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Monday, October 31, 2011
Team preview: Arizona State

Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

Herb Sendek says he doesn't want to dwell on the 2010-11 season, and it's hard to blame him.

The Arizona State coach, who won the Pac-10's coach of the year award in 2009-10 for exceeding expectations despite having lost James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to the 2009 NBA draft, experienced the other side of things last season.

The transfer of four players after 2009-10 left the roster weakened before the season, then a torrent of injuries and illness crushed the Sun Devils during the season. They went from second place to last, losing nine in a row during the heart of the Pac-10 season and revived only in the final weekend of play by beating Oregon and a suspension-weakened Oregon State team.

The Sun Devils used 11 different lineups, their most since 2003-04, and started 11 different players. Each of their top four scorers missed at least two games with illness or injury, and ASU had a full complement of players available for only 10-of-18 conference games.

In his typical no-nonsense manner, Sendek summed it all up concisely.

"It was one of those years where we did have a number of health-related issues and sometimes you're more fortunate than other years," Sendek said. "We had any number of guys who had different issues who were either kept out of practice for long periods of time or were put in a position where they didn't do their best. But at this point, there's not a lot of dwelling on that."

PLAYERS

Instead, Sendek said he's looking forward to coaching this season's players.

"I'm excited about the upcoming season," he said. "I like our guys very much."

In 5-10 freshman point guard Jahii Carson (32.2 ppg, 6.6 apg/Mesa HS/Mesa, Ariz.), the Sun Devils have new life personified. Not only is Carson an explosive, springy point guard who loves to attack but he also has a personality to match his game: He's publicly discussed the rivalry with Arizona freshman and decade-long friend Nick Johnson, he's praised Sendek and he's said the Sun Devils can become national championship contenders before long.

"He has that charisma," Shane Burcar, Carson's coach at Mesa HS, told the Arizona Republic. "He has that hop to him. He'll bring instant credibility and an automatic scorer. He speaks very well for an 18-year-old. And when you see him play, you automatically want to watch him."

The interesting thing to see is how Sendek might alter his offense to suit Carson.

Sendek is known for running a half-court game that's often designed to find the best possible shots for a shooter like the departed Ty Abbott, but he's also mixed in some motion offense in recent seasons.

With Carson, Sendek has a guard who can freelance -- with some allowance for the inevitable turnovers -- but also the skills to run an effective half-court game.

"We always try to take the team we have, the players we have and put them in the best position to be successful," Sendek said. "So whether it's Jahii or the entire team, there are some differences this year than last year, and it's important to take that into consideration."

While top 2010 Arizona prospects failed to make an impact at ASU and Arizona -- Corey Hawkins transferred from ASU to UC Davis in the spring after one year while UA's Daniel Bejarano moved to Colorado State -- Carson proved he was ready for more by becoming the only high school player to make USA Basketball's U19 team over the summer.
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Not that Sendek had any doubt. He pulled in Carson just after Arizona received a commitment from Johnson, the former Gilbert High School star who went on to Findlay Prep in Nevada, giving the Sun Devils a much-needed replacement for the departed Jamelle McMillan.

"I think he is an explosive athlete," Sendek said of Carson. "He has excellent quickness, and I think he's really good at getting teammates involved. He can also score."

Carson will probably have the ball in his hands as long as he can stand it, though Sendek has a pair of combo guards on hand to take over when needed: 6-4 sophomore Keala King (3.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and junior Chris Colvin (13.0 ppg at Palm Beach State CC/Palm Beach, Fla./Iowa State/Whitney Young HS/Chicago).

A transfer from Iowa State, Colvin is likely to help at both guard spots, with the ability to create for others, and himself. He hasn't generated much buzz outside the program, but ASU coaches are optimistic about him.

"He's a very good athlete," Sendek said. "He's an explosive guy who can really put the ball on the floor as well as shoot it."

King can also help at point guard, though his life will be easier if he can settle into one or two positions instead of the four that ASU asked of him last season. He played everything from point guard to power forward as a freshman.

King hit just 1-of-18 three-pointers last season but he was effective everywhere else on the floor. He's aggressive, a good passer, can defend well and knows where to be on the floor. He also adjusted quickly last year to Sendek's system, having to come in from the high-profile Mater Dei High School program only to find himself benched for two early-season games.

"One of his best assets is he's versatile," Sendek said.

The Sun Devils also have some versatility in wings Carrick Felix (4.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg), a 6-6 junior, and 6-5 sophomore Chanse Creekmur (3.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg) plus a cornerstone in Trent Lockett (13.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg), a 6-4 junior who led ASU in scoring last season.

Combined with the presence of 7-footers Ruslan Pateev (3.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg) and Jordan Bachynski (2.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg), the Sun Devils have the ability to create many different looks.
Herb Sendek
Herb Sendek has not enjoyed much success in the Pac-12 lately.
Without the steady McMillan, who accepted an operations coordinator job at Drake, the Sun Devils will be expecting more leadership out of Lockett. Already, Lockett became a second-team All-Pac-10 pick last season by being more aggressive, playing solid defense and adding a strong midrange game to his driving ability. His 15-footer, in particular, has become almost automatic.

He played his best in the second half of the season after he recovered from a toe injury that cost him the first week of Pac-10 play.

Lockett added 6.7 points to his scoring average as a sophomore and shot 51.6 percent from the field, 32.3 percent from three-point range and 66.2 percent from the free-throw line. He worked over the summer to improve his shot in part by vowing to make 100 free throws at the end of every workout before he could leave.

Usually, according to the Arizona Republic, he only needed about 110 shots to do it. Once he did it in 104.

"Trent obviously has a very significant and prominent role in our program," Sendek said. "We went through him a lot last year and I expect we will this year. He had a terrific first two years for us and we expect him to build on that.

"We definitely look for Trent to expand his horizons, and he's comfortable at any number of spots on the court."

A onetime signee at Duke who instead enrolled at the College of Southern Idaho, Felix had a rough adjustment to Division I last season.

Felix struggled early and then improved into the midseason, with his athleticism and driving ability putting him on the floor for an average 23 minutes over five games after Christmas. But he then missed a game in late January with an illness and was never quite the same afterward.

This time it could be different.

"This should be a tremendous growing year for him," Sendek said. "Carrick's had a real good spring and summer. He's in a good place right now."

You can find a YouTube video of Creekmur dunking over a car, but that isn't the kind of thing the Sun Devils expect most from him: Creekmur is a strong shooter who has the potential to replace some of Rihards Kuksiks' scoring from the perimeter.

He was indispensable in ASU's 73-72 win over Washington State on Feb. 19, scoring 18 points while making 5-of-8 threes in his first start.

"Chanse really showed marked signs of growth and improvement last year," Sendek said. "He laid a good foundation."

The Sun Devils also will have shooting help from another big wing, 6-7 freshman Jonathan Gilling (15.2 ppg, Horsholm 79ers, Denmark), whom Sendek says has a "tremendous feel for the game."

Already as a freshman last season, 6-7 sophomore Kyle Cain (5.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg) became the Sun Devils' leading rebounder. He'll be counted on this time to anchor the power forward spot and may play center at times when one of the 7-footers can't.

Sendek wasn't about to peg Cain to a particular position but instead noted this:

"I know one thing about Kyle -- he plays with a lot of heart and passion," Sendek said. "He has a great motor, and can really rebound the ball."

Perhaps the biggest intrigue with Sendek's lineup this season will be in what he can get out of his two big men.

Bachynski and Pateev were relatively inexperienced last season, and both barely managed double-figure minutes. Pateev had been sparingly used as a freshman in 2009-10 and Bachynski was coming off a Mormon mission he took after high school.

Not only that, but Bachynski had suffered with ankle problems in high school, which prompted his decision to go on a mission before college. Already, the native of Calgary gave up hockey in order to protect his basketball career.

As last season went on, both players began to make an impact. Pateev blocked 24 shots and scored 90 points over 30 games, while Bachynski had 20 blocks and made 49 percent of his field goals.

For being 7-2, Bachynski actually has pretty good athleticism, too, when he's healthy.

"Those guys were first-year players for all intents and purposes," Sendek said. "Both of them have worked to get strong and those guys definitely have the gift of size."

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B
BENCH/DEPTH: C+
FRONTCOURT: B-
INTANGIBLES: C

The Sun Devils have been one of the most difficult teams in the Pac-10 to predict, and that doesn't figure to change this season in the Pac-12.

If their chemistry and leadership comes together, and if they are blessed with decent health, they will cause problems with their athleticism, shooting, size and Sendek's intricate game plans.

But, without a single senior on the roster and a heavy dependence on new players, they could also struggle in a transition season.

They will be good in 2012-13. Maybe really good. But this season could go either way.

Certainly Sendek isn't about to predict which way.

"Right now we're just excited about the season," he said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us. Hopefully Trent and the older guys will carry the torch."

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.