Coach Evans Eager For the Upcoming Season

The Sun Devils head basketball coach knows that his squad this year will be lacking in experience. However, the abundance of talent, arguably the most Evans has had in his tenure, should be able to sustain or perhaps exceed the success from last season. On the team's media day, DevilsDigest talked to Evans and a select number of his players.

"This is a very young basketball team," stated Evans. "We have eight new guys on the team. The good thing about it is that we have a couple of guys that have been around, like Jason Braxton and Ike Diogu. I really like this basketball team – we have people that can do a lot of different things. We did lose a lot of experience from last year, so it's gonna take us some time to get experience on these guys. But once we do I think we'll be a very good basketball team."

Evans exclaimed that he expects this version of the Sun Devils to be a team that will display its athleticism on both sides of the floor. "We're gonna run," he said. "I'm not gonna say ‘run n gun', because we wanna run and be disciplined at what we do. We like to push the basketball. I want to take the quickest shot we get, and the best shot we get. If we have to work to get it, then I want us to be disciplined to get the best shot. We're gonna put some pressure defensively, and try and create some turnovers. We should be deep if we stay healthy, enough so we can play a lot of different people."

Leadership is crucial for a squad's success, especially when it is inexperienced as ASU's. Evans offered his thoughts on this topic: "Jason Braxton is a great leader. He has worked extremely particularly hard. You'll see a different Jason Braxton - he'll score a little more. Kenny Crandall is a quiet leader. Ike Diogu led us in a quiet way last year. We have great leadership on this team."

Another issue that is usually brought the forefront in a young team is chemistry. While the Sun Devil skipper realizes the magnitude of this factor, he also knows the his team's makeup will take care of this area. "I think that it (chemistry) will big," claimed Evans. "But it won't be a problem for us. I know we have great kids that worked extremely hard in the off-season. They all stayed here in the summer to bond together and work together. When you have good leadership, and you have your best player as humble as Ike is, you don't have a whole lot chemistry problems."

Last year's freshman sensation Ike Diogu does agree with Evans' assessment concerning his humility. "It's not hard at all dealing with the hype," he said. "I've been a humble person throughout my life. If I start thinking I'm above the team that can definitely hurt the team. Coach Evans says day in and day out that no one is above the team. I'm a member of the team like anyone else." Diogu feels that he can be a leader, but it won't be the vocal variety. "I consider myself as a leader by example," stated the sophomore. "I'm not gonna go out and do a lot of talking – I really don't talk at all in the locker room (smile). I'm gonna continue to play hard and lead by example."

During the summer, Diogu played with the USA basketball team in the Pan-Am games. He talked about the lessons he learned during that time period. "I think it helped me become a better defender. I had to guard bigger guys that have to put the ball on the floor. It really made me move my feet on the perimeter. It definitely push my physical play a notch. I went from playing people my age to playing 28-30 year olds."

Diogu will the be the worst kept secret when team's scout ASU. But one player that Diogu think won't be unnoticed for a long time is Allen Morill. "In my opinion he will be the biggest surprise of the Pac-10," exclaimed Diogu. "He can play a number of positions. He's strong and he's a warrior. I remember playing side by side with him on the (AAU team) Blue Chips. We had a great team, and he was a big reason why. He's one of my best friends on the team, and I'm happy to have him playing this year."

Morill did have to sit out last season as a partial qualifier, and judging by practices last season and pickup game this past summer, it's quite clear that he was dearly missed in the lineup. "I'm really excited right now for the season," said Morill. "I am hungry to start." The projected power forward said that he gained five pounds of muscle in the off-season, and he's now up to 235lbs. When asked, he does agree with the ‘banger' role that he's likely to be labeled with entering the season. "Whatever role Coach Evans wants me to play is fine," claimed Morill. "I'll do the dirty work playing defense and hitting the glass. I just want to help the team…I'm always gonna try to be the best player I can be, and I hope that's great. But I'm never gonna be satisfied with my play."

People close to the program say that the sophomore is stronger and more talented than former ASU forward Awvee Storey. Morill seems almost embarrassed by that comparison. "I really didn't see him much at the games, but I've seen him before and that's a big dude (smile). He's a nice player. We're the same in that we like to rebound. But he was one of the best Pac-10 rebounders. I have a lot to work in that area."

The fact that he didn't play last year, coupled with the less than stellar projections the team is receiving from the national media, Morill does feel that extra motivation coming into the 2003-04 campaign. "I feel that I do have a lot to proof, so I will have a chip on my shoulder when I'm playing. I really don't worry about the rankings, but if they picked us at eight, it's good to come as the underdog and prove them wrong."

Jamal Hill is another payer determined to have a strong season. "I had an alright season last year," he said. "But to me it wasn't good enough. I talked to the coaching staff about what I need to do to get ready for my senior year. I stayed here all summer, lifted and played a lot of basketball. I gained 15 pounds of muscle, and I feel just real confident in my game. When you stay in the gym all summer and make your shots, you feel comfortable with yourself. I've been through all the ups and down last year, and I'm just ready for anything that will be thrown at me."

On player Hill may be battling for minutes is true freshman Tron Smith, who isn't shy about stating his goals for this upcoming year. "My goal is to get the starting position for the shooting guard spot. It will be great if I get the position, but if I don't we have a great player in Steve Moore that will get the position. It doesn't matter, as long as I do what I need to do to help the team win."

Smith expressed his excitement for kicking off the season, and the low expectations by some pre-season publications is just furl for the fire. "There's been a lot of media talk about us finishing eighth in the Pac-10. We're ready to put our work in the gym, and do what we have to do top get started…It is kind of a disrespect towards us. None of them has been down here to see us play, so they don't really know the story on how our team plays well together."

The guard talked about the importance, as a newcomer, of spending the summer months here in Tempe. "On the court it was good getting to know my teammates, because some of them I really didn't know, and now I got to know them very well. It was good to get an early start in the classroom, and get a feel for how school is going to be."

Any basketball novice could look at last year's team, and determine that the lack of a reliable perimeter game was ASU's glaring Achilles heel. Smith claimed that those who follow the team will see a noticeable difference in that area. "We talk about teams being in trouble if they double or triple team Ike down low," said Smith. "Because we have good shooters. Not to knock the players from last year, but I think this year we have consistent shooters on the team. It's gonna be fun if they double team him, because we'll knock the outside shot."

One player that has been the topic of the Devils' stagnant outside shooting game is point guard Jason Braxton. His irregularity in his play, eventually led to his benching during the later part of last season. When talking to the junior, you get the feeling that he feels blessed it happened. "It was a humbling experience," exclaimed Braxton. "I've never experienced something like that. It really crushed me for a while, but it made me work harder. I can't have that happen ever again."

"I got content with my starting position," continued Braxton. "And lost my head a little bit. Coach brought me down to earth. I really appreciate him doing that because it made me a better player and a better person. Now I can go out and handle stuff like that."

When Braxton did ride the pine, former Sun Devil Kyle Dodd was the beneficiary. These days, Dodd is the newest member of the ASU coaching staff. Braxton couldn't be happier. "We love having him here, and he has taught me so much since I've been here. I'm glad that coach kept him another year to keep working with me and take charge. It will be great having him here."

The point guard position is usually a position that is looked upon as one of guidance. Braxton is well aware of this, and realizes the added responsibilities that now come with this game. "I plan to be more of a leader," he said. "I know people will follow me, so I need to keep my poise and be under control. I need to distribute more and keep everyone happy. I learned a lot last year watching Kyle Dodd. I have to use my experience from the last two years, and lead these guys."

And what about that all that talk about an inconsistent jump shot? "It's definitely motivation. I appreciate all the comments people make in all the magazines, and people coming up to me asking if I've been working on my shot. November 12th I guess everybody else we'll see." And his jump shot won't be the only question waiting to be answered with young Sun Devil team.

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