ASU's 2007 Recruiting Class is a Gem

Ever since he set foot in Tempe just over six months ago, Herb Sendek has been hard at work turning around the Sun Devil program. Some of fruits of his labor materialized today; as three talented high school players signed a letter of intent with the maroon and gold, and a fourth player gave his verbal commitment and will fax his letter next week.

"This is always an exciting day in college basketball," said Sendek in a press conference Wednesday afternoon, "where we get to finalize and make official the commitment we received along the way, and certainly we're excited about the class we put together for next year. So many people deserve credit…administrators, faculty, staff, our own players, all contributed in meaningful ways. Considering we started with this recruiting class in April, I couldn't be more pleased with the results today."

The crown Jewel of the class is without a doubt is five-star prospect James Harden. The 6-4 200 guard from Artesia High School in Lakewood, Calif., is ranked as the 15th-best player in the country and the no. 1 shooting guard in the western region by Scout.com. Harden averaged 18.8 points, 7.7 boards and 3.5 assists last season as he led Artesia in capturing the CIF Southern Section and Division III state title. Coached by Scott Pera, the current ASU basketball director of basketball operations, Harden was a 59.1% field goal shooter, and he paced his squad in steals with 104.

"It feels great getting this load of my shoulders," Harden told Devils Digest on Wednesday evening. "We have a good team coming back, we're ranked third in country, and having the signing behind me will help me have a great senior year." Harden admitted that Pera and former Artesia teammate and now ASU freshman Derek Glasser were certainly big factors in him signing on the dotted line with ASU. Nonetheless, other aspects also came into play: "My mom moving to Phoenix was another major reason," he noted. "I also really like Coach Sendek's style of play. It's a structured offense that shoots a lot of threes, and that's what I like to do."

"James is a great competitor, a natural scorer and has excelled against some great competition," Sendek commented. "He really attacks the basket and is excited about helping us build the program. Every time we saw him this summer he seemed to get better. He works on his game a lot and that is showing in his continued improvement. I think James is a special player. He is so versatile and a great competitor. He just plays to win and I clearly think that he is one of the most talented guys in the country and this means so much for our program that he will be joining us."

Joining Harden in the backcourt is Jamelle McMillan, a 6-2 180 guard from O'Dea High School in Seattle, Wash. The son of Nate McMillan, head coach of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers, averaged 13 points, five boards and eight assists at O'Dea last season. He's ranked as the no. 2 point guard in the Western region and the nation's 99th overall best player by Scout.com. "He's mature beyond his years," Sendek noted. "When you talk to him you're going to have to some how to find a way to make sure you know who you are talking to, you're going to double check to see if you're speaking to Nate or Jamelle. He's extremely articulate, he's wise beyond his years, he's a great gentleman, he knows the game and obviously he has been raised in a gymnasium. Once again having him join us, coming from a basketball family he comes from, with his ability is just really exciting for all of us."

"He's been exposed to so much; he's seen so many things at such a young age. He understands the game and he's a great leader for a young guy. Our staff has known Jamelle's family for a long time and we are delighted that a family with as much basketball background as the McMillan's would want their son to play for us. He is an exceptional leader, a great student and will be a great addition to our program."

Kraidon Woods, a 6-8 190 forward from The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., visited Tempe less than two weeks ago. Just a few days after his trip, this one time Villanova commit, decided to pledge to the maroon and gold. "This is most definitely the best situation for me," Woods told Devils Digest on Wednesday night. "ASU has a great coaching staff. They're good, honest people and I love the direction this program is going in…Coach Sendek told me it's sunny and 85 degrees in Tempe today, and here it was 40 degrees and raining all day. So when you sign on a day like this you know it's the right decision (laughs)."

The versatile Woods played at Pocono Mountain East and led his team to two Mountain Valley Conference titles in three years. He averaged 16 points, eight boards and five blocks in 05-06 and collected 1,186 points in his high school career. A calf injury forced him to miss six games, and he felt the need to attend Hill, a prep school, to improve on his skills and prepare himself for the next level. Villanova's logjam at forward caused him to re-open his recruitment, which obviously landed him with the Sun Devils.

"He's somebody who I think has amazing potential," said Sendek of Woods. "And once again, a lot like the other guys we have talked about, he's engaging with his personality, someone you find very easy to like. I love his versatility. He can do a multitude of different things for his size. Kraidon is doing everything he can to become a great player and playing a year at The Hill School is going to be a great advantage for him. He is a great shot-blocker and handles the ball very well."

Wing player Rihards Kuksiks is a 6-6 205 Latvian-born player, who has been in this country for just two years at the Florida Air Academy in Melbourne, Fla. Since arriving here, his time has been well spent on and off the court. He helped his squad capture the state's 3A title, and he carries a perfect 4.0 GPA. He's a typical European player, who possesses a great 3-point shot, and has a deep understanding of the game and its fundamentals. Since his letter of intent hasn't been faxed in yet to ASU, Coach Sendek was prohibited by NCAA law from commenting about him on Wednesday.

Kuksiks' two main suitors were ASU, who he visited three weeks ago and St. John's, who he tripped to this past weekend. Virginia Tech and Kansas were also at one time programs who pursued him. Following his school's championship ring ceremony tonight, Kuksiks talked to Devils Digest about his decision, which came only earlier in the day. "I'm very happy to go to ASU," he said. "I really like the coaches and with my three-point shooting I think I can help the team. Arizona State is the best fit for me."

Since his mother is still in Latvia, the letter of intent had to be mailed to her at her home and according to Kuksiks it's expected to be sent to ASU early next week.

While he's already enrolled in school, Duke transfer and 2005 McDonald¹s All-American Eric Boateng, can probably be unofficially included in this class since just like the four aforementioned players he will only be eligible to play for ASU in the 2007-2008 campaign. The 6-10 center will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Sendek naturally is taking pride is such a heralded recruiting class, but makes a point to mention the shared effort that went into securing the services of these players. "It's the players on the team, the coaching staff, the faculty, the students, the media in the valley, and alumni," he stated. "I'm just one part of that, I have a role to play but for us to continue to move college basketball forward in this valley its going to take a collaborative effort perhaps on unprecedented levels. And so when we recruit these guys that's our mind set, it's not just me. I have a role to play but there are so many other parts that have to be in place."

"We're going to certainly recognize all the various parts doing their job exceptionally well. For instance I think our players did a great job, presentations by people like (Vice President of Athletics) Lisa Love and (ASU President) Dr. Crow made a difference. I think our facilities crew went out of their way to make sure things are sharper and standing tall. It's all those kind of things, it's those things sometimes you don't even see, and it all comes together to make it work" Sendek added that he expects the players who signed to enroll in school in the summer and "get acclimated on a gradual basis."

"I think that they're a talented group of young men," said Sendek. "I think they all poses outstanding character. And obviously they were trusting enough to pick us in our first year and I really appreciate that, and embrace that. It started obviously with Eric (Boateng) back in the spring. I think his commitment really served in a lot of ways as a great lightning rod. And then we were fortunate to add three other men for today that we have received letter of intent for. They will join a good group of young players next fall that our fans should be excited about watching. To sign players from great prep basketball areas is a great step for our program."

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