Coach Evans Sees Positives in 2001-02 Hoops Seaso

Coming into this season the expectations for ASU's Basketball team soared. While they were some impressive victories over Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon, overall it was a disappointing campaign for coach Evans and his team. In this interview, the ASU head Basketball coach reviews the season that was, and discusses various issues including the Sun Devils' prospects for next year.

DevilsDigest: Coach, now that you had a couple of weeks to reflect on the season that ended, what's your assessment on what took place?

Rob Evans: I think we made some strides. Jason Braxton and Curtis Millage gained great experience. The fact we got to the NIT put us in a post-season atmosphere, something we didn't get much experience with. It's always important to experience the post season no matter where it is. We could have and should have won more games. As I told the players, they have to understand that to get where they have to get to, they have to get better. We have some good kids coming in, but the bottom line is that the returning players are the ones that will have to improve for us to get to the next level. Beating UCLA on the road, and beating Arizona and Oregon here are all stepping-stones. But we have to win all of our home games to make it to the next level.

DD: What in your opinion were the main factors that contributed to what transpired last season?

RE: We had a small margin for error. When you have your best player in Chad Prewitt play hurt for the last few games of the season, and you have players like Awvee Storey and Kenny Crandall go down just when they were starting to come along, that all hurt us. Our small forward position was inconsistent, and we have to shore that up. Tommie Smith being up and down didn't help us at all. The fact that we had an inexperienced backcourt, even though they played pretty well, was also a factor. You have to have experience in the backcourt.

DD: It seemed that before the season the local media and fans were anticipating a very good season. However, your pre-season expectations were more realistic. Did your approach make it easier to deal with the troubles during the season?

RE: The Pac-10 media picked us to finish seventh, and that's where we finished. I certainly thought we could do better than that. But I also knew that certain things had to happen. I knew that the small forward position was gonna be huge for us. When Tanner Shell left the team, and we didn't get the play there that really hurt us. My expectations are always high, but I'm realistic. I've been through this before. I know where the program was, and I know where it is. I think we're starting to take the next step.

DD: When you look at player progression on this team over the last few years, you look at Chad Prewitt and the remarkable improvement he has shown every year. On the other hand you have Tommie Smith who may even regressed this year, and Donnell Knight who never realized his potential since coming here. How much of this is coaching and how much of it is the desire of the player to get better?

RE: I think it's more the desire of the player. As coaches, we can put the player in a position to improve and succeed. There's also work ethic, and Chad had tremendous work ethic. He gave himself to the coaches, and worked hard to get better. Tommie is a guy that wants to be a player better, and so is Donnell. But they both have to commit themselves to playing better. I'm hopeful that they will improve next year. We certainly are trying to give them all the tools for them to succeed in the off-season. They're gonna have to get stronger in the weight room. I'm gonna meet with them and tell them what we expect for them, and listen to their input. It's up to them to expand on what we tell them. If they have a successful senior year, that will help the team to be successful. But it all comes down to work ethic, and totally committing themselves.

DD: Speaking of Chad Prewitt, how do you approach replacing one of the conference's best players?

RE: It's difficult to replace a player that has played four years at this level. We have some players that are less experienced, but they can do things that even he couldn't do. I think in time, they could replace him in his position.

DD: Next year we have two very heralded freshmen coming in: Ike Diogu and Serge Angunu. If there's any drawback to that, is perhaps having an unrealistic expectation as to their impact in their first year in the Pac-10. From your perspective, what are your expectations for them next year?

RE: I think what allows those two to play early, is that they're already physical mature compared to players like Tommie and Donnell. We need new guys to give us an impact, and that's why we recruiting in the JC ranks. These guys are very talented, and it's just a matter of time until they get the experience to make a big contribution. I think Ike's impact will be immediate, because he will play Chad's position (at center). I expect Serge to play small and power forward, but he can defend anyone, even a point guard.

DD: I know you've been biting your tongue all season about the manner Pac-10 refs have been referring ASU's games, but towards the very end of the season you just couldn't hold back anymore. With all that transpired last season, are you optimistic that things will change for the better?

RE: I think that I had some pretty good dialogue with the officials away from the court. I told them what I perceive the problem to be, and they gave me their perspective. It does help to have this dialogue. I certainly don't put everything on them; I do take my share of responsibility. I'm a fighter, and when I'm out there on the court I'm trying to get everything I can. Some officials resent that, and I'm trying to figure out who they are so I can help my team be successful. I'm also on a Pac-10 committee that will meet with Pac-10 officials in May. The biggest thing is that if there's a problem with me, I want to know what it is so I can correct it immediately.

DD: Folks around the league have been saying that ASU plays dirty defense, and a style of play that isn't suited for the Pac-10. How would you answer those claims?

RE: We do play different and more aggressive than people in this league. I think sometimes people perceive it as being overly aggressive. We'll adjust to the officiating, and they will adjust to us. We just play hard. If the ball is on the floor we go for it, if it's on the glass we grab it, that's how you win.

DD: It seems that at the end of each season that you've been here, your name has been coming up in coaching vacancy rumors. Is it flattering or frustrating that some may think that you're not committed to finish the job you started here at ASU?

RE: I do think it's faltering that people respect the job that you do, but I stay focused on what I came here to do. I came here to rebuild this program and take it to the next level, and that's what we're gonna do. It's difficult when you talk to recruits, for them to know that what you told them is fact. I just don't pay much attention to those coaching rumors. I just stay the course, and stay focused.

DD: While the fans didn't come in droves to support ASU each game, they were very vocal throughout the year. How appreciative are you about the fan support?

RE: I can feel the support of the fans not only in the games, but also around town. There's more interest in the team. I think the fans have been very supportive, and the students' involvement has really increased. These fans give us one more incentive to our job, and it's up to us to get better and attract more fans.

DD: You're about to embark on your fifth year at ASU. In your former coaching job at Mississippi, your fifth year marked a great turnaround in that program. Do you anticipate the same this year at ASU?

RE: They're some eerie parallels between both programs. Interest was down in Mississippi because of lack of talent, and here at ASU it was down because of the point shaving. Right before my fifth year there fans have started to talk more about the team around town, and that's happened this year at ASU. We've made a concerned effort to build the program from the ground up, and we brought quality people in. We could do a quick fix, but we would only end up at the same position we were before I got here. We have the foundation built. Now we just have to take it to the next level. We do have a chance next year to be a very good Basketball team.

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