Men's Hoops Opens Practice This Season Coming Off Back-to-Back 20-Win Seasons
Oct. 13, 2009
To get a grasp on the ASU basketball program and how it became relevant so fast, one has to look around the nation as well as back in time.
In 1987, Providence would make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1978. That team would make the Final Four. Herb Sendek was a part of that staff during his time there that included Rick Pitino, Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Barnes and Stu Jackson.
In 1992, Kentucky made a trip to the NCAA Tournament after fighting probation. Included on the staff under Coach Pitino was Herb Sendek, Tubby Smith and Billy Donovan.
Flash ahead to 1995, when Miami of Ohio made the tournament for just the second time in nine years under a 33-year old second-year head coach, and then upset Arizona in the first round.
Then jump ahead to NC State making five straight tournaments from 2002-2006, a feat seldomly matched by ACC teams, noting its 2002 appearance was its first since 1991.
So when Herb Sendek and his Sun Devil staff notched 25 wins last year for the first time since the early 1980s and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in ASU's past 14 seasons, it marked not only a great accomplishment, but a sense of déjà vu for those that know Coach Sendek's career. You surround yourself with great people and folks that want to work hard, and you will reach your goals.
At Providence and Kentucky, he was an assistant for the rebuilding projects. At Miami and NC State, he was the man in charge. And with a new practice facility that rivals any in college basketball and a NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009, the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft and the development of several players of different heights and styles, everyone knows that Coach Sendek and crew don't plan on waiting long to get moving in 2009-2010 with his Sun Devils. The Sun Devils have a strong identity as a team that plays an incredible zone defense while taking high percentage shots, both in transition and in the half-court game, while never being afraid to take a three-pointer.
'We have been able to put ourselves in position to make the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and challenge for some great things,' says fourth-year head coach, who is the third-youngest coach in the Pac-10 but carries that loaded resume' which includes 511 games coached, 308 wins, seven NCAA Tournaments, 14 NCAA Tournament games and the outrageous total of eight former assistants currently serving as a head coach on the Division I level, the best of any current coach in the nation. 'But we need to just get better daily and with the attitude of our young guys combined with the leadership of the older players, I like our chances. We're always trying to put the players we have in the best position to succeed, and I think this year we have some options and more competition for spots, although some of the players will be young.'
Defense, offensive efficiency and player development have become the staple for ASU, which has posted its best scoring defense in the past three years since the middle of the past century and has 46 wins in the past two seasons. Expect that trio to continue to improve each and every outing, and the staff will lean on three seniors to lead the way.
ASU's staff can point to the development of senior point guard Derek Glasser as the perfect example of a player who has simply excelled and improved in the system. He peaked down the stretch, as he was lights out in the Pac-10 Tournament and then in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 13.7 points in the three games as ASU made its first Pac-10 title game, and did it while playing over 37 minutes in the three games, shooting .516 (16-of-31) from the field. He then led ASU with a career-high 22 points in its NCAA opening round win over Temple. A staple as a leader in all the point guard categories in the Pac-10, it is safe to say he is one of the most underrated players in the league, and arguably one of the most improved in the nation.
'Derek has made rapid improvements in every facet of his game,' says Coach Sendek. 'He really developed, not just from one season to the next but each game. He was playing at a very high level at the end last year.'
Depth on the wing comes in the form of the steady senior Jerren Shipp, who averaged 6.8 points per game in Pac-10 play in his freshman year (2006-07) and set the school mark with 23 points in his first game, the best debut by a Sun Devil freshmen. He comes from a basketball family, and his basketball smarts were shown when he was named best cutter and screener by the coaching staff after his freshman season. He has started in 39 games and has shot over 70 percent from the free throw line. He came up big in his sophomore year in ASU's lopsided win over No. 17 Xavier with 17 points and seven boards and then helped ASU to its comeback win at Arizona with Pac-10 season-high 11 points. He will bring 22.8 minutes per game in all 99 games in the past three years onto the floor this year.
'Jerren is coachable and understands the game very well and has become our utility player, sort of a jack-of-all-trades,' notes Coach Sendek. 'He knows where and when the screen is coming, understands how to win on the road...all those little things that are hard to teach in practice. He is very valuable to this program, especially with us having five freshmen.'
Eric Boateng already has his degree in Global Studies from ASU, so his smarts are no secret. In his sophomore year, he saw double-digit minutes in eight of the final 11 games and his 12 points in 19 minutes on 5-of-6 shooting at Oregon State on March 8 in the regular season finale helped solidify ASU's .500 Pac-10 record, and he added a career-best 10 boards against Alabama State a week later in the NIT. Last season he played in 31 games, but he has taken the necessary steps to step in and have a solid senior season.
'Eric simply needs to keep grinding and making the effort to get better. His attitude is outstanding, he had a great summer, and is much stronger than he has ever been. He knows that he will get his chance this year.'
ASU has three juniors that have all had great moments in the first two years of their careers.
The energetic, athletic and precise Ty Abbott had arguably one of the five best freshman seasons in ASU history in 2007-2008 when you crunching the numbers. His 34 starts ranked first in ASU freshman history. The 34.8 minutes per game in Pac-10 play...only James Harden had more as a Sun Devil freshman. Those 76 three-pointers that was a Sun Devil freshman record? One of the top marks in Pac-10 freshman history. His 30 points vs. Cal on Feb. 16? Only two other freshmen had 30-point games that year in the league, and they were lottery picks (O.J. Mayo and Jerryd Bayless). As a matter of fact, Abbott is one of only three players in the league with a 30-point game on his resume (Jerome Randle and Tajuan Porter are the others). Although he didn't shoot as well last season, he picked it up at the end of the year offensively and never lost his defensive intensity. He averaged 11.6 points in the Pac-10 Tournament, shooting 8-15 (.533) from the three-point stripe and 13-of-23 (.565) from the field. Against Syracuse in the final game of the year, he was 7-of-11 from the field, including 6-of-10 from the three-point stripe, and posted a season-high 20 points.
'Ty practices hard at both ends of the floor and is incredibly sharp and focused. He has given this program a tremendous boost of energy. He clearly has been the difference in a number of our wins the past two seasons. Even though he didn't shoot the ball as well last year, he did not let it affect the rest of his game. That says a lot about his character.'
Junior Rihards Kuksiks turned automatic in some games last year and enters this year as one of the top returning three-pointer shooters in the nation. He shot 44.3 percent from the three-point stripe last year and had 19 games of double-digit points, including a career-high 20 vs. Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. He also was on the floor more than anyone down the stretch, as in the final nine games he averaged 38.9 minutes per game, tops on the team in that time. He had a signature moment on Feb. 22 by making 5-of-10 threes against Arizona, including a dagger late that sealed the win, en route to a 17-point game.
Coach Sendek's 2003-2004 NC State team led the nation in free throw percentage (.799) and his 2005-2006 squad was ninth in the nation in three-pointers made per game (9.0). Because of numbers like that, shooters like Kuksiks continue to benefit.
'Rik has become comfortable with the environment and really made us better last year down the stretch. He understands the game very well and has the ability to be the beneficiary of great movement on offense.'
Junior Jamelle McMillan was playing as well as anyone on the team last February. He posted a career-high 14 points at Oregon State on Feb. 7, had 11 in the big USC win on Feb. 15 and then had 10 in the tough one-point overtime loss at Washington State on Feb. 28. A bad groin injury put him on the shelf in the Pac-10 Tournament and he was not able to play much in the NCAA Tournament, but one still cannot overlook his 15-of-29 (.517) effort from the three-point stripe in his final nine games.
'Jamelle really started playing with a lot of confidence late in the year. It was a shame he got hurt because he could have helped us a lot in the postseason if he was at full strength. He has a great feel for the game and we expect great leadership from him this year.'
Sophomore Taylor Rohde hit one of the biggest shots of the year last year when ASU was at San Diego State. ASU, playing in its first road game against a veteran team, was down 33-25 and on the brink at the 15:49 mark, struggling to score. After back-to-back three-point misses, Rohde drilled a three from the top of the key to cut the lead to five, and that bucket started a 34-19 scoring run by ASU as it notched the win. He played in 16 games and with the front court departure of Jeff Pendergraph, playing time for Rohde is there for the taking.
ASU had two players drafted for the first time since 1983 last year, so there is no question there are holes to fill. Jeff Pendergraph's leadership over four years was without peer, and James Harden's two-year impact will be felt for years. So the Sun Devils can't replace those two on paper, but the squad will have five newcomers that all will get a chance at playing time.
The freshmen come in all shapes and sizes this year. Brandon Thompson is a 6-0 guard from San Antonio who has the reputation of a player who can shoot and score. Victor Rudd measured in at 6-7 and is reportedly as athletic as any player in Coach Sendek's four years. Moscow native Ruslan Pateev is skilled and at 7-0 has a tremendous future once he adjusts to college. Trent Lockett has been on campus since early June, attending summer school in both sessions, as the 6-4 wing has a great head start on college life, while 6-2 Arizona prep product Demetrius Walker has a build that is ready for college. Walk-ons Alex English, Marcus Jackson and Danny Maman close out the roster.
'As someone makes the adjustment from high school to college, we have to make sure that we allow them to do that at a pace that makes sense,' notes Sendek.
Coach Sendek expects the league to be much of the same, despite a bevy of NBA Draft picks from the Pac-10 in the past two years, including 13 in the first round. The league matched its best mark by sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. In the past eight years, the league has gone 66-44 (.600) in the NCAA Tournament and has sent 19 teams to the Sweet Sixteen.
'My first three seasons in the Pac-10 confirmed my belief that the conference is as good as any in the country and one that will consistently remain at the top because of the great coaches and players,' he notes, and this is coming from a former head coach in the ACC for 10 seasons. 'We proudly feature outstanding academic institutions, future NBA players and rich basketball traditions. Pac-10 basketball is awesome.'
On the sideline, southern California native Dedrique Taylor enters his fourth season after helping lead Nevada to the WAC Championship in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Scott Pera enters his third year as an assistant coach after serving as the Director of Basketball Operations in 2006-07 and is the recruiting coordinator. Lamont Smith, who played at San Diego and spent the better part of the past decade at St. Mary's helping build that program to NCAA Tournament level, enters his second season while Rob Spence rounds out the staff as Director of Operations.
The 46-year-old Coach Sendek knows all about working on a great staff as he currently has eight former assistant coaches serving as head coaches on the Division I level, the most of any current coach in the nation.
'We continue to be 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.'
'Our fan support continues to grow and certainly reflects the excitement around the program. Our student section was outstanding. We are determined to demonstrate continued improvement in every aspect of our program.'