Sendek reflective as new season begins

The Sun Devils won 20 or more games three years in a row, undoubtedly marking the turnaround this program is experiencing under fifth-year ASU's head Coach Herb Sendek. While there is much to be excited concerning the present and the future of this team Sendek won't quickly forget some of the player that helped build the foundation the squad stands on today.

"For the first time in four years, we don't have the three seniors who graduated last year," Sendek commented. "Just thinking about this year's team and moving forward, it's hard not to pause and remember what Eric (Boateng), Derek (Glasser) and Jerren (Shipp) have meant to our program the last few years.

"Derek came here after preparing to walk on at USC and left holding four school records. Jerren Shipp was our first commitment as a new coaching staff and finished second in the all-time number of games played for an ASU player and was the ultimate utility man occupying so many roles for us. And then of course, Eric improved dramatically over his career and ended up leading the Pac-10 in field goal percentage last year and right now is in the Denver Nuggets' camp.

"So, we're excited about the beginning, as always with a new year but I think it's important we just pause for a minute and tip our hat to those three seniors and what they meant to our program over the last few years."

The maroon and gold will welcome seven newcomers to their roster this season and will attempt to integrate them with their already established strong core of three seniors and two sophomores.

"I think they naturally have developed some good chemistry early on," Sendek said. "Sometimes no matter how much you emphasize that as a coach, you can't make two people like each other that has to come from themselves. I really like the way the guys are interacting and getting along.

"I think a significant part of that is our senior leadership. We have three seniors in Ty (Abbott), Jamelle (McMillan) and Rik (Kuksiks) who offer us outstanding leadership. They have been quick to point things out to the new guys, share with them what our culture is all about so I think that has really helped bring things along."

"They work out with us. They are ready to work," Ty Abbott noted. "They are guys that are ready and willing. They made it a lot easier than I expected it to (be). They are talented. I wouldn't expect to have this many people come in that can play, where they literally can play right away. It's going to be fun. It's going to be interesting.

"We have guys that one, they can play and two, they want to learn. It just makes it easy. We are going to start off on the right foot we are going to work hard in practice. There is not going to be any of those sideshows, so I bet it will be good."

"We have five returning players, four of whom have played appreciably," Sendek said. "The three seniors and Trent Lockett who was First Team All Pac-10 Freshman last year, the fifth being Ruslan (Pateev) who really didn't play significant minutes last year but has gained 23 pounds and is now up to 250. Then we have our ensemble of new guys so I key will be to integrate an unusual large amount of new players with some really good returning leadership."

This inexperienced group will have to encounter a challenging non-conference schedule to endure that the precious RPI index won't hinder them when the NCAA selection committee determines who will be invite to the Big Dance in March.

"Right out of the gates we will be tested by fire when we play at New Mexico and then play UAB at home the first week of the season," Sendek pointed out. "If you look at our schedule, there's not a breather in it. I think that's what our program really needs at this point as we continue to try to move forward and advance."

Finishing second in the Pac-10 last year, the Sun Devils will again face fierce competition when they begin league play. Sendek admits that that Pac-10 got off to a slow start during the 2009 campaign but has started to make noise on a national level.

"I think the Pac-10 will once again be very competitive, balanced and wide open," Sendek stated. "The difference between most teams will be nothing, maybe a bank shot from three-quarter court at the end of the game to decide it. I think the league will be really good but my bias not withstanding, I thought it was better than it was nationally given credit last year and once the nation got an up close look at Washington and Cal in the tournament, more people concurred. We just as a league didn't get off to as good of start with a number of key players on teams missing in action early in the season."

Senior, Jamelle McMillan is a player whose impact is not always accurately described through statistics. The 6-2 guard has an immense knowledge of the game he plays, proving him with the versatility and leadership that drives his team to success. Averaging 6.6 PPG last season, McMillan will return for his last run in the maroon and gold.

"I think Jamelle McMillan as a senior, a guy who has played point guard as well as off guard for us throughout his career is poised to have a good senior year," Sendek noted. "We have some other guys who are capable of playing that spot and one thing about our system is that it really takes advantage of guys being interchangeable."

McMillan has battled in the past with Glasser for the starting point guard role, but this year is the obvious choice to re-assume that role. The wiley veteran downplayed his old-new role.

"It's no different. It's going out and playing the same game," McMillan claimed. "It's a game I have played my entire life and I have played this point guard position primarily in high school. Coming in and having a duel role and I just had the ball a little bit more in my hand every game. It's the same deal. [Glasser] was a tremendous player and I have learned a lot from him. Learned a lot about this conference and the way to approach different things. I feel confident in going in to this year, as a senior, being able to take that role and be in that leadership position."

Last season, just two games into Pac-10 play the maroon and gold were not yielding the results they initially hoped. Sendek made the decision to switch his team to a motion offense to allow for a more up-tempo and less structured scheme. The freedom and creativity of the motion offense proved beneficial for the maroon and gold and was possibly their key to success.

"It was borderline insane," Sendek admitted. "It could have really backfired, it's relatively unprecedented what we did, and you don't see it very often to say the least. We just went with our gut and it seemed to be what our team needed at that point and looking in the rear-view mirror, it might have saved our season. I think it's what our team needed."

Due to that success, and this season having a more athletic personnel group the motion offense appears to be here to stay.

"Yeah we like the motion a great deal," Sendek said. "Obviously there are different ways to run motion so we'll tailor it and tweak it to fit the personnel we have this year but we like the freedom it creates and our guys really like playing that way."

Beginning his 18th year as a head coach, his 5th at Arizona State, never before has Sendek had such a hefty group of newcomers. With a total of seven, Sendek and his staff will first work on developing effective communication with the players and helping them understand and reach their full potential.

"There is always so much to learn and people come in at different points," Sendek explained. "They come in having different vocabulary sets, different terminology for things and so I think the key for the coaching staff is to not presume anything and not take for granted anything. We have to start by defining terms so when we communicate; everyone is on the same page.

"With regard to the newcomers' skill performance, I think one of the big adjustments for most new guys is just the level of intensity that is required all the time, every second of every minute of every day. Sometimes just getting them to understand what they're capable of doing when in their mind they may think they're working really hard, but you know they have so much more that they're capable of doing. So, as much as anything in the beginning of the season, its just understanding and communication the kind of work habits that have to be sustained to enhance improvement."

Returning for his senior season in the maroon and gold is guard, Ty Abbott. Abbott's career has fluctuated over the years, but after a disappointing sophomore season, he came out ready to redeem himself. In 2009, Abbot stepped up to pick up the offensive slack after the maroon and gold lost powerhouse, James Harden and was named All-Pac-10 first team. Abbott averaged 12-points-per-game and shot 40% from the 3-point-line.

"I think Ty has worked as hard as anybody this off season," Sendek said. "I think he is very determined and dedicated, extremely focused and he has always been that way. I think back when we first started September skill workouts when he was a freshman. He would snap a pass, he would cut hard, he always had great attention to detail even as a young guy and now he has a wealth of experience and his body has continued to change. I think he is in the best condition of his career right now. He has really dedicated himself and worked hard throughout the off season and I think he is ready to have a terrific season."

"The mind is a crazy thing," McMillan said about Abbott's ups and downs. "Freshman year is like all world from the three-point line then sophomore year struggled a little bit and then came back last year first team all Pac-10. Ty is a guy that is an everyday guy. He comes in every single day and you know what you are going to get, you know what to suspect. He is a guy where you feed off him, just his presence alone. In the weight room especially, I think he lifts like 400 pounds, or something ridiculous, and on the court he doesn't get tired, he is running forever, always on the ball defender, high-octane guy, and offensively he will shoot it from anywhere.

"This guy is going to make you better and wants to make you better. Just seeing him from day one till now I am extremely proud of what he has been able to accomplish, and he should be extremely proud of his career so far, and hopefully he will build off that this year."

The only returning Sun Devil had did not see much action during his freshman year, Ruslan Pateev has returned to the maroon and gold after gaining 23lbs during the offseason bringing the 7-foot center to 249lbs.

"In terms of precise rolls and who is going to start and those things, it would be disingenuous of me to decide those things before practice starts but Ruslan has really improved," Sendek admitted. "Like I said, he's much stronger and thicker and he really knows how to play and really knows the game so I expect him to have an outstanding season."

Freshman Keala King arrived to Tempe with high expectations as the highest rated recruit of the 2010 class. Although the 6-4 freshman got off to a slow start during the off-season, he has begun to find his stride as a Sun Devil.

"He is a talented young player," Sendek stated. "Like our other young guys he has a great deal to learn right now. But he is a talented young man. I think his versatility really stands out, he has an uncanny ability to use both of his hands although he is a left hander."

With the amount of versatility and athleticism that the 2010 Sun Devils ultimately bring to the table, the freedom that Coach Sendek and his staff has in regards to shifting personnel and in terms of playmaking is something they will strive to capitalize on. In order to reach their full potential, the maroon and gold may have to make adjustments throughout the season, but in the end it comes down to one very basic element of the game.

"I think we've had to rely on some resourcefulness and creativity in the past," Sendek confessed, "but to me that's the fun part of coaching, to try to discern what your team needs and to put them in a position to be successful.

"The keys always come down to the fundamentals and the concepts, all the other stuff is fun to talk about and kind of like an illusion but it still comes down to the fundamentals. You're as good as you are at the fundamentals."

One of the most important aspects of a team for Coach Sendek is having the strength of team chemistry and leadership to depend on. With five veterans and seven impressive newcomers, the maroon and gold are unboundedly equipped with the talented athletes and strong leaders it needs to succeed.

"I like to have five leaders on the floor at one time," Sendek said. "Everybody is a leader and a follower. Leadership for us is indispensible. Jamelle is a great leader, one of the best I've ever coached. Ty Abbot is a great leader, one of the best leaders I've ever coached. We're going to get very good leadership from other players, not just our seniors. I think a guy like Trent Lockett will be a 5-star general. Leadership is essential. It's their team and I want them to have ownership of it."

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