Preseason All-American Diogu To Lead Men's Hoops Team
Oct. 12, 2004
If the Pac-10 basketball coaches were to have a draft of all the players returning this year, the top pick would probably be Arizona State junior forward Ike Diogu. For that reason, Arizona State head coach Rob Evans feels good that his 2004-2005 squad has the first piece of the puzzle in making sure this season is a good one.
'There is not a thing we can do about last year except remember how losing made us all feel,' notes Evans, who has led ASU to three postseason trips, including the 2003 NCAA Tournament. 'But now all our freshman are sophomores, I like the work ethic we showed in the offseason, we recruited players that we expect to contribute from the first day and we have Ike Diogu. We did some things well last year but we didn't finish a few games when we could have posted good wins. But some guys showed us some things that lead me to believe we can get back to where we need to be.
'But before we do all that we needed to address some deficiencies we had last year that to me were effort-related. We got outrebounded for the first time in my career. That can't happen. We didn't force turnovers (ASU had only 150 steals, the fewest since 1977-78), and that has been a staple of our teams through the years. You are going to miss shots, you can't make every free throw, you will turn the ball over sometimes, but your defense can always be strong. That is all effort and buying into the system. We need our players to believe in our defense and to be hungry on the floor. Winning games in this league will never be easy.'
What ASU also needs is for sophomore guard Kevin Kruger to play like he did in the final nine games of the year, yet for senior wing Steve Moore to play like he did in the first 15 contests. It needs Serge Angounou to continue his comeback from a knee injury that caused him to redshirt in ASU's 20-win 2002-2003 season and return in January last year, and for sophomore guard Tron Smith to return from nagging roadblocks last year like pneumonia, a broken nose and strained hamstring. First-year players last year like Allen Morill, Wilfried Fameni and Keith Wooden need to improve and perform like players with a year under their belt. Senior Jason Braxton needs to show the leadership he can with 88 career games in his Nike shoes. Newcomers like Tyrone Jackson and Bryson Krueger need to make contributions. And of course, the Sun Devils need Ike Diogu to...well, just be Ike.
'If you start the season with a two-year player like Ike Diogu on your roster, you have the upper-hand because you have not only one of the best players in the nation, but maybe the most consistent player in college basketball the past two seasons,' notes Evans. 'He's worked hard in the summer. He knows where he can improve and made himself an even better player. When your best player is a great person, you have a good foundation, and that is what we have.'
Ike Diogu not only led the Pac-10 in scoring last year at 22.8 points but was ninth in the country and will enter this year as the nation's third-leading returning scorer. He was durable (leading the Pac-10 with 36.9 minutes per game), explosive (leading the Pac-10 with 17 20-point games), smart (breaking the 40-year old Pac-10 record with 243 made free throws) and consistent as always.
The Garland, Texas, native continued his NCAA-best streak with 59 consecutive double-figure scoring games, and had less than 15 points just four times all year. His numbers continue to impress, but Evans has watched his player in the offseason and heard from those who were attending the camps where Ike was playing and it is no secret Diogu is doing what it takes to get ASU back to his freshman-year ways of 2002-2003, when the Sun Devils made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.
'Ike had a tremendous year last year individually, but he knows what he can do to make our team better and to make himself a better all-around player.'
One of the areas Diogu can improve is pursuing the basketball on the offensive glass. One way to beat a zone centered around stopping a good big man is for that big man to crash the boards. He worked on his game this summer in Tempe for the first part of the summer and then attended the ABCD Camp in New Jersey, noted basketball guru Tim Grgurich's Las Vegas camp and Michael Jordan's Camp in Santa Barbara. He has expanded his game while playing against some of the best in the nation.
'Ike does a lot of things very well, but he wants to improve and worked on things to make himself a better all-around threat. He understands that defense will win games. But everyone knows Ike won't tell you about his game, he just plays the game. I'll do the same and let his game talk for him.'
In order for ASU to have a good season, the key probably won't be Diogu. Everyone knows Diogu will be solid and consistent. It is the supporting cast that is the key. In 2003-2004, Evans used 13 starting lineups in a non-stop effort to find the right mix. The previous year ASU had several coaches on the floor as the NCAA squad lost 477 games of experience and hardly had to make a rotation change, let along a starting lineup change.
The ASU backcourt will have one of the Pac-10's most experienced players in Jason Braxton, who has played in 88 career games, and a player who plays like he has 88 games under his belt in Kevin Kruger. Evans needs those two to lead a mix of players at the point guard and on the wings.
'Jason Braxton needs to be the mature player that he is capable of being by understanding what it will take for us to win games this year,' notes Evans about his senior, who has started in 70 games. 'He is most productive when he can play defense at a high level, which he was able to do in his first two years because we had a good combination with Kyle Dodd and him.'
Braxton averaged 4.8 assists last year (fourth in the Pac-10), the most by a Sun Devil since Ahlon Lewis set a Pac-10 record with 9.2 in 1997-98. He also averaged 2.04 steals, second in the loop, but the key for Braxton might be his minutes. When he was most productive, he averaged 21.5 minutes in his first two years. Last year, he averaged 28.7 minutes but the quality of his minutes was not as strong. Braxton's minutes might drop but his defensive intensity and efficiency will increase.
'Jason's role will be to show the young guys the correct way to practice and prepare and to put defensive pressure on the opposing team's backcourt players. When he is patient on the offensive end, he can be effective. If he runs the offense and creates good shots for other players, we usually win (ASU is 17-0 in the past two seasons when it shoots 50 percent). We want him to do that this year.'
Sophomore Kevin Kruger redshirted in 2002-2003 and got off to a slow start last year, but in the final nine games he was arguably ASU's best player. In the second half of Pac-10 play last year, he averaged 12.4 points, 29.0 minutes and shot 27-of-59 (.448) from the three-point stripe and was the team's second-leading scorer in that time. His 31 three-pointers on the year was the seventh-best by a Sun Devil freshman and he shot 79.5 percent from the free throw line, fifth-best by a Sun Devil freshman.
'Kevin started slow last year but we all saw what he did in the final nine games, and now we know for the next three years we will have one of the steadiest players in the league,' says Evans of Kruger, who grew up in a basketball family. 'He is a gym-rat who understands time and possession and was able to play in China this summer on a tour where they played every day for more than a week. The more he plays, the better he gets. Kevin will be on the floor for us a lot, especially since he makes free throws. I expect Kevin and the rest of our team to win some games at the free throw line this year. We were darn good there last year.'
ASU shot 73.5 percent from the charity stripe last year, the fifth-best mark in school history and the second-best in the past 17 seasons. Expect the same this year, as Diogu (.815), Steve Moore (.814) and Kruger (.795) all will collect points with the open 15-footer.
Senior wing Steve Moore averaged 12.7 points (17th in the Pac-10) and had double-figure scoring games in 13 of his first 15 games, but he hit a wall in late January. He finished the year with 48 three-pointers, the most by a Sun Devil since current Charlotte Bobcat Eddie House nailed 73 in 1999-2000. He is solid at the free throw line (eighth in the league at .814) and his potential and an example of what he can do was on display in the first game of his career. The southpaw posted 26 points, the most by a Sun Devil in his debut since 1993, in the season-opening win over Arkansas-Little Rock. With a season behind him and full summer of conditioning, both Moore and Evans simply want...well, more of the early-season Moore.
'Stevie was very good when he was focused, and he understands Division I basketball a lot better now,' says Evans. 'He was a newcomer last year and could not get here until late August, and that hurt his growth. With a full summer behind him, he has matured a lot and has shown an excellent work ethic. He needs to be a multi-dimensional player and is poised to have a good senior year.'
Also in the backcourt mix will be a healthy Tron Smith. Smith was a highly-recruited combination guard last year who ran into a hamstring problem, an elbow from Ike Diogu in a January practice that led to a broken nose and a bout with pneumonia. All of it led to Smith playing catch-up all year in conditioning. When healthy, he showed explosiveness. But not being able to condition properly and missing 10 games puts an asterisk by his freshman year numbers.
'Tron has worked as hard as anyone in the offseason and now understands what it takes to be successful at this level,' says Evans of the Moreno Valley, Calif., native. 'We know what he can do when healthy and he just had a lot of bad luck last year. He can be an impact player in this league, but he needs to listen to the coaching staff and not put too much pressure on himself.'
Smith averaged 16.4 minutes in his 17 games and was a 10-game starter. The coaching staff expects those numbers to go up considerably this year.
'Tron can give us some parts of the game we were missing last year,' says Evans. 'He is an outside threat and can cause turnovers with his defense. Jason and Tron were high school teammates, so they know each other's game. Their chemistry will help us.'
Two junior college players are expected to help immediately. As with any junior college recruit, the learning curve can be a few games or a whole year. But the arrival of Tyrone Jackson and Bryson Krueger is expected to provide immediate returns.
Jackson comes to ASU as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation after he flourished for two years at Fresno City College. He's crafty, can get in the lane and make shots and is intelligent.
'Tyrone is very mature and leads by example,' notes Evans. 'He led Fresno City College to a lot of big-time wins and he was here this summer working very hard. What I like about Tyrone is that he is going to be a great teammate as he is very unselfish. He just goes about his business.'
ASU's other Krueger (Kevin spells his last name without the first 'e') is Bryson, a sophomore wing from Phoenix who played at Yavapai Community College last year for current ASU assistant Brooks Thompson. Krueger has a good outside shot and has impressed the staff in individual workouts with an ability to attack the basket.
'Bryson can play either wing and he has three years to get better,' says Evans, noting Krueger is only a sophomore. 'He has a little bit of experience on the junior college level that will help him. He is going to challenge for playing time from the first practice to the last. We recruited him to make shots, and he has shown the ability to do that. When we recruited Tyrone, Bryson's signing kind of flew under the radar. His play won't.'
Another newcomer who will challenge on the wing is Oakland product Tim Pierce, a freshman who had a tremendous senior year and has enough height (6-6) and strength to make a case for playing time.
'I don't like to put expectations on freshman because everyone associated with our program remembers Ike's freshman year. Those numbers were unreal,' says Evans of the 2002-2003 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. 'Most freshman struggle with an injury like Tron did last year or with coming off the bench for the first time in their career. Tim has a chance to be very good. He is explosive and has a good shot, but he'll have to make the adjustment of a longer schedule, tougher practices and taking care of business in the classroom first. I think our fans will see flashes of a great player from him this year, but he'll battle with consistency only because of his inexperience, not because of his work ethic. He can be a great four-year player, but what we need from him this year is to just get better every day. If he does that, he'll have a very good career.'
Walkon sophomore Robby Alridge from Katy, Texas, will add depth in practice.
'We need better play from our guards, no question, for us to be better this year,' Evans states. 'The way I look at it, you have a point guard and two wings, which means 120 minutes per game. Seven players are in that mix. Some players like Kevin can play just the point or off-guard, while others like Bryson or Tim can play either wing. Tyrone, Tron and Steve can play all three spots. Jason is the most experienced out of any of them and that will help him. But they all will need to be team players and be unselfish because each of them could find themselves starting or coming off the bench.'
Along with Diogu on the frontline, ASU has a chance to have a good physical presence on the floor this year regardless of who joins him in the rotation. Four returners are all between 6-7 and above, they all weigh around 230 and, unlike last year when they had combined for zero minutes of playing time entering the season, all of them have experience.
'We mixed and matched way too much last year on our frontline, but we had no experience and we didn't want to give up the season so we were trying anything and everything,' notes Evans. The four returners all started at least eight games and all averaged more than nine minutes per game, so Evans has one starting spot and several minutes off the bench for all of them. 'When we were looking at this team in recruiting two years ago, we figured Serge and Allen would both have a year under their belts at the beginning of 2003-2004. So that was something we had to deal with last year and our youth hurt us.'
Sophomore Wilfried Fameni started in 11 games and averaged 14.3 minutes and is in the best physical shape of his playing career. A native of Cameroon, Fameni stayed in Tempe the whole summer and worked on his game. He will be a likely consistent member of the Pac-10 All-Academic team as he has his schoolbooks open on every trip and Evans calls him an 'important piece of the puzzle.'
'Wilfried started strong for us last year but lost confidence as we started losing games, but he has much more confidence in his game and his teammates after being around the program for a year,' says Evans. 'His body is in great shape and mentally he is focused on being the best student-athlete he can be.'
Another sophomore who showed signs last year was Keith Wooden, a 6-9 Kansas native. Wooden averaged 9.4 minutes and started in nine games. He finished the season by making 23-of-37 (.622) from the field in his final 13 games and had two signature games with 12 points and seven boards vs. Oregon State on Jan. 24 and 13 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) in 25 minutes at USC on Jan. 17. It was no coincidence ASU won both of those games.
'We talk about kids having good summers, but believe me when I tell you Keith's was as good if not better than anyone's,' says Evans. 'His weight room workouts were good, he has been very focused and he also is getting better at defending. After a year of Pac-10 basketball, we feel he understands what it takes to be good in this league. He took steps to become a very good player this summer.'
Redshirt freshman Serge Angounou battled back from the knee injury that caused him to miss all of the 2002-2003 season and the first 11 games last year. Also a native of Cameroon, Angounou did not leave campus and worked on both his knee and game to put himself in the best basketball shape since he was injured in November of 2002.
'Serge always plays hard, he knows only one speed, and that might have made his comeback harder last year,' notes Evans. 'He didn't pace himself and he ran out of gas in some games. He can hit that open 15-foot jump shot that you will get when Ike is double-teamed. His arms and hands are so long that his shot-blocking potential is enormous. Our staff remembers that in the fall of 2002, he was playing as well as Ike. I don't know if he can ever make the same kind of impact Ike does in a game, but we'll get a better idea of his playing career this year. Last year he could have used the time to rehab, but it was necessary to get him some game time.'
Angounou had a season-high 12 points in the win at Oregon on Feb. 21 and the best part was he played in 32 minutes. Slowly, he is getting back to the form that he was impressing all with in the fall of 2002.
The fourth returner on the front line is junior Allen Morill, who started in eight games and averaged 12.7 minutes. The coaching staff admits they might have been asking too much out of Morill last year, as he sat all of 2002-2003 to concentrate on academics and then was playing more than 20 minutes per game in early January. He competed so well and practiced against Ike Diogu all of 2002-2003 and seemed to be only one who could guard the All-American that year, that it was easy for the coaches to get excited about him. But the Pac-10 schedule, long road trips and the usual obstacles of a first-year player took its toll on the Texan. But Evans has not lost faith.
'Allen has conditioned his body this year better than ever,' notes Evans. 'His body is more tone and he has been more explosive. He always has been strong, now he needs to be quick and efficient with his energy. He has a chance to be one of the better rebounders and defenders in the league, but it will take more focus on his part. Allen wants to be good, he wants to compete, but we need to develop his role this year early. He needs to play more than he did last year, but in playing more he needs to be more productive.'
Morill averaged 25 minutes on the Washington road trip and had season-highs in rebounds (nine) and minutes (26) at NCAA-bound Washington on Jan. 31. He possesses a good jump shot inside 15 feet and is a good passer inside.
Craig Austin is a freshman from San Diego who brings skills and basketball savvy, along with a 6-10 frame. Along with classmate Tim Pierce, he brings a glimpse of the next four years of ASU basketball.
'Craig will only improve with time once he gets in our weight room and has a year of college under his belt,' notes Evans. 'He works very hard and understands the game. His attitude has been great. He takes care of his business and that is welcomed.'
Walk-ons Jamie Andrisevic, Andrew Ecker, Kurt Graeber and DuBois Williams will provide quality depth in practice.
Evans will be the first to say last year was unacceptable. His staff of Tony Benford, Dan O'Dowd and newcomer Brooks Thompson have been in the video room breaking down what, where and when things went wrong last year. They know they need a few things to happen in 2004-2005 for it to be a good season.
They'll need Ike Diogu to become a big-time leader in addition to being a big-time scorer and rebounder. Jason Braxton has to be efficient with his minutes, while Kevin Kruger and Bryson Krueger will need to make shots. But what they need most are for the six first-year players from a year ago to play like they have a season behind them.
'We have some good competition for spots, and that means competitive practices. We'll be more experienced, but what we need is for this team to be hungry. Last year is over, we can't go back and win any games and make our record better. We can only be a better team this year.'
DIOGU AMONG TOP SCORERS: Sophomore Ike Diogu averaged 22.8 points per game in 2003-2004, which not only led the Pac-10 but was ninth in the nation. Diogu will enter the 2004-2005 season as the nation's third-leading returning scorer. Diogu also will be the first Pac-10 scoring leader to be back on campus the following season since Reggie Miller won the honors in 1985-86 and returned in 1986-87.
POINTS PER GAME, NATION'S TOP RETURNING SCORERS FROM 2003-2004
'04 Rk. Name, Team Cl. G FGM 3FG FT PTS PPG1. Keydren Clark, St. Peters So. 29 233 112 197 775 26.74. Taylor Coppenrath, Vermont Jr. 24 203 14 159 579 24.19. Ike Diogu, Arizona State So. 27 179 14 243 615 22.817. Jose Juan Barea, Northeastern So. 26 180 73 105 538 20.718. Ken Tutt, Oral Roberts Fr. 28 193 101 92 579 20.7
RECRUITS GET HIGH MARKS IN SUMMER: Arizona State's incoming recruiting class is ranked 14th (tied with Indiana) in the nation by Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop. ASU adds guard Tyrone Jackson of Fresno City College, wing Bryson Krueger of Yavapai College, wing Tim Pierce of Hercules High School in Oakland and forward Craig Austin of El Camino High School in San Diego to its rosterl. Others ranked in the top 15 from the Pac-10 include Oregon (eighth) and USC and UCLA (tied for ninth). The rankings were in the June issue of Basketball Times.
NOTE FOR 2005-2006: Ike Diogu's national-best double figure scoring streak of 59 games still has a ways to go until it reaches NCAA-record levels. The NCAA record is 115 set by La Salle's Lionel Simmons from 1987-90.
FREE THROWS: ASU made free throws at a 73.5 percent rate last year, the fifth-best mark in school history and the second-best in the past 17 seasons. A look at the best free throw shooting teams in Sun Devil history.
ASU TOP SEASON FT%
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