Q&A With Hoops Coach Rob Evans

Commitment. Integrity. Honor. All virtues that are rare these days when it comes to College coaches. However, these qualities are the pillars that ASU Basketball coach Rob Evans stands on, as evident in the manner that he runs his program. In this preseason interview, Evans talks among other issues about the lofty expectations for his squad, his heralded recruiting class, and the "fifth year magic."

DevilsDigest: Everyone that follows ASU Basketball is expecting a much better season this year. What in your mind are the reasons for this apparent improvement?

Rob Evans: "I think this team has a chance to be better than last year because we're deeper. We have a lot more bodies and a lot more athletes that can play different positions. We're move versatile. We got some inside presence, which really helps us. Some of our guys a year older, so we have more experience than ever."

DD: Ever since you decided to stay at ASU and not take the job in your home state of New Mexico, it seems that there's a lot of positive energy surrounding the team, especially in regards to the local community support. Is that your perception too?

RE: "I hope that is the case. I have been pleasantly surprised and pleased with the support we have gotten after that announcement (of him staying in Tempe). But that wasn't the reason for the announcement – we're on a mission to get things done here, and they haven't been done yet. By all the emails, letters, and phone calls I've gotten, I can tell there's a lot more interest in ASU Basketball. I had an ASU professor who never owned season tickets before come up to me, and tell me that he was buying season tickets because of the fact that we're staying here. If that's any indication, then we do have an outpour of support for this program. I hope it ends with a lot more people in the stands."

DD: One of the reason for the fans' enthusiasm this year is your incoming recruiting class. For those who aren't familiar with these players, can you give us a quick description on each and everyone of them?

RE: "I certainly think that each year we have been fortunate to get better talent, and that's what you need to win on this level. The biggest thing that we were able to accomplish is securing Ike Diogu. Not only is he one of the best players in the country, but certainly he has a lot of size, which is rare around the country. He's a guy that can score inside and outside, he's very athletic, he can rebound and block shots, and he requires double teams."

"Serge Angounou is a player that a lot of people didn't know a whole lot about, just because he was in the country for only two years, in a small state like New Mexico. Unless you go to all the summer camps and tournaments, a lot of people don't know a whole lot about you. He's a tremendous talent who's still learning the game."

"Jamal Hill came to us from Junior College, and he can play off-guard or small forward. He can score, he can defend, he runs the floor, and can even handle the ball if needed. The fact that he can really score and comes with experience makes this class much better."

"Allen Morrill is a guy that didn't get all the accolades as the other guys, but is a very talented Basketball player. He does everything well. He's a tough kid that can rebound the ball. He can defend the interior and out on the perimeter. He can score inside, and has a medium range jump shot. He reminds me physically of Awvee Storey, but is probably more skilled than him. Storey was a very talented rebounder, but Allen understands the game very well. So his toughness does remind me of Awvee, but his skill level is a little better."

"Kevin Kruger is a very solid point guard. As he matures, he'll be a great player. He can shoot the Basketball, and has been around the game a long time (son of longtime coach Lon Kruger). We plan to redshirt them, but we'll not make that decision until the first exhibition game. Because we have Jason Braxton and Kyle Dodd at the point, we don't want to waste a year of his eligibility by playing him five minutes."

DD: Anybody watching the Sun Devils last season knows that officiating has been a sore spot all year. We also know that you have been proactive on this issue, by being on an officiating committee, and meeting with some officials in the off-season. How do you feel those discussions went, and how do you feel it impacting the amount of fouls called on your players?

RE: "I think the meetings went very well. All of us voiced our opinions, and we all have different ones. Officiating is a difficult task to say the least, and now there's a better understanding between the officials and coaches, especially myself. I also think that as your team gets better, you tend to get better officiating. Sometimes it's just human nature for officials to have a pre-conceived notion who is the better team. It's not because they want to or try to, but that's just human nature. So, coaches like myself, when you're team is struggling you try to get every call, and that can create a problem. I think by in large that I will do a better job with the officiating, and I hope the officiating gets better."

"I think the fouls troubles we have are inner twined with the officiating issue. We play a lot of man-to-man defense, and we're gonna get more fouls. But I also feel that because we attack off the dribble we should get more free throws. We're going to be more athletic when guarding on defense, and that will help us get called less for fouls."

DD: When you came to ASU you were known as a coach who loves to employ full court pressure defense. In the past you stated that you didn't have to personnel here to play that type of scheme. With all the added depth and athleticism you mentioned earlier, can we expect to see this type of defense played more frequently this season?

RE: "I certainly do. Like you mentioned, you have to have the depth because you will foul some. If you're not deep enough, it would be foolish to implement it. I feel we also have the mental maturity, which means we won't gamble as much, and know when to gamble. It all comes with maturity. We tried to implement a little of it last year, just to let our guys know what we're trying to accomplish. We want to create turnovers, so our offense can score off of them. We're now in a position we have the depth and athleticism, so you'll see a little bit more of that full court defense, as well as ¾ court defense, zone defense, and man-to-man."

DD: Let's talk about the other side of the ball. Chad Prewitt and his great passing ability on the post, was such a big part of the motion offense you love to play. With his departure, do you fell that you can still play this type of game with Ike Diogu filling in for Prewitt?

RE: "We're still gonna play the motion offense, because it utilizes our guys' athleticism and ability to attack the basket. It allows us to give the ball to a player like Diogu, and not be susceptible to double teams. But we'll also run some set plays, and try to get certain guys the ball at certain times. So we'll do both."

DD: The downside of having such a deep team is potential rotation problems, and distributing enough minutes to go around. We know the season hasn't started yet, but do you envision doing to deal with this issue? In addition, can you explain your philosophy of wanting players to play more than one position in a game?

RE: "I always said the best payers are gonna play, so every player will have to earn his minutes. Because we can't just play 6-7 guys when we play man-to-man or full court defense, the playing time is there if a guy earns his time. You have a guy like Tommy Smith that can play both forward positions and center. You essentially have three different players. Diogu can play inside and outside. Jamal is very good the off-guard position, but Curtis Millage plays very well there, so he'll play mostly at small forward. Millage can play point guard too. Justin Allen can play the power forward, and even center. He can create a mismatch with the big man guarding him, because he can take the ball outside and shoot from there and stretch out the defense. That can also help our guys with quickness to get to the basket, because it isn't as clogged up inside. Shawn Redhage can definitely play both forward positions, and in a pinch can play center because he does a pretty good defending. So we have a lot of interchangeable parts."

"That's the way I like to play, and our motion offense is conducive to that. Once we initiate the pass, all of our guys become interchangeable. But to be able to that, you have to have the players that can do it when they step on the court and take advantages of mismatches by bringing guys inside and outside."

DD: Much has been said about the improvement of two of your key players, Tommy Smith and Jason Braxton, in the off-season. Can you share with us what you heard in specific about their play in the summer camps, which some of them were attended by NBA players and coaches?

RE: "Tommy Smith went to the ABCD camp where he was a counselor working with high schools kids during the day, and at night he played with those kids and other top college players in the country. That was a good experience for him. He also had sessions with pro coaches such as George Karl. We were told that Tommy wasn't only impressive with his skills, but also with his commitment. Both Tommy and Jason were at a camp in Las Vegas run by Tim Guergerich, who is now the assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns. He called me a few times and told me how impressed he was with their work ethic, and that's because they were playing against top pro players (Paul Pierce among others). I can talk to them as much as I want about work ethic, but for them to go out there and see what it takes to be a pro player is even more valuable. They weren't only impressive, but also impressed, and that's very important."

DD: With the apparent surge of popularity associated with ASU's Basketball, have you and your staff stepped up your marketing efforts of the program?

RE: "I think we're doing everything within our means to market the team. I really think this will be a fun team to watch. This team will have the capability to win any game they play, so I think people will enjoy watching it. We're not only trying to market it to our older fans, but also the student body – it's their Basketball team, and we want them to be very supportive. Just by the fact that we sold at least 150 more student tickets, I can tell it's catching on, and hopefully it will be a hard ticket to get."

DD: Your 5th year at Mississippi was your most successful one, and here you are entering your fifth year in Tempe. Do you see the correlation that can ultimately lead to this year being your most successful one at ASU?

RE: "I do see some of the same signs, and I do hope this is a team (just like Mississippi in his fifth year) that makes it to the NCAA tournament. Our schedule is pretty difficult, but that's fine. Our non-conference schedule will give us an opportunity to find out where we are. In my fifth year in Mississippi I did feel that our talent level and experience got better, and that's certainly the case here. It's gonna come down to a number of close Basketball games, and we have to win those. The experience and talent level we have will allow us to do that."

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