Kyle Dodd- The leadership role played by Dodd in his final season at ASU should not go understated.. He did an excellent job of leading his teammates as an extension of the coaching staff on the court. Many thought that this would be the season that Jason Braxton took over the reigns from Dodd and relegated him to reserve role but the senior was having none of it.
More than anyone else, Dodd was the player to assemble his players on the court during breaks in play, and constantly play the leader role on the floor. He also displayed a keen understanding of play-calling and defensive alignment, often knowing what was expected even before looking over to the bench for the call. Though it's unlikely Dodd will have a career as a player, it's certainly possible for him to embark on a coaching career at some level should he seek to go that route following graduation.
Shawn Redhage- Buoyed by an excellent off-season spent in Spain working on his game, Redhage improved significantly from last year. Not only did he get noticeably bigger and stronger, his athleticism and ball skills were noticeably improved, as was his general court demeanor. In the past, he had a tendency to get a little frantic on the court at times and cough up the ball or make poor decisions. This year his mistakes were kept at a minimum.
Redhage perhaps was able to get more out of his natural ability than any of his fellow classmates, all the while putting up tremendous numbers in the classroom as well. The sky is the limit for Redhage, and he's certainly talented enough to make a career playing overseas or forgoing basketball all together and seeking a career in the field of construction science.
Donnell Knight- The most heralded recruit in Rob Evans' first signing class, Knight was a Parade All-American who started his first game as a freshman. The high expectations for Knight never really panned out, but there's no doubt that he played a very important role for the Sun Devils on their road to a first NCAA Tournament berth in eight years.
Given the role of "garbage man" Knight was a do-everything role player who had a strong impact defensively on the wing and also at times on the offensive glass. Without the presence of Knight early in the season, it's unlikely the Devils would have risen to the challenge of making the NCAA tournament.
Tommy Smith- Few basketball players at any level have the natural talents of Tommy Smith. Long and incredibly athletic, Smith has a NBA body and limitless potential. It's that potential that made Smith's Sun Devil career frustrating to watch at times, as he never really got over the hump that always prevented him from being constantly dominant through out the season.
As a senior, Smith was extremely hit-or-miss in most broad aspects of his game. He developed into an excellent shot-blocker, especially coming from the weak side, and he became less foul prone as well, perhaps due in part to the presence of Ike Diogu in the middle. Offensively, Smith has good passing skills and court vision, but he tends to force the issue at times, both in looking for teammates and creating for himself off the dribble. Most curious, his jump shot often was hard to figure. Often, he'd shoot the ball really well in a game and then put up an air-ball or two in the same half. He was also overly hesitant to shoot the ball from the perimeter where he has a relatively nice stroke and good form. Smith has the professional game, but it still needs to be refined and developed.
Curtis Millage- Without a doubt, the player who more than anyone else personified the emotional heart and soul of the team was Millage. Best described as a "gamer" Millage played with more raw emotion than any Sun Devil star in quite some time. Though sometimes this worked against him and he got "tunnel vision" on the court, for the most part it was a dramatic and important edge he held over his opponent.
After the academic snafu that caught him completely off-guard (no pun intended) and an adjustment period brought on by the emergence of Diogu, Millage appropriately adapted and became equally as valuable as Diogu in the second half of Pac-10 play, averaging in the neighborhood of 20 points per outing. Ultra-quick and active, with a nice handle and good passing skills, Millage should be able to play the game professionally overseas. Further improvement in his jump shot and more experience at the point guard position could even lead to a NBA try-out.
Chris Osborne- Very few people run into as much bad luck over a few short years as Osborne. First, it was discovered that conditioning and health problems were being worsened by the fact that he was only born with one kidney. A wrist injury that Osborne had when he arrived at ASU never fully healed in his initial season and this year his conditioning suffered as a result of a horrible car accident.
Jason Braxton- Of all the returning players who actually saw significant floor time, Braxton is the most important to watch in the off-season. As a freshman, Braxton really blossomed late in the season, including a great performance in the final game of the season against UNLV in the NIT. It was expected that he'd take a step forward thanks to extensive off-season work on his shot. However, Braxton started the season with an even more awkward shooting hitch than the one he had when he initially arrived at ASU. Many fans thought he regressed as a player this year, but that isn't accurate. More likely, Braxton stayed at about the same level as a player and other teams had him scouted better. He consistently faced defenses determined to sag off of him and not allow him to penetrate, which is the bread and butter of his game, and his production suffered accordingly.
Since he started working on his shooting touch with walk-on Brandon Goldman, Braxton has all but eliminated the hitch in his shot and is starting the stroke the ball consistently in practice. The last hurdle, implementing the jumper into games, has been slow to develop, but it's mostly a confidence issue. Against Kansas, Braxton hit a nice looking three pointer at the top of the arc with hardly a hint of any hitch at all. Another off-season with coach-in-training Goldman should do wonders and it very conceivable that Braxton will at least force players to guard him on the perimeter next season, a development that would be imperative to the team's success.
Shooting isn't the only aspect of Braxton's game that needs work however. He's shown a bull-headed attitude at times and even has displayed a tendency to get a little down on himself.. Since point guards often set the emotional tone for their team, Braxton needs to take a rapid step up in the maturation process and become more of a cerebral leader of the team, much like Kyle Dodd was this year. Late in his career Dodd developed the key ability to be an extension of Rob Evans as a "coach on the floor" and understand important time and situational elements of the game. Braxton needs to take a step forward in this vitally important area of the game.
Braxton's also shown a tendency to push the basketball at inappropriate times and make careless decisions when in a rush, even pick up his dribble or get into the air without knowing what he plans on doing with the basketball. The game has slowed down for him now at the college level, but he needs to allow it to come to him instead of forcing the issue. He also needs to use his fantastic natural ability to break down defenders and create more and better opportunities for teammates, especially now that he has some players on his team that are true finishers.
Finally, ‘JB' has he is called by teammates, needs to really become the defensive player that he's capable of being. He's had a difficult time with on-ball defense at the point of attack and is often beaten off the dribble too easily. Laterally he's not as quick or active as he needs to be and also there's been some concern with his positional alignment. He needs to shore up this element of his game because it sets the tone for the entire half-court defense. All of these things make Jason Braxton the most important returning player to watch this year.
Ike Diogu- This freshman sensation had the best first-year campaign of any Sun Devil in at least a generation, and perhaps ever. There's little doubt that he is worthy of first-team freshmen All-American honors. Other than Carmelo Anthony of Syracuse, Diogu was probably the most valuable and productive freshman nationally with Craig Smith of Boston College running a close third.
The skill level Diogu possesses is self-evident. He's a tremendous force on the low block, essentially indefensible one-on-one by 95% of post players at the college level. He has tremendous hands and footwork, and body control that negates the limitation presented by his average height. Diogu is more than capable at using both hands around the basket and his left-handed jump-hook (off-hand) is an impressive sight to behold. He has every post-move in the book and has also shown, though less frequently, a true hook shot, and even a fall-away jumper.
As good as he is, there are certain elements of his game that he's capable of significantly improving. Diogu has a great frame, but a strong off-season in the weight room should help re-define and sculpt his body. He has the ability to get even bigger, and yet more lean. This should also aid in the process of improving his athleticism, which will make him even more of a threat out onto the floor where he possesses a very nice face up jump shot and the ability to get to the basket off the dribble. Size 19 shoes are a bit of a limiting factor and Diogu doesn't run the floor quite as well as most NBA level power forwards, but this is an area where he can and will improve in the coming years.
Since there's not likely to be a decrease in the number of teams willing to double and even triple team Diogu, he's going to have to work incessantly on his court vision and passing skills. Arizona State coaches have spent the last year and a half –essentially since the signing of Diogu in November of 2001- recruiting players with the ability to shoot the ball, in an effort to compliment his post skills. That effort didn't pay off this season however because most of the players who have been recruited to fill this void are not yet in uniform, but next year should be a boon in this area. ASU is going to have a true inside-outside game that will free up both Diogu and the shooters new to the team such as Kevin Kruger, Tron Smith, Serge Angounou and Chris Low. Teams will be much less inclined to play zone defense and this will allow ASU to employ more of the motion offense, whether it be 4 out 1 in, or the open Post that it so relishes.
Jamal Hill- The JC transfer was considered to be somewhat of a disappointment this year, especially after a very nice showing early in the non-conference portion of the schedule. To his credit, Hill was forced to play a large percentage of his floor minutes at the small forward position, where he was physically out-sized. Hill is about 6-4 or so and relatively slight of build though he's more athletic than it might appear from a casual perspective. Next year, it would seems that the bulk of Hill's minutes will come at shooting guard, where the early signs of a significant battle for playing time are already brewing between Hill, incoming freshman Tron Smith and junior college transfer Steve Moore. It should be noted that Moore has given ASU a verbal commitment, and is scheduled to sign a letter of intent in April.
More than anything, Hill is a shooter who at times has allowed his success, or lack thereof, to impact the rest of what he does on the court. When Hill is knocking down his beautiful jump shot, he's more inclined to be focused in games and doing the little things that are so important on both ends of the floor. Nevertheless, when he struggles with his shot, it has at times adversely impacted his other responsibilities on the court.
For many JC transfers, there is a real adjustment that needs to be made to the overall speed of the game as it is played at the highest college level. Thus, this is the phenomenon that Hill is experiencing. His defense has been less than desirable on the wing, and against larger defenders he's not been able to get to the basket and finish as easily as he would like. Shooting is largely a rhythmic endeavor and Hill seemed to rush his shot at times, especially late in the season. An off-season spent getting stronger, more mentally determined and defensively inclined should do wonders for his game. As play on the court slows down for him, so should the rhythm on his jump shot. With hard work, Hill could be a very significant player for ASU at his more natural shooting guard position next year.
Kenny Crandall - The decision of the ASU staff to attempt to sign a JC shooter this spring (Steve Moore) is quite indicative of the coaches' feel that this is area in need of most immediate attention. It also implies that Jamal Hill should take notice and work doubly hard on his game in the off-season and Crandall should accept the fact that the writing is on the wall as he heads into his senior campaign. Though Crandall is undoubtedly one of the smarter and most mature members of the squad, his relative lack of athleticism became noticeably worse after a gruesome leg injury suffered last summer in a dirt bike accident. Crandall isn't tall enough to play small forward defensively and isn't quick enough to defense most wing-guards. More than likely, Crandall will finish his career as a situation player, brought in to hit a key three-point shot when the team is in need of one. However, with the addition of a handful of athletic shooters next season those instances may not come as frequently as in the past. Still, as an older, more mature statesmen of the squad, Crandall's role in practice and the off the court should not be underestimated and could prove as an invaluable contribution.
Justin Allen - Another player who will be entering his senior season with an emphasis on playing the role of a valuable reserve. Allen's versatility and the team's relative lack of height have almost worked to his disadvantage over the course of his career. A consummate teammate who is greatly admired and looked up to by his peers both inside and outside the program for his well-chronicled battle with Hodgkin's disease, as well as his extremely personable demeanor. Allen has been forced to play out of position at times. He has the mindset and skills of a small forward, but has played quite a bit in practice and even in game situations banging with the big men in the post.
The player that should serve as role model for Allen in the off-season is fellow teammate Shawn Redhage. Last summer Redhage spent quite a bit of time working on his ball skills and his athleticism, both of which were noticeably improved this year. Allen needs to try and fill the niche left by the departure of Redhage and it should start with an increased effort in the mid-range elements of his game. As a player who loves the three-point shot, Allen needs to become more of a threat in the pockets of zones, off of the dribble and on the glass. Essentially, he needs to become even more multi-faceted and try to siphon off some of the minutes left on the table by Redhage. Since he's about the same size and has relatively similar skills, it shouldn't be much of a stretch to think these are goals that Allen can legitimately work toward accomplishing.
Serge Angounou- Before suffering a moderate knee injury in the first exhibition game of the year, Angounou had impressed the staff and frequent observers alike with his uncanny natural athletic ability and relentless energy. It was generally believed that he was winning the battle to begin the regular season as the starter at small forward. At 6-8 and 245 pounds with true wing skills, and the ability to ostensibly guard any position on the floor with his amazing combination of size and foot speed, Angounou is one of the most impressive physical specimens to ever wear a Sun Devil uniform. His freakish athleticism and unbelievable body are almost jaw-dropping to those observing him for the first time. The micro-fracture procedure performed on Angounou's knee has proved to be problematic for other athletes, but it appears from reports within the program that his recovery is going about as expected.
Angounou has extremely long arms and incredibly huge hands that, when coupled with his foot quickness, developed via years of soccer playing in his native Cameroon, makes him a particularly scary defender. He's also a terrific rebounder and true scorer, with the ability to fill it up from anywhere on the court. Angounou has a fairly consistent three- point shot, though he does have a bit of an awkward release. In the past five months since his injury he's had plenty of time to work on his touch, and is just about a month away from being cleared for full contact. Angounou had been running with a bit of a limp in conditioning, but the trainer apparently seems to think that it is a natural part of regaining confidence in the knee, a transition sometimes difficult for players injured for the first time. If healthy, Angounou should be a strong candidate to begin next season as a starter at either forward position and contribute heavily.
Allen Morill- Ineligible this season as a partial qualifier, Morill also is coming off of a knee injury that required surgery, though the procedure wasn't as significant as the one undergone by Angounou. In the final weeks of the season, Morill was back in some contact drills and was reportedly "very impressive" according to sources close to and within the program. At nearly 6-7 and around 240 pounds, Morill has been termed by Rob Evans has a bigger and better version of ex-Sun Devil Awvee Storey.
Like Angounou, Morill has a very nice body and a versatility that is impressive. When watching Diogu, Angounou and Morill play together last year in a scrimmage situation the natural assumption to someone not familiar with the team would be that those three players would be the physically imposing veterans. Players such as Tommy Smith, Donnell Knight and Jamal Hill looked the part of less physically developed underclassmen. Obviously, that wasn't the case, but it does mean that the strongest and most imposing players will all be returning, even though they don't have nearly the intangible and very important characteristic of experience.
On offense, Morill is excellent playing away from the basketball and has legitimate ball skills, as well as passing ones. He's also a relentless, high-energy player who is physically impressive and willing to do the little things that often go unnoticed. Morill posses a better than average shot from mid-range. It is likely that he will be a significant contributor, at the very least, in his sophomore season.
Kevin Kruger- The son of former Atlanta Hawk coach Lon, Kruger is a true coach's son in that he picked up the various Sun Devil offensive schemes with relative ease almost immediately. A recruited gray-shirt who will have a scholarship next year, Kruger passed up immediate scholarship opportunities at other Division-1 Universities to attend Arizona State, due in large part to the strong friendship that Rob Evans has with his father. Kruger is best known perhaps for his deadly three-point stroke. He shot nearly 50% from long range in high school, and is a solid floor general. At 6-1 and 175 pounds, Kruger may not be as physical or athletic as the average high major player but he had a good enough showing in practice this year that coaches apparently thought about burning his redshirt year. He stands a good chance to earn significant minutes early next season.
Recruited Athletes Slotted to Join Program:
Tron Smith - This high school star and former teammate of Jason Braxton at Moreno Valley Canyon Springs was the first player to commit to Rob Evans and his staff in the 2003 class. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, Smith is a combination guard, capable of playing either point guard or off-guard in the Sun Devil offense. Regarded by many recruiting services as one of the top 100 high school players nationally in his class, Smith is one of the best prep shooters nationally, with a pure and effortless jump-shot and range out to 25 feet. Physically strong and explosive off the floor, Smith is a workaholic who will be ready to play heavy minutes right away for the Sun Devils. There is even a legitimate chance that he winds up starting at some point in the season, if not right away.
Keith Wooden- One of the most highly regarded recruits in the Great Plains region out of Free State high school in Lawrence, Kansas, Wooden is an impressive 6'9 and 225 pounds and still growing. His 7'6 wingspan is extremely long for a man of his height and it allows him to play at least a few inches taller than he actually is. Physically, even facially, he somewhat resembles former Arizona State standout Mario Bennett, though Wooden isn't known as being equally explosive off the floor. Extremely versatile, Wooden is capable of playing either with his back to the basket or stepping out and facing up his defender. He is reportedly a nice jump shooter, but has a reputation for not being as dominating as his skills suggest he should be. Still, there's no doubt that this McDonald's 100 player has the requisite physical skills to become a star player at the college level. Wooden should, at the very least, be a significant contributor immediately upon arrival.
Chris Low- Another 6'9 player, Low played his prep ball at Gorman high school in Tyler Texas and was named to the all-state 3A team as a junior. Labeled by the insiders.com guru Dave Telep as the best shooting big man in the 2003 class, Low is another player with tremendous versatility. With added size and strength, Low should be capable of playing any of three front court positions at ASU.
Will Fameni- Like Angounou, Fameni is a native of Cameroon. At 6'8 and 230 pounds, Fameni has dominated on the hardwood and in the classroom, despite only being in the United States for around 18 months. Fameni also played soccer growing up and has quick feet and the ability to play multiple positions, much like Low and even Wooden. This is an extremely desirable attribute as Arizona State undoubtedly will play more motion offense in years to come, a scheme that relies heavily on interchangeable parts.
Steve Moore- The only recruited player that is unsigned. Moore gave a verbal commitment to the Arizona State staff on NCAA selection Sunday. A Junior College player out of Eastern Oklahoma by way of Southern California, the 6'4 Moore played his prep ball alongside Chicago Bulls' Tyson Chandler at Compton Dominguez high school. A left-handed shooter and dynamic athlete, Moore should provide help at the shooting guard position vacated by Curtis Millage, should he sign his letter of intent in April.
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