Sun Devils Preparing For Memphis

March 18, 2003

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By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com

Less than 24 hours after learning his team had received an NCAA Tournament berth, Arizona State men's basketball head coach Rob Evans has turned his focus from celebration to preparation.

Having not taken the Sun Devils to the Big Dance in his previous four years at the helm, Evans wants to make sure his team is ready to play No. 7-seeded Memphis at 5:10 p.m. MST/6:10 p.m. CT Thursday in the opening round of the West Regional. He knows time is of the essence, as there are only three days of practice leading up to one of the biggest games in his storied coaching career.

'It's a difficult assignment because these guys haven't been there before,' said Evans, whose team will work out Tuesday morning in Tempe before catching a flight to Oklahoma City. 'It'll be tough because it's new and different for them. I think this is my 17th time there. I'm not playing, but I can certainly relate it to them.'

Things were business as usual Monday at Wells Fargo Arena during the start of a week that has this town buzzing for the first time in quite a while. ASU hasn't made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1995 when it advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

The No. 10 Sun Devils are trying to maintain the same focus that enabled them to get this far. They can't afford to get caught up in the hype, especially against a team that won 12 of its last 13 games to close the season.

'This is just another game,' ASU senior shooting guard Curtis Millage said. 'You don't try to change anything too much. You've just got to continue doing what you've been doing to get here.'

Although the Sun Devils have played in their share of big games this year, none of them compare to what lies ahead in the NCAA Tournament. Nothing is quite like March Madness, not even an early-season appearance in the Maui Invitational, a trip to face Utah in Salt Lake City, a meeting with Purdue in the Las Vegas Showdown, a home game against No. 1-ranked Arizona or any other game on a rigorous Pac-10 schedule for that matter.

But ASU senior forward Tommy Smith said staying focused on the task at hand has actually been easier, despite the heavy buildup.

'We've been programmed since we were young that when you get on this basketball court, you take everything on the outside and kind of put that aside,' Smith said. '(Sunday) it was all happy, but now it's time to put our hard hats back on and go back to work.'

Butterflies will surely be roaming Thursday night, however, ASU's seniors figure to calm the nerves of their teammates. Four of the team's six seniors have each played in more than 100 games during their collegiate careers.

'We shouldn't be too nervous,' Sun Devil senior point guard Kyle Dodd said. 'We're ready to play and we're just taking it as another basketball game that we've got to win. This is the first time we've been playing for something in March, and anytime you're still playing at this point, you've got something to play for. We're playing for a national championship, just like the other 64 teams.'

As most ASU basketball fans know by now, there isn't much that fazes freshman phenom Ike Diogu. A daunting matchup with Memphis senior forward Chris Massie doesn't scare him one bit.

'It doesn't make me nervous at all,' Diogu said. 'When it comes down to it, all you're doing is playing basketball. If you can play, then you can just play. It doesn't matter who you're going up against.'

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@asu.edu.

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