Though the question seemed obvious, Herb Sendek took it in stride, and found his answer on the stat sheet. In playful fashion, he rattled off the numbers: 18.7 points per game, 44 percent from the 3-point line, 80 assists, and on and on.
These numbers — and more — are what the Arizona State men’s basketball team didn’t have to deal with when it faced Arizona last month, but freshman Jerryd Bayless is back from a knee injury, and has made every bit the impact peers James Harden (ASU), Kevin Love (UCLA) and O.J. Mayo (USC) have on their respective teams.
In other words, the Wildcats figure to be a different team with Bayless today in Tucson, than they were during a Jan. 9 loss at Wells Fargo Arena.
“When a guy like that isn’t able to play, you typically aren’t able to go down the bench and say, ‘Go in for him,’ ” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “What everyone does is say ‘Everyone has to step up and we all have to collectively make up for it.’ I suppose that’s possible but it’s not easy to do.”
Case in point: The Sun Devils had a difficult time compensating when James Harden was limited by a groin injury two weeks ago.
Noting the team’s schedule and ability to play with top-five programs in Kansas and Memphis this season, Sendek didn’t waver in his belief Arizona remains an elite, championship-contending program.
The Wildcats lost to Memphis, Oregon and ASU without Bayless, with their lone win coming against woeful Oregon State.
“Yet, even without him, they were still really, really, really, really, really good,” Sendek said. “With him they’re really, really, really, really, really good.”
Some of Sendek’s players have some familiarity with Bayless. Ty Abbott played against him a few times in high school. Harden played with him in AAU basketball and the McDonald’s All-American game, and a few Sun Devils played with and against Bayless during open gyms last summer.
“We know what we have to be ready for,” sophomore Derek Glasser said.
Namely, everything. Bayless is the Cats best shooter outside 6-foot-10 Jordan Hill, and is equally capable of getting to the basket and collapsing defenses to draw contact or find open teammates. He averages nearly seven free-throw attempts per game.
“He gives them that option,” Harden said, an option the Wildcats sorely missed in the first meeting when Nic Wise and Chase Budinger struggled shooting.
How long Bayless, 19, sticks around the college game remains to be seen. He’s projected as a top-10 pick on NBAdraft.net, and while those decisions are months away, an early departure could provide one fewer headache in a Pac-10 full of them.
“Arizona was good without him,” Sendek said. “Make no mistake about it, with him they’re better.”