Brad Nahra: "This win may have been a blessing in disguise to get these guys playing well when the starters were struggling a little…but this season is shaping up as about as I anticipated. They are getting better with every practice, with every game. I felt that this period following the Richmond game (December 5th.) was really going to be crucial for the team, and Herb Sendek is a master of getting his players on the court, getting the message across to them and making them better basketball players and better teammates. He has a done a good job there."
DD: Coming into this season there has obviously been a concerted effort to upgrade the team's non-conference schedule and needless to say that it has been challenging for ASU. Naturally, this has contributed to a record that some may view as disappointing but do you feel that all these stiff early season testes will really benefit the Sun Devils come Pac-10 season?
BN: "I do, because ASU did the right thing. They need to play those games. In hindsight with seven newcomers is this the ideal schedule? No, but you can probably make the argument every year that it may not be the ideal schedule. Hopefully those games on road against Baylor and New Mexico pay dividends later in the year and I think they will. The scheduling this year is a sign of things to come. At some point they had to draw the line, and this year they beefed up the schedule. You have to applaud them for it, even though they are 7-4."
DD: With so many new faces on the roster do you feel that the returning players have done a good job carrying this team thus far?
BN: "I think in the last three, four games you have seen that. I think Jamelle (McMillan) has obviously been hampered a lot with that groin injury, but Ty (Abbott) and Rik (Kuksiks) have been playing well. They haven't been shooting it as well as they should be or have in the past, but if you look at the past four box scores Ty, Rick and Trent (Lockett) have been carrying the scoring burden. If you don't see those three guys carrying the load in the scoring column, it will be a struggle for ASU. Again, Jamelle has been injured and hasn't been scoring that much but has been a great leader both in practice and in the games. You can't measure what he does in the stat sheet although he has been filling it up sometimes. "
DD: How would you describe the identity of this ASU team?
BN: "Maybe to the naked eye it doesn't seem like they are playing at higher pace, but I think since the Baylor game (December 2nd) they really have been trying to get out in transition more and score early. I know they have the ability to do that. I think as always, the identity of a Herb Sendek team will be on the defensive side of the floor. They just haven't figured out how they can do it for the entire 40 minutes.
"I think a big problem they have right now (on defense) is communication. Eric Boateng, Derek Glasser, Jeff Pendergraph were all tremendous communicators. Right now a lot of the players on the team aren't and once they figure out their roles and are not thinking about it, they will better at that. So strong defense in the match-up zone, perimeter shooting, and players driving to the basket like Trent and Keala (King) is what this team can be. Again, they are still trying to figure some things out but I know they are trying to get out in transition more this year. Ty and Trent are running the lanes about as well as anyone you will see."
DD: Some of concerns going into the season were the team's interior defense and rebounding, and in some games those deficiencies have revealed themselves. Do you feel those areas will still be a problem going into the Pac-10 portion of the schedule?
BN: "I feel that the rebounding and interior defense has improved in the last few games. I think the two Achilles heels of this team are turnovers and free throw shooting. Give those guys credit for working hard in practice improving on their free throw shooting as of late. But turnovers are really killing this team. Maybe Jamelle mostly playing in the off-guard role for three years with Derek Glasser running the point has hurt his development (as a point guard). But they have to find a way to better protect the basketball. In the last two games their turnovers have gone down in the second half, so they have to continue that progress. "
DD: When you talk about rebounding with ASU, you have to clearly begin the conversation with Kyle Cain, who has by far been the team's most impressive newcomer this year. How impressed have you been with this true freshman standing 6-7, playing center and doing as well as he is?
BN: "He is doing an incredible job and is impressing me every single game. He is one of the premier rebounders in the league. To do what he does at 6-7, a guy that hasn't really developed into his body yet and isn't real bulky…it's amazing to see his pursuit towards the basketball. It's just unparallel. If the ball goes up he's on the glass to make sure he gets the rebound. It's not only his defensive rebounding. The last two games he had six offensive rebounds each game. He does a great job on the offensive end making himself taller shooting that left-handed jump hook.
"Kyle Cain has probably exceeded everyone else's expectations."
DD: When you compare ASU to what the rest of the conference has done so far in this season how do you think the Sun Devils will fair as they get into league play?
BN: "My prediction before the season was that ASU was going to finish in the top four of the Pac-10, and I didn't base that off on how they played early in the season. If the season started November 15th, I don't think they would be in the top four. But the fact that Herb Sendek gets them better every week, I'm assuming that they will improve as the Pac-10 season goes on and they will get into that top four.
"I think Washington, Washington State, and Arizona are the three teams at the top of the league. I think that fourth spot is really up for grabs because everybody else is so evenly matched. Outside of those three teams everyone else in the league has been a Jekyll and Hyde team. It really is wide open."