Experience is The Key for Kruger, Sun Devils

Is the saying a year older, a year wiser one of the most worn clichés is sports? Sure it is. Does this adage adequately describe the turnaround in ASU's basketball team's performance this season? Absolutely, according to sophomore guard Kevin Kruger.

Personally for Kevin Kruger, the 2004-05 season is more of an extension of last year's play than a total reversal of fortune. In the final nine games of last year, he averaged 12.4 points a game and shot 44.8% from beyond the arc. All in all, he was the team's second-leading scorer during that stretch.

Some may say that the consistent outside shooting by players such a Kruger, who's averaging 10.7 points per game thus far in Pac-10 play, are the biggest catalyst for this season's success. After all, the best way to combat repeated zone defenses and Ike Diogu triple teams, is effective perimeter scoring. However, the sophomore sees a different underlying theme that's responsible for the squad's improvement. "I think it's just a year of experience," he said. "We had seven new players last year and we were really young. We're still are somewhat young, but we have great leadership in players like Ike and Jason Braxton. We have become that much closer as a team and it really has paid off."

With the departure of assistant coach Russ Pennell and the arrival of new assistant coach Brooks Thompson, the offensive scheme that the maroon and gold are employing this year is quite different. With a 13-2 record, suffice to say that this was change for the better. "We don't run a lot of motion like we did last year," Kruger explained. "This year we're more structured. We have more processes and steps before we get into motion. I don't think I'm getting more screens than I did last year, but I'm looking to shot more this year. In this offense we put emphasis on making the extra pass, and usually that pass ends up in my hands. I give a lot of credit to my teammates for having extra shots this year."

When asked to assess his own development, the second year player once again points to experience and its natural byproducts. "I think that overall my confidence is greater, and I'm shooting a lot better," he said. "Defensively, I'm guarding some of the better players on the floor, and the coaches showing that confidence in me has made me a better defensive player." The numbers back up his own evaluation as he is shooting 30-of-67 (.448) from the three-point stripe (fifth in the league) and has reached double digit scoring in seven games.

Kevin is the son of Lon Kruger, who is currently the coach at UNLV; Kruger was also at the helm of the Illinois and Florida programs, as well as the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. With several years of exposure to basketball, there is something to be said about a coach's son, such as Kevin, and his view of the game. "In some ways I do have an extra advantage knowing why we do certain things," he stated. "My dad would give me reasons why he runs certain things, and that helps me look at the game from a different angle." Does the sophomore consider himself the proverbial coach on the floor? "If someone doesn't want me to say something, I won't (smile)," he admitted. "I try avoiding being a coach as much as I can, because I still have a lot to learn myself."

A rare sweep of the bay area schools has not only raised the current interest in ASU basketball, but has also given the players an extra bounce in their step. Nevertheless, the coaches' demeanor hasn't wavered one bit. "Anytime you get two road wins it's a huge plus," said Kruger. "I think we're turning some heads, and people are having more confidence in us. But we're also having more confidence in ourselves."

"Practices are as hard as ever," Kruger continued. "The coaches haven't changed. They're still pushing us hard because there's a lot of things that we need to get better at and work hard."

Up next for the Sun Devils are home match-ups with the Los Angeles schools. The guard briefly previewed his team's next two opponents. "With (UCLA coach) Ben Howland they'll try to slow it down, take care of the ball, and get the best quality shot they can get'" he explained. "We want to get the pace up, run the floor and get easy buckets. With USC I'm not sure what to expect with the coaching change, but they like to run too so that game may be a track meet (smile)."

Expectations have changed dramatically for Rob Evans and his players. The pre-season pundits pegged ASU a repeat cellar dweller, and these days publications are already busy slotting the Sun Devils in the NCAA tournament. Kruger, and his teammates for that matter, have no problems keeping all this newly generated hype in check. Turns out that they one player to thank for that. "I would just attribute all that to Ike," Kruger commented. "He gets an unbelievable amount of attention and he handles it so well. I think whenever the rest of the team can see the best player in the country handle it so well; I don't think we can ever be cocky. Other players talking to a few people (in the media) doesn't hold a candle to what he (Diogu) goes through."

At 13-2 and 2-1 in conference play, skeptics may question if the Sun Devils have peaked too early in the year. Kruger disagreed with that notion. "I think our better days are still ahead of us," he said. "We played well at Stanford, but had some breakdowns. We didn't feel that we played our best basketball at California, and we made a lot of mistakes defensively."

"We still have room to get better," Kruger continued. "We've been winning some games, but still not playing as well as we could. But between our experience and confidence, we're just a whole different team from last year. I don't see any resemblance between this year's team and last year's team at all." Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and the Sun Devils are determined to put to shame the pundits' pre-season predictions and get their fans off the fence.

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