Sun Devil Staff Works Overtime To Get Ready For Memphis

March 20, 2003

By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com

Chances are good that the Arizona State men's basketball coaching staff hasn't gotten much sleep this week.

In preparation for, perhaps, the biggest game of their collective careers, head coach Rob Evans, assistants Russ Pennell, Tony Benford and Dan O'Dowd and a host of team managers and support staff members have worked diligently to learn anything and everything they possibly can about Memphis.

Earlier this week, they started watching the first of 15 to 20 game tapes of the Tigers. They placed calls to eight or nine different coaches whose teams played Memphis this season. And they began sifting through countless scouting reports that offer a blueprint of a team coached by a former NBA assistant in John Calipari.

'We'll know everything we need to know about them,' Evans said. 'We'll know a lot about them in terms of what they do individually and what their kids do.'

If the No. 10-seeded Sun Devils beat the No. 7 Tigers in Thursday's West Regional opener, they'll face the winner of a game played between No. 2 Kansas and No. 15 Utah State. Evans said one of his assistant coaches is already scouting both those schools for the possible Saturday matchup.

'We won't talk about the other opponent until we finish the game,' Evans said. 'We've done that all year long. We play in our league like they play in the NCAA Tournament, where you're playing on Thursday and on Saturday. It's not really difficult for us to get ready with a day's preparation.'

Some of ASU's players and coaches and those from Memphis have crossed paths in recent years. During his time as head coach of the 1999 USA Men's Basketball Junior World Championship team, Evans worked with Memphis senior center Earl Barron. Evans has instructed Barron ever since Barron participated in his basketball camps as a seventh-grader in Clarksdale, Miss.

During his time last year at Garland (Texas) High School, Sun Devil freshman forward Ike Diogu watched Memphis senior forward Chris Massie play. Massie leads the Tigers with an average of 16.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game and he is also shooting 60.3 percent from the field.

'He really doesn't miss when he gets the ball in the block,' Diogu said. 'He doesn't look to face the basket. He's more of a power player. When he gets on the block, he moves his way to the goal and he's very efficient at doing that.'

ASU senior guard Curtis Millage played against Massie twice when he attended Los Angeles Southwest Community College. Massie went to nearby Oxnard (Calif.) College.

'His game is just like Ike's, but Ike has a little advantage over him,' Millage said. 'Ike is a little bit quicker and he can step out to shoot a 15-foot to 20-foot jump shot. Chris Massie is guy who can shoot maybe 10 to 12 feet, but he'll try to bulldoze everyone.'

Sun Devil senior forward Tommy Smith said he closely watched Memphis play Louisville last week in the Conference USA Tournament semifinals. The Tigers sustained a 78-75 loss in that game, which likely caused them to drop a few seeds.

'At this point, we've seen so much that nothing is new,' Smith said. 'With everything you see, nothing surprises you.'

WAR LOOMS ON HORIZON: The NCAA announced Tuesday that all first-round games will be played as scheduled, despite the possibility of the United States being at war with Iraq within the next 48 hours. It had considered postponing the tournament and it was also developing a contingency plan.

BUZZER-BEATERS: Evans said Monday that if his team is presented with an opportunity for a game-winning shot in the NCAA Tournament, he wants the ball in the hands of either Millage or Diogu. He said his team has many more options this season than it did last year when center Chad Prewitt was the main scoring threat.

'I certainly like the basketball in Curtis Millage's hands because he can create off the dribble, he can shoot the basketball and he makes free throws,' Evans said. 'Ike Diogu is a good free-throw shooter and he can make shots, like he did against Oregon, and he can finish plays.'

HISTORY SIDES WITH DEVILS: USA Today reported earlier this week that No. 10-seeded teams are 14-8 in the last six years in the NCAA Tournament. Seven No. 10-seeded teams have reached the Sweet Sixteen.

NCAA TOURNEY HISTORY: This marks ASU's 12th appearance in the Big Dance, its first since 1995 and only its third in the past 22 years. The Sun Devils are 11-12 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, having advanced to the Elite Eight on three occasions.

EVANS IN MARCH MADNESS: Evans took Mississippi to the NCAA Tournament in his last two years on the job before leaving after the 1997-98 season to take over the head coaching position at ASU. The Rebels were eliminated in the opening round both times, losing first to No. 9 Temple and then to No. 13 Valparaiso in a game that was played in Oklahoma City.

NBA STARS WILL BE WATCHING: Two Memphis Grizzlies have personal ties to Thursday's game. Center Lorenzen Wright graduated from Memphis in 1998 and forward Mike Batiste graduated from ASU in 1999. The Commercial Appeal reported Monday that Wright picked Memphis to win, 115-82.

TICKETS GO FAST: Memphis' allotment of 550 tickets for Thursday�TMs game were sold out by Monday afternoon, according to The Commercial Appeal. About 200 of the 550 tickets were held for band members, cheerleaders, the pompon squad and university administration and athletic department officials.

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

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