Pac-10 Men's Basketball Media Day Notes

Nov. 6, 2003

By Brian Gomez

LOS ANGELES -- An NCAA Tournament appearance and the return of arguably the Pac-10's most dominant player in sophomore forward Ike Diogu couldn't buy the Arizona State men's basketball team much respect from preseason prognosticators.

The Sun Devils were picked to finish seventh Thursday in the Pac-10 Media Poll, which was released at the Airport Hilton in Los Angeles. Arizona was the preseason favorite for the fourth time in the last five years, while Stanford, California, Oregon and USC rounded out the top five. UCLA was slotted sixth, three points ahead of ASU.

'This league is so balanced, you can be picked seventh and finish first,' said Sun Devil head coach Rob Evans, who welcomes back two starters (Diogu and junior point guard Jason Braxton) to a team that went 20-12 last season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Evans didn't put much stock in the preseason poll, even though his team finished fourth after being picked to finish fourth last year and seventh after being tabbed in that spot the previous season.

Instead of fretting over how other people think his team will fare, Evans is more concerned about fulfilling his own expectations, especially with so many newcomers. He's noticed substantial progress in practice, but admits more improvement needs to be made before his team's Nov. 22 season opener against Arkansas-Little Rock.

'I've never worried about where we're picked,' Evans said. 'It doesn't affect what we do. Our goal is to win the league.'

Diogu echoed his coach's sentiments, but added that he thought ASU would finish higher than seventh. The Sun Devils haven't finished worse than their preseason projection since the 1998-99 season when they finished ninth after being picked to finish tied for sixth.

'We've got some surprises that not too many coaches know about, so I feel like we are one of the top teams in the Pac-10,' Diogu said.

The general consensus among Pac-10 coaches Thursday was that the league has more parody than ever before. Oregon coach Ernie Kent said there's 'no clear-cut, dominant team.' Stanford coach Mike Montgomery likes 'the conference from top to bottom.' According to California coach Ben Braun, the Pac-10 'should be wide open.'

Said Evans: 'There are no easy ballgames in this league because all the places you go to play are tough places. It's all going to depend on who continues to improve and who stays healthy. Anybody can win on any given night, and it hasn't always been that way.'

On Thursday, several Pac-10 coaches also praised Diogu, last season's Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Diogu was named a first-team preseason All-American by Sporting News, Street & Smith's, Basketball News and College Basketball Preview, in addition to being selected as a preseason candidate for the prestigious Wooden Award.

'He's one of the toughest, if not the toughest, covers on the block in the country,' said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who coached Diogu over the summer in the Pan American Games. 'He's very difficult to stop. You've got to keep a baseball bat in your back pocket for that guy.'

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