2001-2002 Basketball Season Recap

The 2001-2002 Arizona State men's basketball team provided the Sun Devil faithful with a roller coaster season. The low point of the season came from the overtime loss to Portland State. On the other hand, the pinnacle of this season came by way of a convincing victory over the Wildcats in Tempe. Nobody knew which ASU team would show up on any given night. The Sun Devils showed they could potentially beat any team they faced, but they could also lose any of those games.

Point Guard

The point guard position for this year's Sun Devils was an unknown before the season. Alton Mason was gone, but top 50 PG recruit Jason Braxton was brought in to solidify the position. Could the highly talented, yet inexperienced PG from Los Angeles adapt quickly to the Pac 10's style and contribute significantly? How much improvement would we see out of Kyle Dodd? Was there a potential third PG on scholarship?

To begin the season, Kyle Dodd got the starting nod. His steady floor leadership guided the Devils while Braxton "learned the ropes" of leading a Pac 10 team. Although not flashy with his play, Dodd played solid defense and protected the ball, ending the season with a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Once the conference season began, the freshman was inserted into the starting lineup. Jason improved his play throughout the season and played arguably his best game of the season in ASU's last game against UNLV. His 6.1 points-per-game average only looks to get better in the future, along with his 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Shooting Guard

Two newcomers added much needed depth to the shooting guard position. Kenny Crandall returned from a two-year mission and provided a much-needed outside threat. Junior college transfer Curtis Millage was a very strong performer at the JC level, but there were some doubts about how quickly could he assert himself in the Pac 10. Add Brad Nahra into the mix and the two guard position looked to be fairly deep, but inexperienced.

Millage was able to assert himself very quickly. The junior's quickness and aggressiveness rewarded him with a 13.5 points per game average for the season. His aggressive defense was also an important element of the Devils' style of play, with Curtis leading the team in steals (46). Crandall also significantly contributed at the position (and also some at the small forward position). His team-high 42.2% efficiency from behind the arc was desperately needed when ASU's opponents went into zone defenses. Senior Brad Nahra also gave strong performances at times, including a solid effort against UCLA. By all accounts, Brad's biggest contributions came off the court and during practices.

Small Forward

Everyone knew who was going to play this position over the course of this season. The question was how effective they could be. Awvee Storey, the Pac 10's returning leading rebounder, was going to have to guard smaller players further out on the floor. How would the change in position affect his rebounding and could he keep up with more athletic wing players? Donnell Knight would also get an opportunity to contribute, but his difference in potential and production were well documented. Shawn Redhage would undoubtedly provide a steady scoring threat on the offensive end, but also brought potential defensive mismatches. Jon Howard's potential contributions were an unknown before the season.

As the season progressed, Awvee proved to be a solid small forward. After a slow start that caused Kenny Crandall to replace Storey in the starting lineup, the senior forward regained his starting position and his physical presence on the floor was a key for the Sun Devils. Toward the end of the season, he was back to the Awvee of old, despite a serious eye injury, and ended the season with a very strong performance against the Runnin' Rebels. As usual, Donnell Knight teased us all with some very athletic moves while simultaneously frustrating us with his inconsistency and untapped potential; however, Knight did show signs of asserting himself toward the latter part of the season. As expected, Shawn Redhage provided a consistent scoring threat off the bench for the Sun Devils. He led the team in field goal percentage (52.7%) and free throw percentage (75.0%).

Power Forward

The starter at the power forward position was a given when the season began. Tommy Smith would get the lion's share of the minutes, providing he could stay out of foul trouble. When Tommy was not in the game, Awvee Storey would slide over from the small forward position or sophomore Justin Allen, back on the team after spending last season recovering from Hodgkin's Disease, would enter the game and provide more of an outside scoring presence.

As the season wore on, it was obvious that Tommy was the best suited for the position, but that his propensity for foul trouble would provide ample opportunities for the others. Tommy played very well at times but also disappeared at times (usually when he picked up ill-advised fouls and was on the bench in foul trouble). He ended the season as one of only three Devils who averaged double digits in scoring (11.7 points-per-game average) and was second in rebounding (5.3 rebounds per game). Tommy's defense was also a major contribution as his 34 blocks and 37 steals were first and second on the team, respectively. When Justin Allen got his opportunities, he gave maximum effort. At the beginning of the season, it looked like his conditioning limited his effectiveness; however, as the season progressed, Justin looked to be in much better condition and his outside shot started falling much more regularly.

Center

Senior Chad Prewitt was the definite starter at the center position. His steady improvement over the course of the previous three years virtually guaranteed him a spot in the starting lineup, barring injury. Chris Osborne, a JC transfer new to the team this year, would provide depth at the position once his wrist healed enough to allow him to play.

Although Chad's improvement over the last three seasons has been appreciable, nobody could have predicted (except Chad) the kind of year "Big Red" would have. He led the team in scoring (17.0 points-per-game overall, 18.9 ppg in conference play) and rebounding (7.3 rebounds-per-game), was second in both free throw percentage (73.8%) and 3-point percentage (41.0%), and was third on the team in blocked shots (12 total). When Chad was out of the game, the Sun Devils struggled. When he was playing at a high level, ASU could compete with anyone. In short, as Chad went so did the Devils. During the brief moments when Chad was not on the floor, junior Chris Osborne usually filled the center spot for the Devils. ASU was looking forward to Osborne's physical style of play and aggressiveness. Unfortunately, "Oz" had to play, once cleared from the wrist injury, with a large protective device on his wrist (it almost looked like an oven mitt at times) that seemed to hinder his performance. As the season wore on and the protective device got smaller, Oz's performances got more consistent and he proved to be a solid backup for Chad.

Coaching

Year four for Rob Evans and his staff looked to be promising. The Sun Devils returned everyone from last year's team except Alton Mason, but replaced him with highly recruited freshman Jason Braxton. Additionally, JC transfers Curtis Millage and Chris Osborne promised to give Coach Evans the "bodies" he needed to compete in the Pac 10. Some questions still remained, though. Once Evans had higher quality athletes that could compete, how good of a bench coach would he be? Could he tap the potential of Tommy Smith and Donnell Knight? Could the coach win the "big games," especially against the big names of the Pac 20 such as UofA, UCLA, and Stanford?

Many of the questions going into the season are still unanswered. The wins over UofA and UCLA proved that Evans could win the "big games," but are two (arguably three counting Oregon) quality wins in the Pac 10 enough? Tommy showed flashes of brilliance this year and Donnell started to play more aggressively toward the end of the season, but each also reverted to their old ways at times. Additionally, although Rob's substitution patterns were superb at times (UCLA in LA comes to mind), fans openly questioned the coach's usage of players at other times.

Overall Assessment

As with any season that does not fully reach expectations, there are some negatives that should be noted from this past season. Tanner Shell left the team early in the season for personal reasons. The loss to Portland State was unacceptable. The Sun Devils lacked consistent outside scoring and could be easily defended with zone defenses. Donnell Knight still continued to look timid and unassertive. And poor free throw shooting killed ASU in many games but never improved, despite the extra efforts in practice.

On the other hand, there were many positives to take away from the 2001-2002 campaign. The Sun Devils were much more competitive against quality opponents than in the past. For the past few seasons, it would take a nearly perfect game from ASU and a terrible game from a quality opponent for the Devils to get a win. This past season, although ASU still needed to play well, their increased talent level and focus allowed a little more room for error. The quality wins and close losses attest to this. Another positive was the emergence of Chad Prewitt. His performance this year was satisfying to watch as an ASU fan and his placement on the All Pac 10 Team was good for the program. Furthermore, the athleticism of the team has greatly increased. Players like Curtis Millage, Jason Braxton, Tommy Smith, Awvee Storey, and Donnell Knight (at times) gave the Devils the athleticism necessary to consistently compete in the Pac 10 Conference. Finally, three Sun Devil seniors will graduate this year – Awvee Storey (degree already in hand), Brad Nahra, and Chad Prewitt. It has been a while since ASU has seen multiple players graduate in the same year.

The Future

The incoming freshman class for next year looks very promising. Ike Diogu, Serge Angonou, and Allen Morill all look to be Pac 10 caliber athletes. Ike was a McDonald's All American finalist at the power forward position and Serge has been favorably to two other notable players from Albuquerque - Tim Thomas (Houston Rockets) and A.J. Bramlett (formerly with UofA). Allen looks to be a little more of a project, but he has also fared very well on the competitive Dallas prep hoops scene. The main question will be how soon these freshmen will be able to help fill the holes for the 2002-2003 Sun Devils.

The first hole to be filled is a huge one – the loss of Chad Prewitt. Ike Diogu will most likely get the starting nod at the center position, but only so much production can be expected from the freshman big man. Other players will have to step up to replace Big Red's scoring and rebounding. The scoring will most likely have to come from players such as Jason Braxton, Donnell Knight, and Tommy Smith while the rebounding gap will need to be filled by Diogu, Smith, Knight, and Chris Osborne.

The next major question mark is free throw shooting. Everyone, especially point guards Braxton and Kyle Dodd, will need to improve in this area. Shooting 65.6% from the line as a team will not win many close games.

Finally, the Sun Devils need to find a consistent outside threat so that teams cannot just sit back in a zone defense and clog the middle. Braxton will be the main factor here. Many teams would not even guard him at the point and would keep the defenders at the top of the zone on players who were better shooters. Jason's fearlessness this season is commendable and a reason to believe that his shooting will improve, but the production needs to be better next year for the Devils to be successful. Curtis Millage, Kenny Crandall, Donnell Knight, Kyle Dodd, and Justin Allen will also have to increase their efficiency from the outside.

Even if the Sun Devils do a good job in filling each of these holes, making the tournament may still be a struggle. The Pac 10 should be very good again next year, so very few conference games will be "gimmies." Additionally, ASU will have to find a "leader" on next year's team to replace Prewitt. Nobody seems to be stepping into that role, yet, although Millage and Tommy Smith are the most likely candidates. If the Sun Devils can finish in the top half of the Pac 10 next year while playing more consistently and winning some big games, it should be considered a successful season. I know I will be there to watch. Hopefully you will be, too.

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