Herb Sendek didn’t build his own house in Scottsdale when he moved to Arizona State 18 months ago, but he’s the architect of a program on the rise in Tempe.
He’s taken basketball teams to lofty locations before, but Sendek’s proven ACC plans were re-drawn in the desert. He’s already assembled a group of six young Sun Devils bubbling with potential and pride to pour a foundation.
This “six-pack” in sneakers insists on slabbing together wins, and soon. But how long before this new house of hoops solidifies into an NCAA tournament fortress?
Fall’s first open practice ended and the seats were vacant, but sophomore Derek Glasser stuck around for more shots.
Questions followed the swishes, some about the day’s competition, some about the progress of the Arizona State men’s basketball team’s offense and defense.
Some were about the hoops tutorials under way at Wells Fargo Arena, and how much was left to learn before the real games began.
Then he was asked about the six newbies and their possible impact.
“Yeah, it’s going to be something to see,” said Glasser, his lips creasing to form the slightest of smiles. “Just you wait.”
There it was, a declaration of good — maybe even great — things to come at Arizona State.
The reality is that nobody knows when those days will dawn.
The Sun Devils are the youngest college basketball team Herb Sendek can recall coaching. Even if they’re talented, cerebral, unassuming winners, youth also will mean mistakes, volatility and inconsistency.
Perhaps the Sun Devils will reverse last year’s 8-22 record and become that seventh or eighth Pac-10 team to reach March Madness and make the conference ocean-deep in talent.
Perhaps the National Invitation Tournament is a better aspiration. Or perhaps those thoughts are better left for 2008 or 2009.
Whatever view you choose, the sun is rising on a new era of ASU basketball. This group of five freshmen and one sophomore transfer are players Sendek sought to rebuild the program.
“This is a quality, quality class,” former coach Bill Frieder said. “This is a group that can make this team very, very competitive.”
It starts with James Harden and Eric Boateng. The former was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior at Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.) High School. Unstoppable at driving to the basket during the team’s first two exhibition games, his ability to score in a multitude of ways is rare for a freshman, he and could challenge even more highly touted O.J. Mayo (USC) and Kevin Love (UCLA) for conference newcomer of the year.
“I’m learning,” Harden said. “At first things were fast, but the more I practice and watch it’s slowing down. There’s a long way to go.”
Boateng is the sophomore transfer from Duke who came West seeking better basketball development. Originally recruited by Sendek at North Carolina State, Boateng reshaped his body and game for hours on end throughout last season, and especially this summer. What’s new is 15 pounds of muscle, a jump hook and the ability to help all-conference junior Jeff Pendergraph size up Pac-10 players inside.
There’s Ty Abbott, the Phoenix Desert Vista graduate who chose to stay home after a New Mexico coaching shake-up; Jamelle McMillan, the intellectual point guard with a basketball-rich pedigree; 6-foot-8 Kraidon Woods, a Villanova commit in 2005 who chose prep school instead; and slick-shooting Latvian Rihards Kuksiks.
All come brimming with promise. All have a whole new style of life and play to learn.
“Lot of hype coming in with this class. We have to make sure we live up to those expectations,” McMillan said.
“Ultimately every team in Division I basketball is trying to get to the NCAA tournament. It’s the goal whether you’re an elite or one of the worst. As the year goes on, you see how you respond to situations and adjust.
“We know we’re a good and talented group.”
|SUN DEVIL CLASS: Arizona State first-year basketball players, from left: Ty Abbott, Kraidon Woods, James Harden, Eric Boateng, Rihards Kuksiks, and Jamelle McMillan.|
Molding the talent, personalities and team unity is up to the coaches and returning veterans Pendergraph and Antwi Atuahene. Sendek’s schemes aren’t simple. He demands defensive attitude and effort rarely seen at the high school level. The mental adjustment to college and the ensuing five-month grind will, invariably, take its toll on those slogging through this for the first time.
Much of the scolding or soothing falls on Pendergraph, whom Sendek envisions as a Tim Duncan model of leadership for these young Devils. He’s on board, though these can be frustrating times when the junior who’s tired of losing has to watch and prod these newcomers through what he experienced two years ago.
Accustomed to being the best prepsters, any ego and “me” won’t fly in this locker room.
“Nope. Can’t happen because it’ll cause more problems,” Pendergraph said. “That’s getting away from team goals and selfish stuff. If stuff like that happens, I try to handle it real quick.”
Some players said the NCAA tournament was in their tea leaves. Some — Frieder included — donned the NIT as a realistic end.
Others don’t care as long as they’re still wearing jerseys four months from now, and for the first time under Sendek, they’re not afraid to admit it.
“We definitely don’t want to be here,” said Pendergraph, referring to Tempe. “Anywhere but here. We don’t want to have a spring break. We want to be practicing.
“When I turn 21, forget Vegas, forget all that, I want to be playing basketball. We want to make some type of postseason. We don’t want to sit here watching TV — watching everyone else have fun going through March Madness, sitting here with another year gone.”