Basketball Recruits Gear Up For Sun Devil Career

With a successful 2002-03 season in the books, Arizona State will experience its biggest player turnover in the Rob Evans era. Therefore, this change in guard is a key factor in the program's potential for success, both next season and in the future. DevilsDigest talked to the four players in the 2003 recruiting class about their high school senior season, and their expectations of their new career as they get ready to set foot in Tempe in the next couple of months.

Tron Smith- A true gym-rat if there ever was one. The fact that his high school career has come to an end has had little if any impact on the amount of time Smith works on his skills and physical preparedness. "I go to school and then after school I lift weights for an hour. After I get out of the weight room, I go into the gym for an hour and shoot. I go home for 45 minutes to an hour and then I go to Kool-Aid's (Perry, the AAU Inland Team coach) practice. When asked if he was helping out "Kool-Aid" with the team, Smith said, "No, I'm just practicing so I can stay in shape. I don't want to get out of shape."

Smith takes his off-season regimen extremely seriously and now has a personal trainer working with him. "Right now, I've got an ex-football player – a semi-pro player- training me on the weights." Already big and strong at 6-2 and 200 pounds, Smith says he's not trying to bulk up but rather just get stronger and more fit.

As a senior, Smith had a chance to play in a divisional final game at the Pond in Anaheim in front of nearly 10,000 fans and go head-to-head with Kansas's signee Omar Wilkes and Loyola high school. "It was a good experience. I'd never played in a big stadium like that before, with all the people. Actually, I liked it. It made me more comfortable on the floor. I thought it was going to be hard to adjust but actually it was kind of easy." Smith's team lost the game, due in large part to the shooting woes of teammates Andre McGee and Richard Cobbs, but Smith more than held his own against Wilkes. "I've played against him three times so I kind of know what to expect. Everybody came out and played hard, but unfortunately everyone didn't have a good game."

Later in the State Tournament, Smith's squad went up against Inland Empire rival Eisenhower high school and Boston College signee - shooting guard Sean Marshall. Again, Smith's Canyon Springs squad came up on the losing end. After going undefeated in league play, the team saw an unfortunate end to its season. About the game and individual match-up Smith remarked, "There's nothing really spectacular about his (Marshall's) game. He's all right. He can be contained pretty easy actually. When we played them the same thing happened as in the other (Loyola) game. We got away from what we did to get to the playoffs. It came back to bite us in the 4th quarter."

Despite the frustrating end to the season, Smith was named Riverside County Player of the Year, first-team all California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), and all-Inland Empire by the Los Angeles Times. He averaged 20 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game. He also noticed a significant improvement in certain areas of his game, saying, "Before this year I'd have a couple good games and then I'd go into a slump, but now I'm more consistent. I play defense (harder) and that helps me get my offense off, and get easier buckets."

Smith is so excited to get started on his Sun Devil career that he'll be attending the second summer session in July and even visiting the Tempe campus over his spring break. "I'll be out there (today) actually. I'll play pick-up with some of the guys and then (ASU player) Brandon Goldman's going to show me some drills to work on." Knowing how valuable the opportunity of playing with a post presence like Ike Diogu, is something that isn't lost on Smith. "I can't wait to get down there and play with Ike. That's a cool player to play with. I went down there last summer and he was just so cool and so easy to get along with. Actually, Ike makes it easier on everyone else. He's so big, so strong and can score so easily. So he's going to make it easier on me and I'll look forward to that."

Chris Low- As the focal point of every opposing team, Low saw his scoring output drop a bit from his junior campaign, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Facing constant double teams, Low acted as more of a facilitator in the offense, a role he relished, saying, "I had around 20 points a game. I came down a little on points this year. I think I had like 24 or 25 last year. I had 20 this year and like 15 rebounds and I had a bunch of assists this year, maybe 5 or 6 (a game). I really faced a lot of double teams. When they were running man (defense) against us we'd either go motion or run a 4-out-1-in set and I'd be inside and they'd give me the ball and as they'd collapse I'd try to read the double team and make a pass off of that…it's a lot like ASU. Coach Pennell was saying during my recruitment how I'd fit into the offense (well). They play 4-out-1-in with Ike and I can either catch and shoot or go to the hole off that."

Naturally, Low saw an improvement in his court awareness and passing skills. He also took to heart some of the things Coach Evans told him on a visit to watch Low's high school team during the season. "I remember Coach Evans came out for one game early in the year and I asked him what I needed to do and he said ‘work on attacking the basket with your dribble' and so I tried to work on that all year. I'll continue to work on being able to penetrate and also taking one dribble and pulling up and shooting."

In addition, adding size and strength is going to be the most important area of focus for Low over the spring and summer. "I was up to like 215 (pounds) and then last week I had the flu and lost a lot of weight. I didn't eat for four days. But I'm getting back into it. I had just gotten in from running and lifting weights when you called." Low's received an off-season workout routine from the ASU strength and conditioning staff to prepare him for his arrival. "They want to get us prepared for the heavier lifting. And it's almost like a cardio workout (too) because you go through all these circuits and only get a minute to rest. So you're really sweating after it's over."

While Low toyed with spending time doing other things as a senior he decided instead on focusing on getting ready for next season. "I was thinking about running track or playing baseball, but I just really wanted to work out and try and get some playing time next year." Part of that process will involve spending the summer in Tempe and getting to know the players on the team and adjusting to school. "I'm coming out for the June and July summer sessions. I've been talking to the academic advisor and working on my schedule and I'm only taking 3 hours each session so it shouldn't be too bad and I've been talking to the strength coach about summer lifting. I gotta keep shooting and getting physically bigger. I think the skills are there but I need to get bigger so I can bang. You know how Ike did this year, he was so big and that's kind of …not normal!"

Low followed the ASU team in the newspapers and watched as much as he could on television. He had some interesting thoughts on the season, saying, "It's interesting how Memphis beat Syracuse earlier in the year and then we beat Memphis and now Syracuse is playing for the national championship. It shows how even everything is in college basketball."

Will Fameni- The Cameroon import had a terrific season. Not only did his team finish ranking third in the state 3A class, but Fameni was also named to the all-state team and in the Virginia all-star game he scored 18 points and largely dominated at times. At 6-8 and now weighing 232 pounds, Fameni terrorized small-school opponents in a variety of ways. "I had to play two-guard and small forward, even bring the ball up. So I really honed my skills this year. I improved my shooting and I improved my defense having to guard smaller, quicker guys. Last year I was playing mostly bigger guys inside but this year I was playing all kind of guys. Also, I got better with decision making; knowing when to take a shot, when not to take a shot, things like that."

Fameni's teammate, Jesus Urbina, a 6'7 post player who is committed to George Mason played mostly in the post because of Fameni's versatility. Still, Fameni is mindful of the things he needs to continue improving on. "I'm going to be working on my quickness and also just getting better overall. The Arizona State strength and conditioning coach called me and I'll have a program to start working on soon. Then I think I'm going out May 31st for summer school (in Tempe). I'm excited."

The enthusiasm is easy to detect in Fameni's voice as he talks about enjoying the previous ASU season from afar. "I watched every game on Fox Sports. I also talk to Serge (Angounou, his fellow Sun Devil teammate and Cameroon native) sometimes." About Angounou's knee, Fameni says his future teammate thinks things are coming along fine. "He told me his knee is doing pretty good. It's getting stronger."

Keith Wooden- In the last few months, Wooden has really started to blossom. He drew rave reviews from his high school coach for his play at times in the second-half of the season, including perhaps his best performance ever in the final loss of the season, a heartbreaking playoff effort that fell just short. Young for his class, turnning18 years of age only in October, Wooden is starting to fill out his long, lanky 6'9 frame and is now up to around 230 pounds. But he's not finished adding weight, saying, "I don't know what weight the coaches want me at but I'd like to eventually be around 245 or 250." Interestingly enough, Wooden might not be done growing according to a recent visit to the doctor. "I had my knee looked at and drained earlier this year and the doctor said my growth plates are still open." In the past, doctors have advised Wooden that he could grow as tall as 6'11.

The size and versatility of Wooden, a McDonald's top 100 player, combined with Diogu's talents should prove to be an extraordinary combination if Wooden can ever play up to the "potential" stigma that has followed him around the last few years. Comfortable addressing the issue, Wooden says, "To me it just means that I have a lot of work to do and I know that. It means I have the skill and talent to really do something and that means a lot. I'm young and just starting to physically mature and develop. I'm going to just get bigger, stronger and quicker. I just have to keep working hard, and I will."

Wooden knows that Diogu is not only a peer but also a role model, which is something that could pay huge and immediate dividends. "Ike is a player! I mean, outside of Carmelo (Anthony), Ike is probably the best freshman in the country. It's going to be great playing with him." The fact that Diogu is a tireless worker will undoubtedly rub off on Wooden, who is likely to go up against the Pac-10's freshman of the year each day in practice. Wooden's arrival will allow the Sun Devils to be even more versatile at both ends of the floor. Sporting a 7'6 wingspan and overall physical presence, Wooden can defend true centers and offensively he can play the high post in a hi-low offense with Diogu on the low block.

Unlike the other 2003 signees, Wooden was fortunate to attend the Sun Devils' NCAA Tournament games in Oklahoma City. It was an experience he enjoyed a great deal. "Being able to see the guys and the coaches was real neat. They played great against Memphis and it was exciting being able to be there for that. Things didn't go so well against Kansas, but that's a tough team and it's only going to get better (for ASU)."

This upcoming season Coach Rob Evans and his excellent staff will have the most talented group of players they ever had at ASU. The arrival of Wooden, Smith, Fameni and Low, ensures that the team's talent level won't drop and lays the foundation to a bright future for the Sun Devils. Youth will be served in large portions in Tempe, and the abundance in quality should satisfy the appetite of the maroon and gold fans for continued success.

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