Season Wrap-Up with Rob Evans

In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, ASU's head basketball coach Rob Evans summarized the 2003-04 campaign, discussed the team's off-season moves, and offered his opinion as to the prospects of his squad this coming season.

DevilsDigest: Coach, now that you had time to digest last season, what are your thoughts on what has transpired?

Rob Evans: "I felt that the inexperience overall prevented us from getting done what we wanted to get done. There comes a point in every season, especially with a young basketball team, where if you achieve success you breed success. We never got to that point. But I feel like we also addressed the deficiencies that we had."

"The year before, we got to the second round of the NCAA tournament, and we did so with experienced guys. This year we came back with too much inexperience. Outside Jason Braxton, the most experienced player on the team was Ike Diogu and he was only a sophomore. It was disappointing for me personally, but I feel good about the team coming into next year."

DD: In light of your team's inexperience, when you look at the expectations put on your team prior to last season, do you think that many of those expectations were unrealistic to begin with?

RE: "I think other people did expect too much from the team. I always expect a lot from my teams, but realistically the fact that we weren't able to redshirt any seniors from last year's team…if one of the guys from last year played this year that would really help us."

"Because of the success that we had, and Ike coming back, there were a lot of expectations. Looking back at it the expectations were unrealistic by me and by others. We just had too much inexperience."

DD: Despite all the disappointments of last season, what positives were you and the team able to come away with?

RE: "We had a chance to play a lot of young guys. We had a chance to play Kevin Kruger, and he showed some things that will help us next season. We had a chance to play Serge. Even though he was at 50-60%, I didn't want to sit him out another year. I felt that even if he were able to play some, it would help. If you sit out two years you do lose a lot of your skill level. I think right now he's much further along. He's a huge part of what we're trying to accomplish."

"The fact that we didn't have much success last year, means that the guys are feeling hungry. I know I am."

DD: When you look at Ike Diogu's performance, do you think that in light of the season the team had, the numbers that he had put up (22.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg) are even that more remarkable than those he had his freshman year when the team was more successful?

RE: "I do. As a freshman, he had a fabulous year, but he had a lot of older guys that carried him. He scored well, but they took a lot of weight off of him. He didn't have to rebound the ball as much, they covered for him defensively…"

"He's so versatile, he finds other ways to score. He expanded his game a little bit, especially on the perimeter. He puts the ball on the floor better…because people have zeroed in on him so much, he had to find other ways to be productive."

"The fact that a lot was expected of him, and the fact that he responded to that, says a lot about him. I think he can even be better next year. Maybe he won't be statistically better than last year, because next year we'll have guys that can score, but he's driven to get better."

DD: You weren't surprised that he decided to come back for his junior year, but many were. Nevertheless, are you prepared for this being his last year, and in general for life after Ike Diogu?

RE: "I wouldn't be surprised if he would be back for his senior year. Nothing surprises me about Ike, because he makes his own decisions. He's going to think it out. He's enjoying the college experience. Not me, nor his parents, nor the media will talk Ike into doing something he doesn't want to do. That was pretty evident by the fact that he came to ASU."

"I think when he feels he's ready, is when he'll go. I'm prepared for that, and I'm prepared also for it going the other way."

DD: When you look at the season Steve Moore and Kevin Kruger had, it seems that when Moore's performance started to decline that's when Kruger started to improve. What's your take on this topic?

RE: "I think Stevie really blasted onto the scene in non-conference play, and did a good job. People haven't seen him play before, and one thing about conference play is that if you have any weaknesses, they will be exploited. We talked to him a lot about not being just a jump shooter. He had to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket, and develop a mid-range game. I don't think he fully understood that. So, once we got to Pac-10 play, and people have scouted him, they started to run him away from shots. He didn't adjust to it very well, and it will be a learning experience for him."

"There's no question about Kevin's ability, especially on the offensive end. His lack of confidence and experience showed early on. But as time went by and he started to play more and have success, he gained a lot of confidence and just took off from there. He felt that the coaches had more confidence in him, because we're beating up on him to be more aggressive. He also felt that his teammates had confidence in him. He always cut lose in practice, and then in the game he didn't want to perhaps shoot too much or force some shots. We just told him ‘you have to score for us.' I fully expect him to do nothing but get better."

DD: You touched earlier on Serge Angounou and his progress. Do you feel confident that he can play at the level he played at before he was injured?

RE: "If he continues to progress as he's been progressing ever since the season ended, he's gonna have a phenomenal year. I believed he was our best player coming in as a freshman. With the therapy, weight and conditioning program he's going through, he's getting more confidence in his legs. He always had the tools, and if he stays healthy he makes a difference in our basketball team. He can do so many things."

DD: Can you talk about the two spring signees Bryson Krueger and Tyrone Jackson? In terms of X's and O's, what do they bring to the team?

RE: "Bryson is a guy that brings a lot of offense, and can keep defenses honest. You won't be able to zero in on Ike, because Bryson can score. He has a great feel for the game as far as putting it on the floor, attacking the basket, finding the open man. He's a great rebounder. At 6-7 he's a difficult match-up because he can play at guard or small forward."

"Tyrone is a leader. He's been on winning programs and makes everyone around him better. He understands what it takes to win, and that's something everyone else feeds off. I'm very excited to have him."

DD: Another significant signing was the hiring of assistant coach Brooks Thompson. What does he bring to the table?

RE: "I looked at a lot of guys, and talked to assistant coaches and head coaches. But I've watched Brooks for a long time, and admired him as a player in college, in the NBA. I followed him as an assistant coach, and as a head coach at Yavapai and the development of his program. I watched how he ran practices, his work ethic, and he has the qualities I'm looking for. His loyalty is unquestionable. So I just kept coming back to him."

"We kept in touch all this time. He would tell you that every time he called me, I wouldn't return his calls, because I was still deciding between 2-3 guys. All of them brought something to table, but I thought Brooks brought the most to the table. I talked to coach (Eddie) Sutton this morning, and he concurred. He said thought that Brooks would help recruiting wise, his NBA ties help, and he understands what you're looking for. He was an awfully talented perimeter player, and he will help our perimeter players."

"When I talk to him about X's and O's, I can tell that he's a very sharp individual. He's driven, and his goal is to be a head coach one day. Those of the type of individuals I hire as assistants – those who want to be head coaches."

DD: With coach Pennell leaving and coach Thompson coming aboard, do you expect a change in team philosophy when it comes to offense and defense?

RE: "When it comes to the offensive and defensive philosophy, it has become kind of a misnomer. The philosophy is mine. I give my assistants a lot of freedom to teach it, but they're teaching what I want to be thought. My philosophy has been developed over the course of the last 30 years. So it won't change, but it will probably have some fresher ideas. Brooks brings some fresh ideas to the table."

"One thing I always wanted to do a little more is run more set screens and less motion offense. I feel that it fits the talent that we have. We have to be able to run a screen and get a Kevin Kruger open, and not have him try always to get shots on his own. Same with Stevie Moore."

DD: On that note, what kind would you want your basketball team characterized as?

RE: "Offensively' I think we'll be a team that pushes the basketball and gets easy baskets. I think we'll be a better shooting basketball team, and a lot less structured as far as trying to get shots strictly off the offense. I want to have more of a transition game, and run screens off transition. I would like us to run more of a pattern fast break, and get right into our offense from the break."

"Defensively, I would like to pick up the full court pressure more. We have a little bit deeper bench to help us there. I think we'll be an exciting basketball team because our leadership will be better, and we'll have better offensive players."

DD: Currently the team has 14 scholarship players, which is one over the NCAA regulated 13. How close are you to making a decision which scholarship player will leave, and when do you expect to make that decision?

RE: "I probably expect to make a decision in the next 2-3 weeks. This decision may just take care of itself, that's the reason I haven't made a determination on it. A player may come to me and say that he doesn't feel that he will have a chance to play as much, you can have academic causalities, and all kinds of other stuff. I feel that it will work itself out."

DD: Even with your vast coaching experience, you probably agree that there is much to be learned from after every season. What did you take away from the 2003-04 season?

RE: "Last season I learned that with the personnel that we had, we probably didn't have players that were basketball savvy that could run a motion offense. We have to get more people involved offensively, and give players a little more freedom. I want my players to have confidence and take a shot, whether it's a quick one or after they worked the offense. That comes with experience. You can tell that to your players all day long, but a young basketball team will usually be nervous. As they get older they'll understand what the coaches are looking for, and that it's OK to make mistakes."

"I talk to coaches from other schools all the time about the things that they do that are new or different. I never feel that I get to the point where I don't have anything new to learn. I want to learn all the time. I want to change. If there's something better than what we're doing I want to do it."

DD: Can you speak of the work that the players will be going through during the off-season?

RE: "We've been going through stringent off-season strength and conditioning program. I sent my strength and conditioning coaches to a couple of schools to talk to them about the things that they're doing. If there's something better conditioning wise that other schools are doing, I want to do it. We've been running skill drills, which are extremely competitive. I didn't feel that this past year we weren't as competitive as we needed to be. Some of that is youth, but some of it you have to instill in them. We're doing a lot of one-one-one drills."

"Ike will go to the Rebook camp, which used to be the Addidas camp. He'll get to be a counselor and at night he'll get to play against the best college and pro players. He will also go to a big man's camp (Pete Newell and/or Tim Grgurich camps). So he'll be busy with all that and his summer school work. He played a lot of basketball from his freshman year, and through last summer with USA basketball, so he will do less basketball stuff compared to last summer. Tim Pierce will play in the Global Games in Dallas playing with the top high school players against European players."

DD: Lastly, keeping in mind the talent coming back and the various off-season moves, what are your expectations for the upcoming season?

RE: "I think this team has a chance to make some major improvements. I feel that the pieces are there. Now it's a matter of the chemistry being right, our leadership coming to the forefront, and our coaching staff putting the players in a position to be successful. The difficulty with a young basketball team is that you have so much stuff to teach, but I feel very good about the team we have. Now it's just a matter of getting everyone on the same page."

A special thanks to Big E Sundevil who assisted with the questions in this interview

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