2006-2007 Men's Basketball Outlook
Oct. 17, 2006
Arizona State's new basketball coach Herb Sendek probably wouldn't mind going back in time or maybe giving a history lesson this year to his new Sun Devil team.
Back in 1996-97, a young head coach took over a men's basketball program in a major conference and inherited the usual challenges. He had to learn about his players. The players had to adjust to him. There were things to learn about the landscape of the program, the conference, the campus...all new. The players had to learn the motion offense, the off-court expectations and become familiar and comfortable with not only the new coach, but a new staff.
But most importantly, what Herb Sendek did at North Carolina State in 1996-97 was make sure that the players, campus and fans understood that it was a team effort. He made sure that the motto 'One Heartbeat' was not just a phrase, but a motto you can win games with against great teams.
NC State had suffered five straight losing seasons prior to his arrival, but Coach Sendek took over a team and quickly won not only his first five games but the trust of his players. After hitting a rough spot in January, the Wolfpack caught the attention of the college basketball nation in March of 1997 by making an incredible run in the ACC Tournament. They advanced to the championship with three victories in three days over Georgia Tech, seventh-ranked Duke and No. 22 Maryland before falling to fifth-ranked North Carolina in the title game on the fourth day. NC State won eight of its final 11 games and notched top-10 wins over 10th-ranked Clemson and at fourth-ranked Wake Forest to go along with its March 7 Duke victory. He was just the third first-year coach in ACC history -- and first since 1965 -- to take his team to the ACC title game. Those five straight losing seasons were put in the past and attitude of winning was instilled.
So what made that first season such a strong one at the end?
'Our men never flinched,' says Coach Sendek, the 2003-04 ACC Coach of the Year. 'They showed up each day committed to learning and improving. They just kept working hard, and regardless of circumstances always stuck together.'
So with that in mind, he knew it was important to build a great staff to keep the team focused yet familiar with the Pac-10 landscape. Coach Sendek assembled a staff at Arizona State that features continuity and west coast ties.
Both associate head coach Mark Phelps and assistant coach Archie Miller join Coach Sendek from NC State. Following a very successful high school coaching career, Coach Phelps begins his 11th season together with Coach Sendek. Having played at NC State and then joining the staff, Coach Miller starts his ninth season with his former coach.
Assistant coach Dedrique Taylor, a southern California native, became a Sun Devil this spring after helping lead Nevada to the WAC Championship the past two seasons and Scott Pera became the Director of Basketball Operations after directing Artesia high school to a California state title. Mike Gibson, formerly a graduate assistant with Coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State, rounds out the staff as Director of Technology.
Coach Sendek's first Sun Devil roster will have three starters returning from last year. With two senior starters departing in the late summer, it won't be out of the question to see ASU with an all underclass lineup on the floor. The program's leading returning scorer, rebounder and assist man were in their first year of Division I hoops last year.
On the roster will be four seniors with various levels of experience, the veteran being fifth-year senior Serge Angounou. The 6-7 Cameroon native has started the past 58 games and has averaged more than five boards per game in his three-year career, one that started late due to major knee surgery in his true freshman season (2002-03) that required him to sit all of that year and then he did not return until January of 2004. Angounou, who graduated with a degree in Spanish in May and also speaks French and several African dialects fluently, possesses good shooting range and is as healthy as he has been in his ASU career since injuring himself in November of 2002 in an exhibition game.
Another fifth-year 6-7 senior is Allen Morill, who missed the bulk of last year after having microfracture surgery on his left knee on Dec. 19. At the time, the Dallas, Texas, native had played in the first seven games (starting in two) and had averaged 15.7 minutes.
Senior Bruno Claudino (6-7) played double-digit minutes in eight games and can run the floor well while 6-1 Robby Alridge has proven to Sendek he is a valuable part of the program. Alridge also has his B.A. in sociology and is working on his master's degree in urban and environmental planning.
ASU has just one junior on the squad, guard Antwi Atuahene, who averaged 4.39 assists per game in the Pac-10, third in the league, and 7.1 points per contest on the year. The 6-3 Atuahene, originally from Canada, was third on the team in minutes per game (25.7) and he averaged nearly 30 minutes per game the second half of the season. He had a tough start last year, as he suffered a nasal fracture in practice and had to wear a mask for the first part of the season and his conditioning was behind. But on the Oregon trip in mid-January he served notice he could compete in the Pac-10 with a 21-point game at Oregon and then hit the game-winning shot in overtime at Oregon State just two days later.
ASU's sophomore class is five-deep, although only four are able to play this year.
One of the most valuable players in the Pac-10 last year was 6-9 Jeff Pendergraph. After missing all of fall conditioning and most of November due to surgery to remove a benign tumor in his left leg, Pendergraph limped early but then got stronger as the year went on, earning Pac-10 All-Freshman honors. His numbers were among the best in the Pac-10 freshman class, as he was second in points per game (10.9), third in rebounds per game (6.1) and first in blocks (0.85 per game). As the season went on, Pendergraph gained confidence and strength, and he continued to get better. He posted double digits in eight of his final nine games and after the holiday break last year, he averaged 12.6 points and 6.6 boards in 17 games.
His childhood buddy, 6-8 swingman Sylvester Seay, showed flashes by averaging 7.2 points and 17.6 minutes in the final 13 games after playing two seasons of prep school basketball at the heralded Winchendon School (Mass.). His best game last year gave ASU fans a glimmer of what they hope to see in the future, as Seay and Pendergraph each scored 21 points against Oregon on Feb. 11, the first time in ASU history two freshmen have scored 20 points in the same game.
One sophomore won't wear a uniform this year, but that doesn't mean he isn't making an impact already. Eric Boateng, a 6-10 center from England, played one year at Duke last year and will have to sit this year due to NCAA transfer rules. When he steps on the floor he'll be ASU's first former McDonald's All-American since the mid-1980s and the third in program history.
Sophomore contributors Shane Kuyper and Steve Jones, both sons of former Division I players, finish the roster. Kuyper's dad, Tom, played for ASU in the early 1980s while Jones' dad is Steve 'Snapper' Jones of Oregon Duck and ESPN fame.
Four freshmen complete the roster. Arizona prep product Christian Polk (6-3), from nearby Deer Valley High School in Glendale, and George Odufuwa (6-7), from Kimball High School in Dallas, both signed with the Sun Devils during the early November signing period. Jerren Shipp (6-3), the brother of Joe (formerly at California) and Josh (UCLA), inked with ASU this past spring after playing for Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. And finally, the Sun Devils added Derek Glasser (6-1) from Artesia High School in Lakewood, Calif., where he played for current ASU staffer Scott Pera.
Combine four freshmen with the departure of the top two scorers from a year ago and it is easy to see why the lights in the ASU basketball office have been burning into the evening hours all summer long. It will be an interesting mix of returning upperclassmen and freshman taking the court this year.
The 43-year-old Coach Sendek who knows all about working on a great staff as he currently has six former assistant coaches serving as head coaches on the Division I level. 'We are blessed with an outstanding group of coaches. They are character-based, experienced and passionate. They are united and determined to continue to advance Arizona State Basketball.'
Each year has a different set of challenges, and there will be the usual bumps in the road. Last year the Sun Devils played back-to-back one-point games for the first time since 1982-83 but fell on buzzer-beaters to UCLA and USC in Tempe the same weekend. When the game is that close, the 14th-year head coach knows any win in the first year can lead to confidence and a belief in the system. He'll lean on Pendergraph for scoring inside, as the sophomore averaged 14.7 points in the final nine games. He'll expect the four freshmen to push the upperclassmen, yet expect the seniors to guide the freshman. He'll take a look at previous statistics but know each year is different. He posted his fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance last year with a team that had no one average more than 10 points per game the year before.
The schedule includes 18 regular season home games, meetings with Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa (Nov. 25 in Tempe) and at Atlantic-10 Tournament champion Xavier (Dec. 16), where former Sendek assistant Sean Miller is the head coach. ASU also plays at Big Ten member Minnesota on Dec. 2, ASU's third road game at a Big Ten school in the past five years. Five home games have been picked up by Fox Sports Net, and ASU will open the Pac-10 season at home for just the second time in the past six years and for just the third time in nine years when it plays Stanford on Dec. 28. ASU will have just two home games in 32 days from Dec. 31-Jan. 31, but will then play five of its home games in 25 days from Feb. 1-Feb. 25.
Coach Sendek already has taken two schools to the NCAA Tournament, and has done it with patience, class and a lot of hard work. In addition to the 'One Heartbeat' theme that is present in all aspects of the program, the Pittsburgh, Pa., native also wants this year's team to honor those who have been Sun Devils before by playing well and getting better each and every day.
'It is always important to pause, recognize and pay tribute to players and coaches that were here before you,' says Coach Sendek. 'Many of the stones that we step across are the result of a lot of sweat and sacrifice by previous coaches, players and managers. This season will be good because we have a wonderful group of young men who will come together to form a dedicated team. We are going to enjoy that together.'
|THREES WILL BE SHOT, EVENTUALLY:
Coach Sendek's teams have always had good shooters. Last year's NC State squad was ninth in the nation in three-pointers made per game at nine per game. NC State also was 16th in the nation in free throw shooting at 75.1 percent.
|GETTING IT STARTED EARLY:
Arizona State's Nov. 13 tip off vs. Northern Arizona matches the second-earliest starting date in school history. ASU opened on Nov. 10, 2000, in the NABC Classic against Tulsa and on Nov. 13, 1998, against San Jose State. To show you how much the college basketball season has pushed up its season, ASU did not start its 1992-93 season until Dec. 1. This year will be Herb Sendek's second-earliest starting date in his 14 seasons, topped only by his Nov. 11, 1997, tip off against Georgia.
|NO EASY OPENERS:
ASU has opened the season with the eventual Pac-10 champion four times in the past seven seasons and an eventual NCAA Tournament team six of the past seven 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 opened at 2005 Pac-10 Tournament champion and seventh-ranked Washington last season on Dec. 29, 2005. Last season also marked the sixth time in eight years ASU 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 opens Pac-10 play at home this year against Stanford on Dec. 28.
|ASU IN PAC-10 OPENERS (1999-2006)
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