F-C Ike Diogu 6-8, 250 Jr. (2003-04 stats 22.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg, .530 FG% .378 3PT% .815 FT%)
: It's only natural that we start with the team's pre-season All-American, and perhaps the best player to ever play for the Sun Devils. Ike has put up gaudy numbers in his first two years and he has been arguably the most dominant low post player in college basketball. He made more free throws then anyone in the PAC-10 attempted last year. Despite a last place finish and being the focal point of every opposing defense, Diogu managed to improve his points and rebounds average per game during his sophomore year.
This season Diogu has to take his game to the next level for the Sun Devils to be successful. He has to go from being a great scorer that dominates games and opponents, to an outstanding player that makes his teammates around him better. This all starts at the defensive end of the floor, where his post defense has to enhance over last season's. Offensively, Ike has averaged over three turnovers per game in his career. One can expect Diogu to be an improved passer this year and make teams pay more than before for their double and triple teams they inflict on him.
An aspect that has affected his game in the past are the heavy minutes he logged each contest. If others can step up their games, they could give Ike some much-needed rest, and help him enhance not only his play in the maroon and gold, but also his value with the NBA scouts that have been frequenting Wells Fargo Arena. Diogu may only start his professional career following his senior year, but his junior year still stands a chance to be his best thus far.
G Kevin Kruger 6-2 186 So. (5.3 ppg, 2.1 apg, .362 FG%, .360 3PT%, .795 FT%): Don't let the low averages fool you. After being MIA in the non-conference portion of the schedule, the sophomore was all the rage during most of Pac-10 play. In the final nine games of the year Kruger averaged 12.4 points and shot 27-of-59 (.448) from behind the three-point line.
However, the sophomore won't be able to catch anybody by surprise this year. The challenge for him will be putting up better numbers and having the same success, now that he takes up more space in opponents' scouting reports. Kruger made good decisions with the ball last year and ran the team well. However, he also had the benefit of playing alongside Braxton in many situations and was able to share the ball handling responsibilities. The sophomore must use his game smarts to improve his play as a pure point guard who can get everyone involved on the floor.
A majority of Kevin's scoring came when he was moving without the ball. Thus, it will be interesting to see how he balances both the ball handling responsibilities with his natural tendencies as a shooting guard. Furthermore, with the departure of Tron Smith, one can wonder if he will split time equally between the point and two guard spot, or be regulated to the later. Known as a heady player that makes good decisions, the coaches will want the ball in his hand at the end of games and he will definitely be in the mix of things regardless of where he plays.
G Steve Moore 6-5 205 Sr. (12.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .372 FG%, .324 3PT%, .814 FT%): His peaks and valleys were a total polar opposite of Kruger's. Moore had double-figure scoring performances in 13 of his first 15 games. However, off the court distractions, mainly his mom going through cancer treatment, along with his inability to create versatility in his game caused the senior to fade away during most of conference play.
Steve was a streaky shooter last year, and the other facets of his game fed off of his scoring. Thus, if the senior was making his jumpers, then his defense, passing and other parts of his game were elevated. When his shot wasn't falling, the rest of his game fell apart quickly. For being such an athletic player with great passing and penetrating capabilities, Moore relied much too much on his jump shot. When he did decide to penetrate the lane, he would drive too far and get overwhelmed by larger more athletic Pac-1O players.
For the senior to be more effective he will need to use his pull up jump shot off of the dribble and be more of a playmaker. Even with a less crowded backcourt Steve can still be asked to play the small forward spot and match up with bigger players. Therefore, he needs to commit to being a more consistent defender and rebounder in 2004-05. Last year he was second on the team in assists and rebounds, and improving on those virtues will help him bid for more playing time.
PG Jason Braxton 6-2 190 Sr. (7.1ppg, 4.8apg, 3.7rpg, 2.0spg): Braxton will be the most experienced player on the team, starting off-and-on since his freshman season. His inability to consistently make a jump shot and hit his free throws has made him a liability on the offensive end of the floor. Furthermore, those deficiencies allowed his man to double down on Diogu, without any repercussions. On the other hand, the senior is the best on ball defender in the Pac-10 and could be one of the best in the nation in that role. Overall, like many of the other Sun Devils his career is characterized by inconsistent play.
With the Devils looking to run the ball more this year, Jason stands to look more comfortable in his role. If the senior does show the ability to make his free throws, run the team, and hit an open shot with more regularity, ASU's offense could be the smoothest it has been in years. However, it will be very difficult for Braxton to perform well with a short leash and two viable point guard options behind him. If he does struggle he will be regulated to a spot defender behind Kruger and Tyrone Jackson. Jason's defensive ability and experience will grant him the starting role right now, but don't be surprised to see him relinquish it closer to Pac-10 play.
F Allen Morrill 6-7 235 Jr. (2.7ppg, 2.2rpg): Morrill is the classic "tweener" and could not find consistent playing time at either forward position last year. Allen's deficiency is that he doesn't fill a role, and has nothing that he is known for. He is not a great shooter, defender, rebounder, hustler, but rather can do all of these things decently. His height is more suited for the small forward position, but his strong physique and banging style of play can best be utilized to help Diogu down low. Overall, the junior will have to earn every minute he gets this year. He hasn't shown an ability to hit the outside shot consistently or earn minutes through shear hustle and productivity on the glass (see: Awvee Storey). Morrill will have to play very well to crack the regular rotation at either of the two forward positions.
F Serge Angounou 6-8 235 So. (3.8ppg, 2.8rpg, 85.7% FT): Angounou is the wild card on the 2004 Sun Devil team. He showed flashes of greatness before his freshman season, even gaining higher praises than Diogu in pre-season practices. However, Serge sustained a serious knee injury in the first exhibition game of his freshman year and two operations later, is only now rounding back into form. If he can regain some of the lateral quickness and explosiveness that had him pegged as the starting small forward of the future in many Sun Devils' minds, he can seriously help ASU's chances. Nevertheless, he would be better suited these days at power forward, with occasional duty at the wing.
While he does not have the same athleticism that he did prior to his knee injury, Serge's length and size can still change games. He also adds a very good mid range jump shot and intensity to the Sun Devil lineup. A very talkative and intense player, Serge should help anchor the Sun Devil defense with his long arms and active game. Look for the sophomore to take some pressure off Ike by guarding the other team's best post player at various junctures during the season. The sophomore's shooting ability and confidence in his low post game should also take some scoring pressure off of Ike. The key for him will be to play within himself and not get out of control as he did many times last year. Much focus will naturally be on how Serge's knee holds up through an entire season. If he can stay healthy and significantly contribute, the Devils stand to have a better season.
F Keith Wooden 6-8 220 (3.3ppg, 2.1rpg): Wooden is another player that will play a huge factor in ASU's ability to make a substantial improvement over last year's record and conference finish. He is the Sun Devils' best interior option next to Diogu, and was able to come in some games last year and be a measure of instant offense. He has great low post moves and great patience in the paint. However, his inability to play alongside Ike and compliment his game was detrimental. Keith is not good without the ball in his hands and many times he hurt the Sun Devils' spacing by crowding the low post with Ike already occupying that space. Since Ike played 35 minutes plus per game, there was not a lot of time left over for Wooden to display his talents.
His freshman campaign was a tale of inconsistency. He would come in and look completely disinterested one game and then dominate on the offensive end the next. His laid back demeanor left the coaches questioning his intensity and desire at times. If he can improve the regularity of his effort and increase his rebounding production and defensive presence, he will see significant minutes behind and next to Diogu. If not, spot duty will continue to be his calling and the coaches will forever wonder which player they are putting out on the floor.
G Tyrone Jackson 6-2 193 Jr. (Fresno (Calif.) Community College): After finishing a close second in the recruitment of some elite high school point guards, ASU landed the best west coast junior college player in that position. Head coach Rob Evans calls him "A poor man's Jason Kidd", which would suggest his effective balance in leading an offense and being a viable outside shooting threat. Jackson has been a winner at both the high school and college level, and if he can bring his winning ways to Tempe he can help settle a position that has been anything but stable in the last few years.
However, the toughest position to play in college basketball is point guard. When you factor in the tough juco transition that ASU players such Curtis Millage, Jamal Hill, and Steve Moore have gone through it will be a difficult transition for him. On the positive side, Jackson plays like he has a much more solid understanding then other players coming from the same level. He has shown a real willingness in practice and games to try and execute what the coaches want from him. His ten assists in the team's first two exhibition games are proof of that. Some believe that the starting point guard position will be his by the beginning of Pac-10 play.
G Bryson Krueger 6-7 190 So. (Yavapai (Ariz.) Community College): The former local Mountain Pointe high school star reunites with newly acquired assistant coach Brooks Thompson. The sophomore is the ultimate wing player who can cause match-up problems with smaller guards or slower forwards. His shooting ability is by far his biggest asset, but there's an evident need to bulk up and bring his defensive game up to par. If there is truly no place like home, then Krueger should thrive playing for the maroon and gold.
As with Jackson, the juco transition will be a factor to consider. Curtis Millage, Jamal Hill, and Steve Moore were all called upon to play predominant roles early in the season and they all struggled and slumped later in their inaugural ASU campaign. With the sophomore slated as a starter, that trend could resurface. An emphasis will have to be put on bringing him along slower and let him develop and play more as the season goes on. His defensive capabilities and willingness to rebound are two key question marks for him. With the added pressure of hitting shots and being a key contributor, Krueger must be up to the challenge to provide the much-needed team outside scoring threat.
F Tim Pierce 6-6 203 Fr. (Hercules (Calif.) High School): An extremely athletic, but raw, talent. With the depth on this squad, Pierce can allow himself to take his time learning the ropes of Division I basketball, and any contribution the team will get from him will be considered icing on the cake. Although he's a true freshman, playing with an inner fire and consistency are traits that he must adopt quickly for future success. He finished his prep career on fire scoring 50, 41, and 51 in his team's last three games. Judging by early observations, he has a very fluid and smooth game. Conversely, at times he does not play hard and wanders. Overall, he has the ability to create his own shot and has solid all-around skills, and not many players on this squad can make this claim
F Craig Austin 6-10 221 Fr. (El Camino High School, San Diego (Calif.): Austin does bring a great desire to learn and decent athletic frame, but is in need for a healthy dose of basketball and physical conditioning. Austin has a very nice touch around the basket and has very good footwork in the post. He seems to have a good understanding of the game and has a strong willingness to learn. Playing behind Ike, Keith and Serge he will not see many minutes but he will be more of an insurance policy this year.
2004-05 ASU Basketball Preview
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