Sun Devils Eager to Meet Own Expectations

As the Pac-10 basketball season projections filter in from the various media outlets, one constant is the gloom and doom prospects for the maroon and gold. During the team's media day, Coach Rob Evans and his players talked about their own set of expectations, which are naturally different than those that have been published thus far.

"We don't have low expectations," said Evans. "The only thing we concern ourselves with is what we expect from ourselves. That's all. If you have a great team, and you don't reach (your expectations), then you have a tendency to set your standards low and you start looking forward to the next year. You can't do that. We have to get together as a group and say ‘this is where we want to go.' If we don't reach it, we're climbing towards it and the journey is what really makes the difference for me. Our expectations every year is to get to the NCAA tournament."

"I've been doing this for a long time, and I've been on both ends of the spectrum," Evans continued. "I've had high expectations and low expectations (put on his teams). I tell my coaches that if we can get those guys fundamentally better, we'll be where we want to be."

Naturally, losing three starters (Jason Braxton, Steve Moore and Ike Diogu) will change the look of the maroon and gold, as well as their style of play. "It's going to be a different basketball team," Evans stated. "It will be a little bit more diversified; a little bit more balanced. Hopefully, we'll be a better defensive basketball team. I think we'll push the ball a little bit more. Run a little bit more. We don't have anybody in the pivot area that can replace Ike Diogu. We hope, with the three guys we have in the position, we can collectively get the same amount of points and rebounds. The perimeter people should be really good. Bryson Krueger came back playing really well. Kevin Kruger came back bigger and stronger and really shooting the ball well. The point guard position will be really good with Tyrone Jackson and Antwi Atuahene. Both of those guys are really talented. We are looking forward to getting these guys out and getting started and seeing how much better we can get."

The squad's handful of newcomers will obviously have a significant role in determining the course of the 2005-06 campaign. The Sun Devil skipper briefly talked about each and everyone of them. "Bruno Claudino is a guy who I think has a great chance to be very good. He is 6'8 from Southern Idaho and he really runs the floor well. He can score from the inside, he can score from the perimeter. He rebounds the ball well. I really like his style of play. He's a mature player."

"Antwi Atuahene is a really solid point guard. He sees the floor really well. He'll get some easy baskets for guys when they're running. He knows how to run a basketball team."

"I think Sylvester Seay has a chance to be really special, once he learns how hard you have to play. He is very athletic. He can really stroke the ball and rebound well. He is a big key for us. He plays small forward for us and has a lot of talent. It's a matter of just tapping into it."

"I think Jeff Pendergraph, once he gets healthy (should be cleared for practice on the 21st of this month), he'll do the job. He played very well for his high school team, which was the second best team in the country." Pendergraph had knee surgery several weeks ago. The procedure revealed a cancerous growth which was removed and diagnosed as non-malignant.

Chemistry is an essential ingredient for thriving programs. With nearly half of the scholarship players being newcomers, it would seem that achieving that attribute won't be an easy feat. "It's is always a concern when you have so many new faces and lose as many starters as we did," Evans admitted. "You have the early season practices, the scrimmages and the exhibition games and have the non-conference season to test these guys and see where they are, to get ready for the conference season. I think we have the pieces, they just need experience. I think these guys are up to the task."

With such a dominating low-post force in Diogu, the Sun Devils' play at both ends of the floor, was predictable at times. This season, the scheme should look quite different, as the coaches try to establish a certain team identity. "I think this team will be a very good defensive ball club - one that can create turnovers," Evans claimed. "A little bit like the teams I had early on in my career at Mississippi. A little more athletic to where they can create some turnovers and get some offense off the defense. A little more balanced offensively, and not so much one-dimensional. Night in and night out, we'll have different guys scoring. I want this team to be the best defensive team I've coached at Arizona State. We are really going to push hard for that. We are going to score, we just need to stop people. Hopefully we are going to be a lot more balanced basketball team. I think that's what we have to have to be successful."

One of the key players on the team will be junior Serge Angounou, especially due to his inside presence. "[He is] as healthy as I think he is going to be," said Evans. "It generally takes two years to come off the type of surgery he had. I think his surgery is a little like Amare Stoudemire's, but a little more difficult. I think that he is starting to get his confidence back and his touch back. We can run him inside and get us a crucial basket if we need to have it. I think you'll see a different Serge Angounou than you've seen."

Junior Kevin Kruger, who is on track to graduate in May of next year, is clearly the team's most talented returning player. He said that he expects to lead the team along with Angounou and Allen Morill. One measure of that leadership is to focus on the task on hand, regardless of the projections of others. "We're gonna try and win every game," Kruger asserted. "We don't pay a lot of attention to what people say about us. We know we're not the worst team in college basketball. We have our eyes on the same prize as everyone else, and we'll just take it from there."

"This team will be way better," said Angounou. "I think we'll be a faster team. We ran a lot more this summer than we ever did. Come to the games and you won't be disappointed (smile)." On a scale of 1-10, the junior claimed to be at 9 in terms of his overall health. He realizes that he will be asked to take over the role of his ex-roommate Diogu. "He (Evans) wants me to slow my game, play better defense and get more rebounds. I can play center, but also can play the 3 (small forward) or 4 (power forward). I've been working on my post moves."

Senior Tyrone Jackson will be directing the team from the point guard position, and is raring to go, just like his comrades. "When I talk to the guys, we'll all know that we have a big challenge in front of us and we're ready," he commented. "All the new guys are great players and they work very hard. It's gonna be fun and we can't wait to start practice."

Jackson expects a better season for both himself and the team. "I think I'll have a lot better year than last year," he said. "I went through the growing pains going to the next level. I've worked a lot on my shooting…we'll run a lot more, because we're a little smaller now. We're gonna play the game like we're supposed to and hopefully the outcome is good."

Much of the off-season chatter around the team, revolved around Evans' contract extension talks. Currently, that issue is at a status-quo, as the ASU head coach has two years remaining on his contract. However, Evans dismisses the notion that this issue will serve as a possible distraction for himself or the program. After all, he's happy to be in Tempe doing what he loves to do, and is concentrated on the squad's development. "I want this team to be good and I want it to be done now," he said. "Those are the things I concern myself with and nothing else."

He does acknowledge that his job has been challenging. Nevertheless, he takes pride in what he has been able to achieve since he got here. "It's been tough," Evans admitted. "We've been trying to get the program to where it's stable. When we first came in, we know we had some things we had to shore up. We had to have our classes balanced out, and we're finally able to do that."

"We've had some success in some small areas – a lot of things that people were able to use against us in recruiting, we took away from them," Evans continued. "The academic part, high draft choices…all jobs are tough, and this has been a tough one – but I think we're about to stabilize it (the program). It's been fun coming out here everyday, and watching how hard they work and how bad they want to be a good basketball team. That's the fun part of basketball."

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