ASU Men's Hoops 2005-2006 Outlook
Oct. 8, 2005
But he also knows that Diogu's ascension -- Sporting News had him ranked as the 89th best player in the country in the spring of 2002, just three years before he was the ninth pick in the draft -- and the publicity he has given Arizona State are both reasons for optimism for not only this season, but the future of Arizona State basketball.
'What we need is for each player to look at how Ike worked and progressed,' says Evans, in his eighth season at the helm of the Sun Devil program. 'He trusted our staff. He did the little things. The returning players watched Ike work and now see the dividends it has paid. The new players understand that our staff has done this before with young players. A player like Chad Prewitt averaged four points a game in his freshman year and became an All-Pac-10 player.'
So how does that become a focal point of this season? How can Diogu's departure, not forgetting ASU also lost its starting backcourt of Jason Braxton and Steve Moore, be a learning tool for the program?
'We met with the six returning players from last year and in those meetings my staff and I went over what each of them needs to do to improve their skills and help the team,' notes Evans. 'With the improvements that all the returning players have made by spending the summer on campus and working in the weight room, in conditioning and on their skills, we have a chance to be right where we were last year and that is competing for an NCAA Tournament spot.'
Last year's Sun Devils won 18 games, swept the Bay Area trip for the first time in two decades, swept Stanford for the first time since 1993-94 and won nine straight games in the early part of the year for the first time since 1980-81. ASU topped Vanderbilt in Las Vegas, Northwestern in Tempe, won at Temple and topped Santa Clara, one of the few teams to beat NCAA champion North Carolina. The Sun Devils were 18-9 heading into the final week of February but lost a tough 90-82 game at No. 13 Washington (a three-point game at the 1:00 mark) and then lost two games in the final seconds (57-55 at Washington State and 70-68 vs. No. 11 Arizona) before falling to eventual Pac-10 Tournament champion Washington 95-90 in overtime. ASU was on the NCAA bubble all year and advanced to the NIT, its third postseason appearance in four seasons.
'I understand we lost some great talent, including the player who would have been the best senior in the nation,' says Evans. 'Losing a player of that magnitude will take a toll on any program. But we recruited well, have some solid shooting and feel that several players are ready to take that next step.'
ASU returns three players who scored 20 points in a Pac-10 game last year, so that trio will have to shoulder the load until the five newcomers are ready to make an impact.
On a quick fact sheet, ASU returns two starters but you can bump that number to three and not worry about getting caught in a lie. Kevin Kruger, who plays both guard spots, started in 11 games and was second on the team in minutes (29.8 per game) and third in scoring (11.0 ppg.). An 81 percent career free throw shooter who has a 2.15-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, the junior, who is expected to graduate in May, will be a permanent fixture on the floor for ASU.
'Everyone in our program has started to take Kevin's game for granted, and that is because he has become consistent,' notes Evans of his guard who shot 89 percent (66-of-74) from the free throw line in Pac-10 games and is on track to graduate this May. 'We just expect him to have a good game. He has a lot of experience and his ability to play both guard spots will have him on the floor for long periods. He could lead our team in minutes. He's bigger and stronger this year and since he redshirted his first season, he has three years of experience in the program. Kevin plays a big part in our goals for this year.'
Serge Angounou, a 6-8 forward, also has three years of experience in the program after redshirting in 2002-03 with a career-threatening knee injury. He averaged 8.1 points and 6.5 boards last season, which was his first full year.
'I know it is hard for people to understand why injuries take so long to recover from,' says Evans. 'But in Serge's case, giving up basketball was the advice given to him first. It was a bad injury. He keeps improving and last year we saw signs of the player everyone was talking about in the fall of 2002.
'We have challenged him this year. If we are going to be good, Serge needs to make plays at both ends of the floor. He had some good games last year, but we need more,' says Evans of Angounou, who is on track to receive his degree this May. 'He went back to Cameroon for the first time in more than five years to see his family this year, and I think that has rejuvenated him.'
Angounou scored a career-high 20 points both vs. USC and at Oregon and got his free throw stroke back in the second half of the season (18-of-20 in the final 15 games) as his confidence improved. But he did not reach double-digit points in the final seven games, and his stamina and lack of strength was a big reason.
'For a guy who was told not to play again, he's come a long way. Now it is time for him to post some better numbers on a more consistent basis.'
The third member of the trio is Bryson Krueger, a great shooter who attacks the basket better than people give him credit for, mainly because he has a such a sweet shot from the three-point arc. He shot 43.5 percent from the arc, sixth-best in ASU history and fourth-best in the league. His court awareness also is a strength.
'Bryson is a very smart player and his all-around offensive game is very good. He passes very well and finds the open man. He needs to become a better defender and be more consistent. Basically, Bryson has the abilty and the intelligence to be a very good player. He has two years to learn how to defend and be consistent. The key for Bryson is to be focused and work hard every day, not just on game day and not just on the court. He needs to work hard in the weight room, in conditioning, in the classroom...everywhere. When he does that, he will have developed good habits which will lead to big things.'
Evans then has to look at three 'role players' from a year ago to make the jump from part-time players to probably 20 minutes per game status.
Allen Morill has played in 50 games in his career and started in eight contests. He averaged 18.6 minutes in the final seven games last year. The 6-7, 232-pound forward is strong and a good rebounder and the Sun Devils need his 'grunt' work.
'Allen needs to pick up where he left off last year and then find ways to contribute offensively,' says Evans of his Texan. 'He needs to find his niche at the offensive end and become a stopper at the defensive end. He is unselfish and will do everything he can to help us win. He's a great team player.'
Craig Austin played in 17 games last year and tallied 84 minutes, but he stayed on campus to work on his game all summer and gained 10 pounds on his 6-10 frame. He's from San Diego, so anyone who stays in Phoenix in 110-degree temperature to run A-Mountain on a July morning must be serious about his education and basketball future.
'Craig has made himself bigger and stronger and played well when we needed him to last year,' says Evans of the sophomore who now weighs 233. 'He is a very good post defender and offensively can hit the 15-foot jump shot. The more he played, the better he became. We need him to become a consistent rebounder. He has a very good career ahead of him at Arizona State.'
Tyrone Jackson was a first-team junior college All-American in 2003-2004 who went through what so many junior college transfers go through in their first year in the Pac-10. But he averaged 16.8 minutes in the final 13 games and had 41 assists and just 13 turnovers in that time and seemed to settle into the role. A southpaw, he also is a good passer and carries himself with the demeanor of a future coach.
'Tyrone can be another coach on the floor when he wants to be a leader,' says Evans of the Fresno, Calif., native. 'We need him to be a scoring threat. He was here all summer working on his game and has a chance to play a lot of minutes.'
Five newcomers hit campus this summer, and their experience and backgrounds all vary. But all of them have one thing in common...a chance at a lot of playing time.
Evans is not hesitant to say what he expects out of Antwi Atuahene, a 6-4 point guard from Canada via Trinity Valley Community College in Texas.
'We recruited Antwi to run the show for the next three years,' says Evans. 'It might not happen right away because Tyrone and Kevin have experience and the Pac-10 is not the best league to be breaking in a new point guard, but eventually it will happen. He has three years of eligibility, and I think our fans will really understand his value once they see the decisions he makes.'
Atuahene is one of those players who makes the pass that leads to the assist. If he was a hockey player, he'd be credited with an assist on most goals, as he sees the floor and not only gets the ball to the open man, but gets it to him in position to finish.
'He posted incredible numbers in high school and at junior college, but his game is much more than numbers,' admits Evans. 'I can see us getting good shots every time down the floor with Antwi because he knows the game. He sees the floor as well as anyone I have ever coached.'
Evans expects big things out of wing Sylvester Seay, a smooth 6-9 scorer who attended prep school for two seasons before enrolling at Arizona State.
'Sylvester is very talented and can be a three-point threat. He is quick with the ball and only needs to learn how hard you have to play on this level. The weight room and playing games is the key for Sylvester. We recruited him to be a high-impact player and we want that to happen fast. It might not happen right away, but it will happen.'
In the frontcourt, three newcomers arrive from the junior college ranks (Bruno Claudino), high school scene (Jeff Pendergraph) and the transfer route (Chad Goldstein).
Bruno Claudino is a 6-8, 220-pound native of Brazil who played at the College of Southern Idaho the past two seasons. The injury bug hit him, limiting his minutes and numbers, but now that he is healthy he has impressed the staff in conditioning drills and on-court workouts.
'Bruno runs well and is a great athlete. Serge and him both are long and can grab rebounds and block shots down low. Bruno needs to give us great rebounding and solid defense.'
Jeff Pendergraph is a 6-10 impressive-looking freshman from one of the best high school programs (Etiwanda, Calif.) in the nation. He was slowed this summer and early fall by a knee injury, but will be close to full strength in mid-October. He is athletic and a 'quiet' top recruit.
'Jeff was on everyone's top-100 list, but since he committed to us early he was forgotten as others were making noise about their decision,' says Evans. 'I predict a great career for Jeff at ASU. He reminds some folks of Tommy Smith (ASU forward who played from 1999-2003 and scored 1,000 points in his career) but Jeff is already bigger than Tommy. Jeff is athletic, tough and can do it at both ends of the floor. Expect good things from him.'
Chad Goldstein is a local player from Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., who transferred from UC Davis and will be eligible in the mid-part of December. Originally he arrived as a walk-on who can help in practice and will get great grades. A few months later, he is on scholarship and had the returning players talking about his hard play in the summer pick-up games.
'Chad has proven to us he can make an impact this year,' says Evans. 'He is physical, hard-nosed and a great energy player who has some perimeter skills.
Players like Robby Alridge, who has been in the program for the past three years, along with non-scholarship players like Shane Kuyper, Stephen Jones and Ryan McMillian provide good depth in practice and are pushing the returners.
'We have a good group of guys who are beginning to develop some good chemistry. We'll be a balanced team this year, something I really like and that is how our Ole Miss teams won 20 games. We won't rely on one guy, which will allow our guys to be more aggressive on the offensive end.
'Our identity will be created in practice. We don't play our first game until Nov. 23 and then we play three games in six days, so that first week will be important. We need to be much better defensively and we need to continue to rebound well. We've been a great free throw shooting team the past few years, and that should continue. Put all those things together and it makes for a competitive team.'
The Pac-10 schedule makers offered no help to Evans again. Four times in the past six years ASU has opened the season with the eventual Pac-10 champion, and ASU opens Pac-10 play at Washington this year, where the Huskies haven't lost a home game in over a year. It also marks the sixth time in Evans' eight years he will open league play on the road.
'The computer is not from the state of Arizona, that is for sure,' Evans quips with a smile. 'But you have to play nine road games in the league regardless and that gives us a great opportunity to find out how good we are, as will non-conference games like Minnesota (Dec. 5 in Tempe) and at Iowa (Dec. 17). No one plays as many road league games in the major conferences as the Pac-10, so you want to have your team get some confidence early.
'Our reputation nationally is very good right now. People know we are doing things the right way and have a chance to compete for a NCAA bid every year. We need to create some energy and win our share of early season games. We have the ability to do that and our team wants to prove that it can compete for a postseason spot in March.'
EXHIBITS A AND B: Rob Evans talks about the this year's returning players 'making the jump' as the key to having the 2005-06 Sun Devils challenge for a NCAA Tournament spot. Everyone recognizes the improvements Ike Diogu made as he went ninth in the NBA Draft last year. But two other notables come to mind when talking about improvements made under Evans and his staff that are examples to the current Sun Devils. Sun Devil Chad Prewitt went from averaging 4.1 points in his freshman year to an All-Pac-10 player in his senior year. At Ole Miss, Ansu Sesay averaged 7.2 points in his first year and progressed each year before being named 1997-98 SEC Player of the Year. A look at the progress both Prewitt and Sesay made each year.
|Chad Prewitt's IMPROVEMENT (ASU 1998-2002)|
|ANSU SESAY'S IMPROVEMENT (OLE MISS 1994-1998)|
NO EASY OPENERS: With Arizona winning the 2005 Pac-10 title, ASU has opened the season with the eventual Pac-10 champion four times in the past six seasons. ASU faced the eventual Pac-10 champion three straight years in its Pac-10 opener from 2000-2002 (Stanford in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 and then Oregon in 2001-2002). It opens at Pac-10 Tournament champion Washington this season on Dec. 29, 2005. Last season also marked the fifth time in his seven years Rob Evans opened Pac-10 play on the road, and the two home games were against top-five teams. ASU lost to second-ranked Stanford on Jan. 4, 2000, in Tempe, and to fourth-ranked Arizona 93-74 on Jan. 3, 2003.
|ASU IN PAC-10 OPENERS UNDER Rob Evans|
|Jan. 2, 1999||USC 72, ASU 70||Los Angeles, Calif.||Ends ASU 6-game win streak|
|Jan. 6, 2000||#1 Stanford 86, ASU 67||Palo Alto, Calif.||Stanford wins Pac-10, goes 27-4|
|Jan. 4, 2001||#2 Stanford 94, ASU 77||Tempe, Ariz.||Stanford wins Pac-10, goes 31-3|
|Dec. 20, 2001||Oregon 103, ASU 90||Eugene, Ore.||UO wins Pac-10, goes 26-9|
|Jan. 2, 2003||ASU 67, OSU 47||Corvallis, Ore.||ASU finishes 20-12 and in NCAAs|
|Jan. 3, 2004||#4 Arizona 93, ASU 74||Tempe, Ariz.||Arizona goes 20-10|
|Jan. 2, 2005||#14 Arizona 97, ASU 79||Tucson, Ariz.||Arizona wins Pac-10 at 14-4|
|Dec. 29, 2005||ASU at Washington||Seattle, Wash.||UW a NCAA No. 1 seed in '05|
FREE THROWS: ASU has posted the best back-to-back free throw shooting marks in school history the past two years. ASU made free throws at a 73.5 percent rate in 2003-04, the fifth-best mark in school history and the second-best in the past 18 seasons, and then followed that up with a 71.6 mark last year (tenth-best in school history). A look at the best free throw shooting teams in Sun Devil history.
|ASU TOP SEASON FT%|
BALANCED TEAM: Any coaching staff would have pounded it inside to Ike Diogu the past three seasons, and that is exactly what ASU did as that strategy helped Ike notch second-team All-American honors in 2004-2005. But Rob Evans says this year's team reminds him of his teams at Ole Miss, when balanced scoring was common. A look at the top scorers in his 13 years of head coaching shows that indeed his Ole Miss teams spread the points.
|TOP SCORERS UNDER Rob Evans (1993-2005)|
|1. Eddie House, Sr.||23.0||ASU/1999-2000|
|2. Ike Diogu, So.||22.8||ASU/2003-04|
|3. Ike Diogu, Jr.||22.6||ASU/2004-05|
|4. Ike Diogu, Fr.||19.0||ASU/2002-03|
|T5. Eddie House, Jr.||18.9||ASU/1998-99|
|T5. Ansu Sesay, Sr.||18.9||Ole Miss/1997-98|
|7. Bobby Lazor, Sr.||18.0||ASU/1998-99|
|8. Joe Harvell, Sr.||17.7||Ole Miss/1992-93|
|9. Chad Prewitt, Sr.||17.0||ASU/2001-02|
|10. Mike Batiste, Sr.||16.7||ASU/1998-99|