not stop working hard. As a result, he had a solid dozen games to end the year. 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. 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.
'Donnell is a leader and he has been a great representative of this program. He has pushed himself very hard in the summer and has given himself to the coaching staff. He has done everything he can to become a great player.'
When the Sun Devils played games in Australia, it was easy to see what was missing from their lineup last year. Mesa Mountain View won back-to-back state championships with Tanner Shell in the lineup. After two years at ASU, it is not hard to believe, considering how hard Shell plays. At 6-6, Shell possesses intensity and is 'a real hard-nosed player' according to Evans. In his freshman 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.
But last year Shell played in just one game before having to redshirt due to back problems and a broken left hand. Evans knew that it would be tough to win games without Shell at this stage of the program, and now he is anxiously waiting to get his bundle of energy back on the court.
'Tanner is a tremendous competitor and as the season went on we realized how much we missed him,' says Evans. 'He was a tough player down the stretch in his freshman year and was one of the most underrated players on the team that year. Our fans love him and they love his style. I have always said you can tone kids down but you can't tone them up. I love his intensity.'
Kyle Dodd brings 61 games of experience, a great understanding of the game and leadership qualities that a coach needs out of a point guard. He is steady, as his turnovers indicate, and this year with more depth at point guard he won't have to play as many minutes as he has had to his first two years.
'Kyle's athleticism is incredible and he pushes the ball up the floor. The past two years he has played a lot of minutes and has not backed down from any challenges. He is stronger and we expect him to be more of a threat on offense and stronger on defense. His experience will pay a lot of dividends this year.'
|AT THE LINE...
Shawn Redhage has established himself as one of the best free throw shooters in ASU history 61 games into his young career. Redhage shot 80-of-98 (.816) last year, the fourth-best mark in the Pac-10, and is 139-of-169 (.822) in his career. A look at Redhage on ASU career FT list as he now stands first on the list:
Dodd averaged 26.3 minutes per game in Pac-10 play, tied for third on the team, and started four games last year. He had just 32 turnovers in 751 minutes on the year, an average of one turnover every 23.5 minutes and in his 61-game career, he has 135 assists and just 63 turnovers, a 2.14-to-1 ratio (one turnover every 22 minutes in his career).
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.
Shawn Redhage was nicknamed 'Charlie Hustle' by his teammates for his work ethic and has posted some solid numbers in his first two years. An excellent student-athlete who has a 3.3 GPA in construction science and a Pac-10 All-Academic selection, the Lincoln, Neb., native has made 139-of-169 (.822) free throws in his two-year career, the best mark in school history.
'Shawn is at his best when he is taking what the defense gives him. He understands the game very well and is consistent. He has played against some top competition the past two yeas and that will help this year.'
Redhage has averaged 8.2 points per game in his two-year career as he has played in all 61 games and averaged 21.6 minutes. He has a good all-around game, as he has 125 assists and 46 blocks through two seasons. Last year he had 16 points vs. UCLA on Jan. 18, 14 points and seven boards vs. Stanford on Jan. 4 and 19 points and 12 boards vs. Charlotte on Dec. 30. He also earned ASU Holiday Classic and NABC Classic All-Tournament honors.
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 has worn down towards the end of the past two seasons and that had a lot to do with how many minutes he was playing early in the year. Like Kyle, he has a ton of experience and it is great to have an 80 percent free throw shooter on your team. He is a true student-athlete. I love his court demeanor and attitude. '
PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE...
The ASU program has logged some serious air miles within the past two years. It started in fall of 1999 with a trip to the Puerto Rico Shootout, as ASU travelled 6,032 miles for its first road trip with its six freshmen. Then came trips to BYU (1,016), Bay Area (1,292), Los Angeles (750), North Carolina St. (3,776), Seattle/Pullman (2,216), Oregon/Oregon St. (2,020) and NCSU again (3,776). Add this year's Nov. 9-12 trip to the NABC Classic in Chapel Hill (3,776), the Dec. 16 game at San Diego State (750) and the trips to Seattle/Pullman (2,216), UO/Oregon State (2,020), USC/UCLA (750) and the Bay Area (1,292) and ASU has flown 31,682 regular season miles since the beginning of last season. Then you can throw in the trip to Australia this past spring, with round trip 14-hour plane flights.
All winning and losing seems so small when you get to Justin Allen's name on the roster. Allen, from Malta, Ill., was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, but it was detected early in the Stage II phase in September of 2000. All he did was go through chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments, redshirt last season and return to the team on its Australia trip and hit 11-of-24 three-pointers. He will return to the court in 2001-2002 and will have three years of eligibility remaining. While the loss of Tanner Shell and Chad Prewitt were highlighted last year, it is Allen's shooting touch that could be the difference for ASU this year. ASU has its 'zone-buster' and it happens to be a kid who is not going to be tentative about anything after all that he has been through.
'We take pride in being a family in our program, and I can tell you that his teammates made sure he received the best support possible. Justin's attitude was tremendous. He's a tough kid who handled this in a great way, which was a great inspiration to us all. His story is a great one and cannot be told enough. But another part of his story is that he is a great shooter and I think people will realize how much we missed him last year when he starts making three-pointers from the parking lot.'
Allen was part of the six-member true freshmen recruiting class in 1999-2000, 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.
'Justin is a new person now. He has all the confidence in the world after what he went through. It is going to be my pleasure to coach him the next three years.'
Sophomore Jonathan Howard, one of the best student-athletes on campus, chose ASU last year over California and Notre Dame is a solid 6-4 and 207 pounds. He had six sophomores to learn from but it was a much different situation than it was the year before, when all six freshmen played a tremendous amount of minutes. Howard did not get a lot of minutes but he played well on the Australia trip and can be another point guard.
'Jonathan can help us with his playmaking. He had a great year academically and now that he has a year on campus I think we will see a different player. He looked good in Australia and he just needs to have intensity in every practice. He struggled early last year but he has had a very good spring and summer.'
Tyson Johnston, a 7-0 junior who played sparingly last year and played at Utah the previous season, also provides depth.
'Tyson is getting better, and he's a legitimate 7-0 you cannot teach height. Down the road he can help us if works hard.'
WELCOME TO CAMPUS...
Three newcomers and another newcomer with an asterisk join the program this year, and all of them have attributes that can help the program immediately.
The asterisk on the roster is next to Kenny Crandall. Crandall was a freshman in 1998-99 and started in 23 games, and then went on a two-year Mormon Mission to Eugene, Ore. A native of Mesa, Ariz., and a 6-4 swingman who prepped at Mountain View High School with Tanner Shell, he averaged 5.9 points and an amazing 28.4 minutes per game in his initial season despite the fact he could not condition or practice with the team until late November due to a NCAA Clearinghouse matter. He has three years of eligibility.
'Kenny brings a lot of maturity and stability to the program. One thing is for sure, he won't have to play the 28 minutes per game he did three years ago. It shows that the program is developing and how we now have some depth. He will be allowed to come along slowly and we will be able to use his shooting ability. He can help us at three positions. He is a lot like the rest of the team in that he understands the game. We have a lot of guys who understand the value of a possession. Kenny will be one of them.'
Sun Devils fans are waiting - as is the coaching staff - to see the trio of Jason Braxton, Curtis Millage, and Chris Osborne in ASU uniforms. Braxton, a 6-2 freshman point guard who can push the ball with the best of them, was a top-100 player who shot up everyone's rankings during his senior year and was a top-50 player by the time he received his diploma.
'Jason is a very versatile and smart player who will help us immediately. Our staff searched the country this past year and after watching Jason numerous times, we felt he was the best point guard prospect for our system. His toughness and leadership ability is tremendous. He pushes the ball in transition and is very smart. He committed to us early, so it was obvious that he wanted to be a Sun Devil. He is another piece of the puzzle that we now have in building this program into a great one. He joins upperclassmen that were rated highly in all the scouting services.'
Millage, a 6-2 junior wing from Los Angeles Southwest Junior College, was arguably the top junior college player in California last year and is athletic and can score points quickly, which is something the Sun Devils were missing last year.
|SHELL AND ALLEN REDSHIRTED...
Two Sun Devils who played solid roles as freshman in 1999-2000 redshirted last season due to injuries. Tanner Shell, who averaged 9.1 points per game in Pac-10 games including a 24-point effort at USC, broke his left hand in practice in late December and missed the remainder of the year. Shell had played in just the season opener due to a bulging disc in his back but was practicing for ASU's holiday tournament and was expected to return to the rotation. In 1999-2000 he had six double-figure scoring games and averaged seven points per game. His 9.1 points per game in Pac-10 play was third on the team. Also, Justin Allen redshirted after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease in September of 2000.
'Curtis is very strong and powerful guard who was recruited by several schools at the major conference level. We like the fact he led his team to a championship and that he is strong enough to defend a number of positions. He has shown the ability to score and score quickly. The aspect of his game that can help us the most is that he can create his own shot. He is very energetic and competitive, and that can be very contagious, especially with younger players.'
Osborne signed with ASU in the fall of 1998 but attended junior college the past two years. At 6-9 and 240 pounds, is expected to be a physical presence underneath. An extremely intense player and a very hard worker, Osborne played in the Dada All-Star Classic at Pauley Pavilion in April of 1999 and was one of California's 34 players listed in USA Today's preseason state-by-state listing. A Street & Smith's honorable mention All-American, he is a strong, physical player who is a solid rebounder. He garnered 73 points in the Orange County Register's 'Fabulous 15' rating system, putting him as a second-team selection and the 29th-best prospect on the west coast that year.
'Chris will give us depth in the frontcourt and can help Chad (Prewitt), Tommy (Smith) and Awvee (Storey) in rebounding and defending some of the better post players in the league. We did not have a lot of depth this year and as a result our frontcourt players were in foul trouble a lot. Chris will give us depth and size along with toughness. You need size underneath to combat some of the better front lines in the Pac-10 and Chris can help us right away in that regard.'
Dependable walk-on Brandon Goldman finishes the roster for ASU and is a good practice player who was with the team on its trip to Australia in May. Evans says Goldman 'is a valuable part of our program and has worked very hard this summer. He has helped the new players in a number of ways.'
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 six 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. If a player is a solid student-athlete who can play in the Pac-10, we want Arizona State to be a solid choice. We won't get every player and timing has a lot to do with it, but I am confident the high school coaches in the area now know ASU is serious about Arizona prep basketball.
REPLACING ALTON MASON...
The only player gone from last year's team is point guard Alton Mason, a three-year starter who was the team's leading scorer at 13.4 points per game and was the only player to start in all 29 games last year.
'We had a good point guard in Alton for the past three years that was probably underrated with all of them talented point guards in our league You find other ways to make your team better when you lose players, and for the first time since we have been here we know we have the depth to do that. We were very concerned about losing Bobby Lazor and Mike Batiste's rebounding numbers after our first 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 five Pac-10 teams (Arizona, Stanford, UCLA, Cal and USC) could be in the preseason top 25, and seven different Pac-10 teams have reached the Sweet 16 in the past seven years on 16 occasions. Every Pac-10 team reached the NCAA Tournament in the 1990s.
|NCAA TOURNEY WATCH...
Since 1990, 43 of 44 Pac-10 teams who have won at least 11 conference games have been selected to the NCAA Tourney. The exception? ASU in 1992-93, when it was 11-7 and tied for third. Also, 47 of 49 teams since 1990 who have posted 18 overall wins and 10 Pac-10 wins have qualified for the NCAA. Again, the odd teams out were ASU in 1992-93 and 1999-2000.
'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 feel this group has played well on the road. We won three overtime games in their freshman year and could have won a few others with one more rebound or one more shot. And we have swept a road trip in each of the past two seasons. Building blocks are happening.'
ASU will travel to Mountain West Conference champion Brigham Young in November and also takes on Utah at America West Arena on Dec. 4. For the first time since 1990, the Pac-10 will have a tournament, as the top eight teams will play March 7-9 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Because of that, Pac-10 play starts Dec. 20 at Oregon for ASU.
'The schedule is a little different this year, but it does not make a difference. You have to play everyone at some point. It will be a lot of fun having the tournament. I am in favor of trying it. I don't think we should base opinions on whether it will work on what happened 12 years ago. It is worth giving it a chance again.
'As I have stated, I know our fans 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 great in their work efforts since they arrived on campus both on the court and off and we are not taking any shortcuts. We have something to prove this year.'