Sun Devil Basketball Season Preview

To say the flurry of off-season activity has been impressive would be a gross understatement. First-year head coach Herb Sendek has created infectious excitement with ASU basketball and has laid the foundation for one of the most talented Sun Devil teams in recent memory. With full team practices beginning this weekend, the Sendek era in Tempe enters its next chapter.

A brand new coaching staff will naturally bring a new style of play to the table. Some may equate Sendek's scheme to the proverbial "Princeton Offense." While Princeton's legendary back-door plays are one fairly prominent fixture in the Sun Devil skipper's tactics, Sendek's style is much more up-tempo. It is a motion offense, predicated on reading opposing defenses and exploiting their vulnerabilities. It is a scheme that will attempt a great deal of three-point shots, but will do in a responsible manner and not be confused with a typical run-and-gun style.

This offense is one that highlights skill players, who can pass, dribble and shoot, and most importantly be extremely unselfish. This spread scheme can give the team's big men down low room to operate, and set up players for many open shots. It's an offense that is hard to scout, because it isn't one that is dominated by repetitive set plays, and will show multiple and various looks depending on what the opposing defense presents during any given game.

The most notable returning player is 6-9 210 forward Jeff Pendergraph. With 10.9 points a game and 6.1 rebounds per game he is the team leader in both categories. The Pac-10 All-Freshmen selection was slowed down in the beginning of last season by surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor from his leg. He naturally had a rough start to the season, but in the later part of the campaign he emerged to be one of the best players for the Sun Devils. He started the last 22 games, and over the course of the last seven contests he averaged 14.7 ppg and 8.0 rpg.

As mentioned, the new offensive system is one that can allow the sophomore ample work space and an opportunity to utilize his fine play down low. If the maroon and gold ever materialize into a high percentage three-point scoring team, Pendy is likely to see less and less double teams, something that former forward and ASU standout Ike Diogu never had the luxury of. He may not be to focal point of the new offense, but there's no reason to believe that his numbers and/or play will be adversely impacted.

Pendergraph's long-time friend and fellow sophomore forward Sylvester Seay has been an intriguing player ever since he arrived on campus last year. Sly is 6-9 205 and is loaded with so much athleticism and potential, that he has been appearing on 2008 NBA draft lists. He certainly didn't have a standout freshman year (4.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg), but his three-point shot skills should be a perfect fit for Sendek's style. He quite the enigma being that he's a well spoken individual who has been haunted by a lazy reputation. However the word so far on Seay is that he has been truly turning a new leaf under the new coaching regime.

The starting point guard duties will be handled by junior Antwi Atuahene. Last year's Trinity Valley Community College transfer is a "pass-first, shoot-second" type of floor general. Most of his scoring do come via drives to the basket, rather than jump shots (a skill he needs to improve), and a great deal of assists do come from that penetration. In the off-season he and Pendergraph have established themselves as the squad leaders, and strong leadership is vital on this ASU team that will feature four true freshmen. One could define Atuahene's style as Helter Skelter, and how he adapts to an offense that features many inner changeable parts and a slower pace that he's used to will be interesting to track this coming season.

The Sun Devils feature four seniors, and the two that are most likely to enjoy the most playing time are Serge Angounou and Allen Morill. It isn't an urban legend - The 6-7 230 Angounou was outplaying Diogu when both arrived in Tempe in 2002. A severe knee injury in a pre-season game that year, has hampered the forward ever since. He still shows flashes of brilliance from time to time, and this offense may be actually one that can aid his game and possibly take pressure off Pendergraph up front.

Morill was a Prop 48 player when he came to ASU (at the same time Angounou did), but due to his positive progress of studies he has been able to gain a fourth year of eligibility. He's a 6-6 232 forward who has always been known as a lesser athletic player who has always assumed the "dirty work" role, and that may work to his advantage in this new system. 6-7 220 Bruno Claudino, who transferred last year from the College of Southern Idaho, is very similar to Morrill, although the forward is more athletic than his fellow senior. This tandem will be the first ones off the bench to relief big men Pendergraph and Angounou.

Arizona State will be without the services of several players from last year, and no loss is bigger than last season's leading scorer and three-point shot specialist guard Kevin Kruger. The would-be senior took advantage of new NCAA rule that allowed him to transfer to another school following the completion of his degree. Consequently, he elected to attend UNLV, where he will be coached by father Lon. His shooting abilities will be greatly missed on this offense, and to a lesser of an extent not having the services of guard Bryson Krueger will impact the squad as well. Krueger was kicked off the team after being arrested on drug charges. On the other hand, the departures of Tyrone Jackson (exhausted eligibility); Chad Goldstein and Craig Austin (the two left the team on their own accord) are with all honesty negligible in the grand scheme of things.

Ironically, the most notable newcomer on the team is one that will have to sit out due to his transfer from Duke. Eric Boateng is a 6-10 245 center and a former McDonald's All-American selection, should be worth the wait and at the least could be classified as a ‘poor man's Ike Diogu. Boateng played sparingly as a true freshman for the Blue Devils and will be a sophomore when he's eligible to suit up for ASU next season.

The four true freshmen on the team are headed by Glendale (Ariz.) Deer Valley star Christian Polk, was arguably was the best state prospect in the 2006 recruiting class. The 6-3 175 combo-guard has played on some of the best state high school and AAU teams this decade, and has proven to be a leader and a sharp shooter, who isn't afraid to take the crucial shot in the waning moments of a game.

Jerren Shipp comes from a legacy of solid Pac-10 players. Brother Joe Shipp was a former standout with the Golden Bears, and other sibling Josh Shipp plays these days with the Bruins. Jerren played at Fairfax HS in Los Angeles, one of the best basketball programs in that city, and was considered a steal when he verbaled to the Sun Devils in the late April signing period. Just like his brothers, the true freshman is a skillful shooter, and at 6-3 200 is a physical player that isn't afraid to take the ball to the rack if needed.

Jamelle McMillan and James Harden, two of the best guards in the Western Region of the country, verbaled to the Sun Devils over the summer. The commitment of Harden was due in part to another first-year player on the team and a former Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia teammate Derek Glasser. The 6-1 180 point guard, who originally committed to USC, is known as heady player who had much success on the prep level. His court vision is probably on par with the person whom he'll be backing up (Atuahene), although his shooting ability is probably ahead of the junior.

Rounding up this quartet of true freshmen is Dallas (Tex.) Kimball product George Odufuwa. The 6-7 240 forward is not only similar in his build to Morrill, but also in his game. He is however a more athletic version of the senior, but also a player that is probably more of the proverbial "project player" compared to his fellow true freshmen.

The excitement over all that has transpired with ASU basketball in the last six months will now need to give way to patience. Growing pains are only natural with the introduction of a new staff and scheme. Throw in the fact that much of the success of the Sun Devils hinges on the true freshmen coming off the bench, and one can understand why some rough patches are bound to take place in the 2006-07 season. One cannot forget that the seeds for a new era in ASU basketball have just been planted. Now we should sit back and see the growth process ultimately bear the fruits of success that head coach Herb Sendek has been working towards.

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