One word can sum up the Devils' basketball season: disappointing. After advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament the prior year and welcoming a highly regarded recruiting class, expectations where high for Rob Evans' team. Unfortunately, those expectations proved to be built on the "P" word – "Potential." Their potential was never reached and ASU labored to a 10-17 record, including going 4-14 in a sub par Pac 10 conference.
This part of DevilsDigest.com's season recap will focus on the positives of the season. Upcoming parts will focus on the negatives, "tell tale" stats, and what needs to improve in the off-season if the Devils are to break out of the conference cellar next year.
§ The first, and most obvious, positive is the play of sophomore PF Ike Diogu. "Big Ike" was included in many pre-season All-America teams and, despite the added pressure and attention brought by such accolades, improved upon the strong numbers posted during his freshman season. Diogu was the only Pac 10 player who ended the season in the top five for both scoring and rebounding. He led the Pac 10 in scoring with a 22.8 ppg average and was second in rebounding, pulling down 8.9 boards per contest. Ike also set a Pac 10 record for free throws made, dropping in 243 of his 298 attempts on the season (a respectable 81.5% average). Just to round out his resume, the star power forward also led the team in blocks (47) and field goal percentage (53.0%) for the season. Without Diogu's heroics, it is hard to imagine the Sun Devils even managing six total wins on the season.
§ The next positive is the play of junior college transfer shooting guard Steve Moore, who proved he could be a solid contributor at the Division 1 level. For much of the season, Moore was the only true outside threat getting any significant playing time. As with many JC players, Steve hit a bit of cold stretch toward the last third of the season; however, it is obvious that he can be a strong scoring threat to compliment Diogu's post presence. Moore was second on the team in scoring with 12.7 ppg. He was also a reliable marksman from the charity stripe, knocking down 81.4% of his attempts. An intangible aspect that Moore brings is his emotional approach to the game. Many times this year his spirited play turned around a stagnant Sun Devil team and gave them hope. His jump shot and contagious attitude are a welcome addition for ASU.
§ The emergence of Kevin Kruger is another positive from the 2003-2004 season. He started the season as a seldom-used bench player and ended as the team's primary second option on offense. Kruger did a very good job of improving as the season wore on. He was able to gain confidence on both ends of the floor and even led ASU in scoring with 22 points in the season-ending game against Arizona in Tucson. Kruger's shooting and cerebral approach to the game made him a valuable tool for the Devils as the season progressed.
§ The mere fact that Serge Angounou played in his first official college basketball game is a positive. After a serious knee injury and multiple surgeries, including the controversial "micro-fracture" procedure, it was nice to see the heralded player finally get some playing time. It was obvious to all that he was not at 100% at any point in the season, probably far from it, but his knowledge of the intricacies of the game and his competitive spirit were obvious. He did not display the athleticism that had so many Sun Devil fans excited about him, but his play did show that he has the necessary basketball knowledge to make a difference at this level.
§ Jamal Hill was more consistent on both offense and defense and adapted well to his "sixth man" role on the team. The senior averaged 9.4 ppg over the course of the season, but upped that average to 10.6 ppg in conference games. Hill also contributed to ASU's solid team free throw shooting, making 80.7% of his shots from the stripe. Although he will not be mentioned on any all-defense ballots, Hill also improved that aspect of his game during his senior season. His "man-ball" awareness improved greatly as the season progressed and he did a much better job of moving his feet when defending the ball handler. Finally, and this is the most important thing for Jamal, he will earn his college degree, becoming the first in his family to do so.
§ Other first year players, such as Tron Smith, Keith Wooden, and Will Fameni, got some opportunities to showcase their talents and showed flashes of strong play. Smith showed fearlessness on the floor that, although it sometimes led to costly mistakes, will be a major asset as he matures and gains experience. Wooden showed the ability to score on the low block and also made some very nice passes for a big man at his age. Fameni exhibited a nice mid range jumper and was also strong on the glass at times. None of the newcomers were as consistent as Devil fans would have hoped, but they did show why they were well regarded when arriving in Tempe last fall.
§ Freshmen become sophomores. Enough said there.
Sun Devil Hoops Recap – Part I
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