Serge Angounou and Allen Morill have spent the past five years in one of the country’s least successful basketball programs, and they have the scars to show for it.
However, despite knee operations, mass defections by their teammates and the firing of the coach who recruited them, Angounou and Morill look back positively on their careers. They, along with fellow seniors Robby Aldridge and Bruno Claudino, will suit up for their final home game tonight against Arizona.
“I’ve experienced a lot of things that have turned me into the person that I am now,” Morill said. “And it’s a lot of positives. To go through all the ups and downs, I feel that it’s been fun and it’s been just a great experience all around.”
No one would blame either one for looking sadly back on careers that were sidetracked by career-threatening knee injuries.
Angounou missed a season-and-a-half after suffering a right knee injury weeks before his college career was to begin. Morill sat out most of last season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee. (He played in too many games to apply for a medical redshirt.)
Since making their college debuts together in the 2003-04 season, they’ve seen the Sun Devils lose 67 of their 113 games (59.3 percent) and watched as no fewer than 10 scholarship teammates left the program prior to exhausting their eligibility.
Some, like Ike Diogu and Kevin Kruger, left for greener pastures. Others left because they couldn’t hack it athletically, academically or ethically at the Pac-10 level.
But no personnel loss was as difficult as the firing of coach Rob Evans, who continues to follow their careers and checks in with both players regularly. The firing was especially difficult for Morill.
“It was really tough because coach Evans is like a father figure for me,” said Morill, who admitted he, too, considered leaving the program at times.
Not surprisingly, the players continue to carry themselves in a way that would make Evans proud. Both have earned their degrees and sophomore Jeff Pendergraph, who referred to Morill and Angounou as “guardians,” said the duo has served as a moral compass for the program’s younger players.
First-year coach Herb Sendek, who succeeded Evans, has been impressed by their demeanor.
“Both guys are terrific gentlemen,” Sendek said. “They are both as close to being unconditionally selfless as I’ve been around in college basketball.
“They are amazingly devoid of ego. They just want to help add value in any way they can.”
Though their on-court contributions have been limited by sparse playing time, both players have affected games.
Angounou contributed heavily early in the season and averaged 11 points and eight rebounds per game in nonconference play. Angounou’s gritty second-half performance against Southern California last week helped ASU to its first Pac-10 victory of the year.
As Morill grew more confident in his surgically-repaired knee, he began to take minutes from Angounou. Morill has added a physical presence in the post and has averaged seven points and four rebounds over the last 13 games.
Now, both are looking to finish strong over the final two weeks of their college careers.
“I’m so happy about it,” Angounou said of his five years at ASU. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s been tough but that’s life. That’s how it’s supposed to be. There have been ups and downs, but you’ve got to fight the whole way toward the end.”
BONUS SHOT: ASU recruit James Harden was named to the McDonald’s All-American team Saturday.
Arizona at ASU
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Wells Fargo Arena
TV: FSN Arizona
Radio: KTAR (620 AM)
Records: UA (17-9, 8-7 in Pac-10); ASU (7-19, 1-14)
Scouting report: UA – The Wildcats arrive in Tempe desperately needing to avoid the RPI-damaging loss that Southern California experienced here last weekend. Some are questioning UA’s tournament-worthiness after being swept at home by the Los Angeles schools and spiraling downward during a 5-8 slump dating back to Jan. 6. Five UA players are scoring in double figures, including point guard Mustafa Shakur who is also averaging nearly seven assists per game. UA has won four straight and 10 of 11 in Tempe.
ASU – The Sun Devils broke a 15-game losing streak (and a 22-game losing streak to ranked teams dating back to the 2003 NCAA tournament) with their 68-58 win over then-No. 22 USC. That game was a week ago now, but the lessons remain.
Perhaps the biggest lesson is that they can be successful offensively if they get to the foul line. ASU shot a season-high 29 free throws and converted 20 of them. The success included a 19-of-25 effort in the second half. ASU attempted only five free throws in a 71-47 loss Jan. 24 in Tucson.
Four ASU seniors will play their final games at Wells Fargo Arena tonight and all four have already earned or are on schedule to earn their degrees.
Robby Aldridge, Sociology, May 2006
Serge Angounou, Spanish, May 2006
Bruno Claudino, Sociology, Dec. 2007
Allen Morill, Theatre/ Communications, Dec. 2006