Men's Basketball Outlook For 2002-2003
Oct. 7, 2002
2002-2003 ARIZONA STATE MEN'S BASKETBALL OUTLOOK
To understand where the Arizona State program is in the rebuilding phase of the Rob Evans era, all one would have to do is take a look at the University of Mississippi program, one that Rob Evans led from 1992-98. Evans posted a 44-65 (.404) mark in his first four years at Ole Miss from 1992-96 as he cleaned up the program.
As academics and the image of the program improved in the early years, so did the recruiting.
With better recruits came more wins.
With more wins came even better recruits.
When Evans left the program in the spring of 1998, his staff had posted a 42-16 (.724) mark in the final two seasons, won two SEC West titles, beat Kentucky at Lexington for the first time since 1927 (Kentucky's last loss of the season as it went on to win the NCAA Tournament) and led the Rebels to two NCAA appearances en route to an Associated Press SEC Coach of the Year honor. After his four-year building process, the Rebels have now been to the NCAA tournament in five of the following six seasons.
Now it is Arizona State that enters its fifth year under Evans. Evans is 60-60, but last year's team won four games against NCAA Tournament teams and came close to winning several other big games. Arizona State gave Pac-10 champion Oregon one of its four Pac-10 defeats, handily beat tenth-ranked Arizona by 16 (88-72) in Tempe, won at No. 20 UCLA for the first time since 1987 and beat a Utah team in December that won its next 13 games. No question, Arizona State basketball is headed in the right direction as its recruiting has improved. As Evans has stated, he wants the program to not be a one-year wonder when it gets to the level he believes it can. He wants to build a winning program, both on and off the court, not just have a winning team one year to be followed by mediocrity the next.
'We have had the opportunity to compete with anyone in the league on any given night the past two years, and that is because of good depth, experience and also being able to recruit some good players. We'll have an experienced backcourt for the first time in our five years. Not only will our starters have a year of experience, but our guys off the bench have played a lot of games and give us great depth.
'The difference behind the scenes in our program from four years ago is like night and day, especially in recruiting. We have been able to attract some top players into the program, players we could not even get a home visit with previously. I think people understand what we are building at ASU. It has taken time for people to know us and I understand trust is earned. I feel like people trust our staff and they know that with the improved graduation rates, the Carson Student-Athlete Center in place and the tremendous renovations to the locker room we are serious about our program.'
THE NEXT STEP IS TO BE A BIG-TIME PLAYER...
Evans won't pinpoint one certain player as the key to this season, but it does not need to be stated that ASU needs a huge year out of Tommy Smith, and it has every right to believe it can get one.
At 6-10 with long arms, long hands and desire to get better, Smith continues to get a little bigger and more confident. In the second half of the Pac-10 season the past two years, Smith turned in All-Pac-10 performances. He has become very hard to guard and could blossom this year similar to the way Eddie House and Chad Prewitt jumped to star status in their senior seasons.
'I agree with what a lot of people are saying about us this year, that the key is for us to stay healthy and have Tommy Smith and Curtis Millage become difference makers. They were able to do that at times last year. Tommy has done everything we have asked him to do in the past three years and has paid the price to become a great player not only in this league, but nationally. He was raw when he came on campus but has grown not only physically but mentally. We might not be the biggest beneficiary of his best basketball as he is still growing and learning the game.'
Smith was the perfect redshirt candidate when he arrived at ASU in fall of 1999, but at the time the program had few options. He had to play. He has progressed and has posted several big games in the past three years. It is possible for him to post a double-double any night as he started all 29 games last year and tallied big games against Brigham Young (19 points and nine boards), USC (18 points and 10 boards) and California (22 points and 10 boards).
The Phoenix North High School product matched a Pac-10 record for field goal percentage by making all 11 shots against Washington on Feb. 10, 2001. His 11-of-11 effort put him in the Pac-10 record book with Steve Johnson of OSU (13-of-13 vs. Hawaii-Hilo on Dec. 5, 1979), Marques Johnson of UCLA (11-of-11 vs. Cal on Feb. 27, 1976) and Bryan Bracey of Oregon (10-of-10 vs. Washington on Jan. 20, 2000).
'Tommy is a great kid, and great leader and knows he is a big key to turning this program around. With kids like Tommy leading your program, good things will happen.'
ASU will finally have some experience on its roster this year. There will be four four-year players on the roster, something that the ASU program has not had the luxury of having. The ASU program has not had more than one four-year player in a graduating class since 1993-94 and beginning with the 1992-93 season, ASU has had just five four-year players overall.
In Rob Evans' four years, ASU has had just six seniors on scholarship, only two of which were four-year players (Eddie House and Chad Prewitt). Bobby Lazor was a two-year transfer, Mike Batiste sat half of his senior year due to academics, Alton Mason was a three-year junior college transfer who was signed late due to the April hire of Evans and Awvee Storey was a transfer. When Evans took over, he wanted to make sure that the program had some stability as it does now.
'The experience is a big plus for us, and from now on we expect to have more four-year players in the program who not only play well but walk out of here with a degree,' says Evans of his senior class.
The Sun Devils have plenty of experience with seven returning players seeing at least 13 minutes of action per game last season.
'I felt we made a lot of improvements last year and a lot of those players return,' says Evans. 'Winning a road game at Pauley Pavilion was a big step for our program since we had not done that since 1987. We had opportunities to beat other NCAA teams, but a few things kept us from being successful, mainly missed free throws and key turnovers. We sometimes forgot we had a freshman point guard in Jason Braxton and another newcomer in Curtis Millage. For having no Division I experience, I thought they did a fabulous job. They will be much better this year. We expect them to know exactly what we are looking for in key situations.'
A certainty regarding the ASU backcourt last year was that you better not turn away because you could miss some amazing plays.
Jason Braxton was a 6-2 freshman point guard last year who proved he can push the ball with the best of them. A top-50 player by the time he received his high school diploma, he grew into the point guard spot last year. If you didn't see him play, you probably saw a highlight or two. He was the one who, and remember he is 6-2, jumped over 6-11 Dan Gadzuric at UCLA on the fast break for a dunk which resulted in ESPN.com's video of the day. Also appearing on the highlight films was a vertical two-handed dunk against Arizona that was a simple give-and-go in a half-court offense. No question, he athletically is as good as there is.
'Jason is a very versatile and smart player who continues to get better because he spends countless hours in the gym. Our staff searched the country that year and after watching Jason, we knew he was the best point guard for our system. His toughness and leadership ability is tremendous. I know at times last year I had to remind myself he is only a freshman, so he will make mistakes. He will be much better on the defensive end this year as well.'
Braxton's I-won't-be-beaten attitude came on strong at the end of the year against some of the top teams in the nation. He averaged 8.6 points in the 10 games against ranked opponents and averaged 26.3 minutes and 8.8 points in the final 14 contests.
His running mate last year was another newcomer, as Curtis Millage made a solid adjustment to the Division I game from junior college. Millage was one of three players to start in all 29 games and led the team with 30.1 minutes per game. He also was tougher than one might expect on the road, as he averaged 15.2 points per game at the bad guy's arenas and shot 81.1 percent from the line. His best games were all on the road, as he had 27 at Arizona, 24 at Washington State and 21 at UNLV.
'Curtis has an ability that is hard to teach, and that is to be able to get in the lane, get to the basket and finish,' says Evans. 'He knows how to score. From baseline to baseline, I don't know if there is a faster player than him. I expect us to be very versatile in the backcourt. Cutis can play both the point guard and the wing, and Jamal Hill can play either wing.
'Free throws cost us a chance to win some games last year, but that goes back to experience and confidence. When you don't have experience in the backcourt, you sometimes make mistakes. Jason and Curtis understand their roles much better now and are comfortable.
Jamal Hill is a smooth wing player from San Jose City College who averaged 22.5 points per game for Percy Carr, the winningest active coach in California. He has the ability to get to the rim and also shot better than 40 percent from the three-point stripe in his two-year junior college career. He will see time at both wing positions.
'We expect Jamal to give us the same kind of impact that Curtis gave us last year. That is the kind of impact we expect at this state in our program from junior college players, and we are confident Jamal can give us that spark.'
As far as experience goes, no team has a more capable point guard than Kyle Dodd, who brings 90 games of experience, a great understanding of the game and leadership qualities that a coach needs out of a point guard. He is steady, as his turnovers indicate, and this year with more depth at point guard he won't have to play as many minutes.
'Kyle's athleticism is great and he finds the open man. The past three years he has played a lot of minutes and has not backed down from any challenges. He needs to be more of a threat on offense. His experience and tenacity on defense are huge. When he gets in the game, people know they will get 90 feet of defense'
In his 90-game career, he has 202 assists and just 83 turnovers, a 2.43-to-1 ratio (one turnover every 23 minutes in his career). The 6-0 Brea, Calif., native showed tremendous poise even in his rookie year, nailing the game-winning three-pointer in overtime as ASU won at Washington State 81-79 and began its first four-game Pac-10 winning streak since 1995.
Kenny Crandall also can give the Sun Devils some solid shooting. A freshman in 1998-99, he started in 23 games and then went on a two-year Mormon Mission to Eugene, Ore. The Mesa, Ariz., native averaged 5.9 points and an amazing 28.4 minutes per game in his initial season despite the fact he could not condition or practice with the team until late November due to a NCAA Clearinghouse matter. Last year he averaged 18.7 minutes and was 35-of-83 (.422) from the three-point stripe, including 21-of-46 (.457) in Pac-10 play. He averaged 7.3 points and shot 50 percent from the field (28-of-56) in Pac-10 tilts.
Crandall missed six games last year due to a sprained ligament in his right foot in late January and could be slowed in preseason due to a broken right fibula suffered in a dirt bike accident in April.
'Kenny has had some tough luck but he is so determined it will be hard to keep him off the floor. He is very good shooter and is a great player to find open on the wing. We have a lot of guys who understand the value of a possession and Kenny is one of them, as he was a point guard in high school. Kenny is more than just a zone-buster, but that is one thing that he can do very well.'
FOUR MEN AT THE THREE-MAN...
For the past three years, Rob Evans has tried to find someone to battle the Pac-10's heavy load at the small forward spot, known commonly as the three-man. ASU had one of the league's best in the mid-1990s in Ron Riley. Last year it was by committee as Awvee Storey, Donnell Knight and Kenny Crandall shared the role. Expect four players to battle for playing time at the spot this year, as the aforementioned Jamal Hill, senior Donnell Knight and freshmen Serge Angounou and Allen Morill will each get a shot.
'We feel that between the four of those guys that we will have a three-man this year that can compete against the best in the league. Guys like Freddie Jones, Richard Jefferson and Casey Jacobsen have been lining up at the three-spot for the past few years, so we need to get better there, and we have.'
Knight, a 6-7 senior, played well at the end of his freshman year and has had an up-and-down career, but one aspect that is not up-and-down is his attitude.
'Donnell has been positive through some tough times his first three years. We asked him to play the off-guard two seasons ago when he is more suited for the small forward. It would have been very easy for Donnell to lose confidence and he could have gotten down on himself, but he stayed with it. We believe he can help us in a lot of ways this year. Donnell is a leader and he has been a great representative of this program. He was the first person to commit to me as a high school player when he could have gone elsewhere, but he believed in our program.'
Knight will bring 88 career games to the court this year and in 2000-2001 as a sophomore he posted double digits in 18 games and his top games were on the road at Oregon (11 points and four assists), No. 12 Arizona (12 points) and Washington (first career double-double with 15 points and 13 boards). He also posted solid numbers vs. NCAA teams USC (17 points and six boards), Charlotte (15 points), Kent State (18 points) and Southern Utah (career-high 21 points).
Angounou physically is an amazing talent. He is 6-7 and growing, weighs in around the 230 mark and, after growing up in Cameroon playing soccer, has a motor that runs forever. His arms and hands are extremely long, so much that the coaching staff thinks he could be one of the best shot blockers in the Pac-10.
'We love this kid because of not only what he can do on the court, but his attitude off the court. He speaks several languages, is an excellent student and is always smiling. And he will have our fans smiling as well. I saw him do some amazing things in high school.'
Angounou, who played high school ball in basketball-crazy New Mexico, had the signature game of his prep career against Hobbs High School, as in the 87-86 state semifinal loss he had 43 points, 10 boards and was 11-of-16 from the field. In the game against Hobbs he was 18-of-18 from the free throw line which ironically was the same night ASU went just 2-of-12 (.167) from the charity stripe against Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament.
Morill weighs in at 226 and at 6-6 does not look like a freshman. He is strong, thick and gets to the rim well. A native of Texas, he has some football in his blood.
'Allen played against good competition in high school and he is the type of kid I love to have. He is hard-nosed and will compete against anyone. I look forward to the competition at the three-man. All four of those guys will get their shot.'
MORE DEPTH AND EXPERIENCE...
ASU also will have some depth in the frontcourt from three players who have played a lot of games and bring some great intangibles.
Shawn Redhage was nicknamed 'Charlie Hustle' by his teammates for his work ethic and has been solid in his three years. An excellent student-athlete who has a 3.56 GPA in construction science and a two-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection, the Lincoln, Neb., native has made 169-of-209 (.809) free throws in his three-year career, tied for the fifth-best mark in school history.
'Shawn is at his best when he is taking what the defense gives him and he has learned that over his career. He has played in a lot of big games (90) and has started many games for us. He understands the game very well and is unselfish.'
Redhage has averaged 7.2 points per game in his three-year career as he has played in all90 games and averaged 19.0 minutes. He has a good all-around game and good jump shot from 15 feet, as he has 160 assists and 60 blocks. Although his minutes have decreased it is because the depth of the program is getting better, as he was pushed into a starting role in his freshman year and has not backed down.
'Like Kyle, Shawn has a ton of big-game experience and it is great to have an 80 percent free throw shooter on your team. He is a true student-athlete and that is great to have for our newcomers. Guys like Shawn help your program keep getting good players. He will do whatever it takes to make sure this program takes the next step.'
Junior Justin Allen, from Malta, Ill., has had his story chronicled all over the nation as he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in September of 2000. All he did was go through chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments, redshirt in 2000-2001 and returned to the team on its Australia trip and hit 11-of-24 three-pointers. He returned to the court in 2001-2002 and was still trying to recover from the effects of the disease. But now he is stronger than ever, and it is Allen's shooting touch that could make a huge difference for ASU this year. ASU has its 'zone-buster' and it happens to be a kid who is not going to be tentative about anything after all that he has been through. He also is hungry to have a winning season, as he has sat around a lot the past two seasons and is going to do whatever it takes to not only get on the floor but make an impact.
'Justin's attitude is tremendous. He's a tough kid who handled his illness in a great way, which was a great inspiration to us all. His story is a great one and cannot be told enough, but another part of his story is that he is a great shooter and I know that now with a clean bill of health he can help us.'
Allen was part of the six-member true freshmen recruiting class in 1999-2000, the most in the nation. He played in 29 games that year, averaging 8.3 minutes per game, and played a season-high 26 minutes in ASU's 77-74 overtime win at Oregon State on March 4 and added six points and three boards. He averaged 16.3 minutes in the final three Pac-10 games of that season. The exclamation point to the story? How about his grades have gone up the past two years and he is expected to graduate in May and was a Pac-10 All-Academic pick last year.
'Justin is a new person now and last year allowed him to get his confidence back. He now has all the confidence in the world after the previous two seasons.'
Osborne signed with ASU in the fall of 1998 but attended junior college for two years before arriving at ASU last year. A wrist injury had him in a cast last year and he played in 17 games, but the cast is off this year and Evans is excited to have him on the frontline.
At 6-9 and 240 pounds, Osborne is a physical presence. A Street & Smith's honorable mention prep All-American, he is a strong player who is a solid rebounder.
'Chris will give us depth in the frontcourt and can help in rebounding and defending some of the better post players in the league. We expect him to provide depth and size this year, something we needed out of him last year but was never at full strength with regards to his wrist. We were in a good position last year but injuries and some inexperience in the backcourt slowed us at the end. I think having a healthy Chris Osborne on the front line is really going to help.'
WELCOME TO CAMPUS...
Two other newcomers to campus have familiar names, one because of a parent and the other because recruiting services across the country were tabbing him as a top 50 player.
Ike Diogu arrives at ASU with a 6-8, 240-pound plus frame and all kinds of accolades and has the tools to become one of the best low-post players in the Pac-10. Diogu was ranked in everyone's top 50 and was heavily recruited and also is an excellent student.
'Ike possesses all the tools to become a great player,' says Evans. 'One of those tools is his attitude. He is a great kid who played against great competition who comes from a very educated family, so academics are important. We expect him to make a difference in this program from the opening tip of the season.'
The recruitment of Diogu marked the second straight fall ASU signed a top-50 player. Sophomore Jason Braxton was ranked 47th by Clark Francis of the HoopScoop in the spring of 2001, and Diogu checked in at No. 40 on his list this year.
Diogu was dominating in his prep career as in 32 games in his senior year he averaged 23 points, 12 boards and 4.5 blocks. The most amazing statistic is that he shot 77.8 percent (285-of-366) from the floor in his senior year, including 81 percent from two-point range.
'A lot of coaches have commented to me how Ike is a great scorer,' notes Evans. 'He will show some people this year he is a great shot-blocker, rebounder, you name it. The kid is going to be good.'
Another familiar name will be a redshirt this year, but that only means he'll be giving the starters fits in practice. Kevin Kruger comes to ASU from Georgia and is the son of Atlanta Hawk head coach Lon Kruger. When the players stopped by the office during the fall, the chatter about pick-up games consisted of two topics: the play of the freshmen and shooting ability of Kruger.
'Kevin is going to be a great player in this program because he can do what so many players cannot do anymore, and that is shoot the basketball. He also is the typical coach's son in that he is gym rat who understands the game. He continues to get stronger physically.
'Lon is a good friend of mine and when he was at Florida we had some great battles. It will be fun to coach his son. When another coach tells you he trusts your program with his son, it is a good sign your program is making strides and trust has been developed.'
Three players who finish the roster are DeWy DeWitt, Brandon Goldman and Jamie Andrisevic. Goldman is known as the future coach on the team and is the first one to rebound for a player when it is a Sunday afternoon in the middle of January and someone wants to get some jump shots down. DeWitt returns to campus after a two-year LDS mission in Peru. He redshirted in 1998-99 and at 6-8 the southpaw has a nice future. Andrisevic is a 6-7 junior who will redshirt this year and also give ASU another solid reserve.
'When you have 13 scholarships, you need some people who are willing to be team players and be walk-ons. These guys are awesome. DeWy has had some great experiences overseas and is a great student. I can't say enough about Brandon and what he means to our program and how much the current players appreciate all that he has done. He is a huge help for us with the freshmen and with recruiting. Jamie is from a great family background and is out of the same mold as the other guys, someone you want to have associated with your program.
'These three guys make our program better, and that is what you want out of your student-athletes, whether they are recruits or walk-ons, on scholarship or not. They want to help the program and are unselfish. I can't count the number of rebounds Brandon has thrown back out to Curtis and Jason in shooting drills late at night. That is appreciated by the staff.'
REPLACING THE SENIORS...
Gone from last year are three players who all made significant contributions over the past four years. Chad Prewitt worked his way from a decent high school player to an All-Pac-10 player. Awvee Storey grabbed every rebound there was over the past three years, and Brad Nahra was one of the first players to arrive on campus when Evans got the job. Best part of all three is that the trio all ended their careers in a cap and gown. Prewitt and Storey both received their degrees last year and Nahra will do the same this December.
'We will miss those guys both on and off the court, but the good thing is that they all left a lasting impression. Chad's shirt was soaked after every practice. Awvee feared no one. Brad was a quiet leader who was very unselfish.'
ASU will need to find a way to replace Prewitt's scoring and Storey's rebounding. Prewitt was voted the league's most underrated player in a vote of league beat writers last year went from a 4.1 points per game player in his rookie year to 17.0 points per game as a senior. Storey was the Pac-10's top boarder in 2000-2001.
'We had to find someone to replace Alton Mason's scoring a year ago and Chad Prewitt stepped up. We feel we have the right people in place to replace numbers, but we also know those guys gave us a lot of effort and it is appreciated.'
THE LEAGUE AND THE SCHEDULE...
Evans knows the road will be tough in the Pac-10 as always. Arizona probably will be a preseason No. 1. As many as four Pac-10 teams (Arizona, Stanford, UCLA and Oregon) could be in the preseason top 25, and eight different Pac-10 teams have reached the Sweet 16 in the past eight years on 19 occasions. Every Pac-10 team reached the NCAA Tournament in the 1990s.
'I have learned a lot about the Pac-10. Its quite different than the SEC, where you can fly in on one day and get out with a win quickly. You really get a chance to focus with your team on the road, but trips from Arizona to Washington and Oregon can be long and tough. I feel this group has played well on the road. We won three overtime games in their freshman year and could have won a few others with one more rebound or one more shot. And we have swept a road trip in two of the past three seasons. The win at UCLA last year was huge.'
Expect ASU to have a solid RPI this year, as it plays Kentucky in the Maui Invitational and two other good teams also will be on the schedule. ASU then plays Brigham Young (Dec. 4), at Utah (Dec. 7) and Nevada (Dec. 10) in a seven-day period. After taking a week off for finals, ASU takes off for Las Vegas for a match-up with Purdue. UCSB, Nebraska and Bucknell make up the holiday tournament. Then the fun begins at the Oregon schools in the new year, as Evans will open on the road in Pac-10 play for the fourth time in his five years. The second year of the Pac-10 Tournament will again have the top eight teams playing March 13-15 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
'It was a lot of fun having the tournament, and I think it gave the conference a solid boost. We are looking forward to some great games in Maui, playing Kentucky in the first round is great for the kids. The games vs. BYU and Utah continue good non-conference rivalries. Purdue in Las Vegas on ESPN2 is great exposure. Nebraska is a very good team as our tournament always has good teams.
'As I have stated each year, I know our fans have a program they can be proud of both on and off the court, and the staff and I are determined to get ASU back in the NCAA Tournament. These kids have been great in their work efforts since they arrived on campus both on the court and off and we are not taking any shortcuts. Our goal is always to get to the NCAA tournament. That's everybody's goal that plays this game. In building a program, you take small steps but you stay focused on the ultimate goal. We are certainly headed in the right direction.'