In Their Own Words - ASU's Hoops Fall Signees

The early fall signing period begins November 13th and Arizona State has signed a talented foursome of high school players in Tron Smith, Keith Wooden, Chris Low and Will Fameni, a group that is sure to rank among the top 25 national signing classes in the country by most experts. DevilsDigest.com spoke with each of these players at length over the past few days leading up to the big signing day event.

Tron Smith, a 6'2.5 194 pound combo guard from Canyon Springs High School is a former prep teammate of current Sun Devil point guard Jason Braxton. The two became very close early on in Smith's freshmen year, so much so in fact that they actually lived together for a large portion of their high school experience. "The summer of my freshmen year my mom moved to another city and I didn't want to leave and go to another high school and transfer and all of that so I was really close with Jason so I lived with him (and his family) for a whole year and then my mom decided she wanted to move back, so (during that period) we worked out every day together."

When Arizona State went to visit and watch Braxton play as a senior they noticed Smith and even though he was only a sophomore the ASU staff thought enough of him to begin recruiting him. Upon visiting his good friend at ASU in the summer after his sophomore year Tron decided that Tempe was a place where he could really see himself living and going to school. "I liked it, all of the players were real cool." Since that time Braxton has taken several unofficial visits to the Arizona State campus, participating pick-up games and getting to know the other players. Brandon Goldman in particular had a very strong impact on Smith. "B.G. has the best knowledge of the game I've ever seen in my life. He was teaching me, making me do all kind of drills and to go hard and stuff and actually all the stuff he taught me I've been taking it and practicing it at home."

Despite being recruited by a plethora of other schools around the country, Tron only really considered Boston College and Arizona State. "I was screening calls actually. I had my parents and brothers answer the phone because I didn't really want to talk to them (other schools). A lot of coaches try to pressure you all the time, like a lot of schools that I didn't even want to go to, so I tried not to answer the phone. The only time I answered the phone was when Boston College or Arizona State called."

Smith eventually gave a verbal commitment to the Arizona State staff this past summer after deciding that he liked the approach of the Sun Devil staff best. "Coach Evans was like, he was telling me when you come in there is nothing guaranteed, you got to earn everything and that's what I got to hear ‘cause it's going to make me work harder. Boston College told me too much of what I wanted to hear. Everything was sounding too good, like I was going to come in and start and play 30 minutes a night, the ball would be in my hands and all that was just sounding too good(to be true)."

Even after Smith committed there were a lot of schools still trying to get involved with him. "There were a lot of schools still recruiting me. Nobody really knew I had committed. A lot of schools kept calling wanting to know if I was going to visit their school and I told them I was already committed."

Smith's college recruitment began in the spring and summer of his freshmen year while playing AAU basketball along with Braxton under Inland head coach "Kool-Aid" Perry. "The first letter I ever got was when I was in 9th grade and I got a few my sophomore and then my junior year I got a grip of letters, I mean boxes of them just started coming in. After the Vegas spring tournament, that's when they really started coming in because I played against Wesley Washington and I just destroyed him, so that's when they started coming in."

All the while Kool-Aid has been a close mentor and friend. "Kool-Aid has been the best experience, the best basketball I ever played. I started with him my freshmen year and I wasn't really use to the everybody yelling at me and all of that but I started talking to Jason he use to tell me ‘it's for your own good, he (Kool-Aid) makes you work on your weaknesses and actually Kool-Aid is like the best coach ever for me because on the court you know it's a business so you gotta do your job or you're not going to play at all. And off the court he's also a friend. I talk to Kool Aid like twice a week."

This past year Smith has become very close with a younger Canyon Springs and Inland basketball player much like Braxton and he years ago. Andre McGee a sophomore point guard is widely considered among the top 20 players nationally in the class of 2005. McGee has a game that remarkably resembles former Stanford point guard Brevin Knight both physically and stylistically, with the only real difference being McGee's superior athleticism that allows him to do things at age 15 that Knight could never do at 5'10 or 5'11 such as two handed double pump dunks. Regarding whether or not the Canyon Springs-Arizona State pipeline will continue with McGee, Smith says, "We're like best friends on the basketball team. Me and Dre hang out all the time. I don't really pressure him about it, I just try to make him let others let him make his own decisions like I have, like everyone's let me make my own decision, like Jason did(for me). They'll go there (to a school) if they want to go there, you just gotta let them visit a couple of time and if they like it they'll choose to go there."

The two guards make up the most feared backcourt in Southern California, but they're always working on improving their game. "A lot of players think they don't have weaknesses, and me, I always go out, I'm never satisfied with my ball handling, never satisfied with my defense so I always work on that, I always go out, me and Dre play one on one all the time, I try to guard him and he's the best point guard in the nation (in his class). When we go to practice we do a lot of shooting drills so I don't do a lot of shooting on the outside. It's like when I go to ASU I just work on my weaknesses with Jason so everyone can help me out."

Smith is so focused and in love with playing basketball that when asked how other hobbies, there really are none to speak of. "I don't really do much. I just do homework and play basketball and watch basketball a lot. I watch a lot of tape. My favorite player is T-Mac but I don't really look at particular NBA players (in terms of emulation), I just look at the stuff that they do that makes them better, the little moves creating space, the defensive moves, decision making. Kool Aid always tells me don't watch the dunks, just watch the little things, so that's what I try to do." Academically, Smith has a 2.8 core GPA but his most recent semester he posted a 3.5 and he's looking to boost his overall GPA to the 3.0 level. He also took the SAT last school year and with a score of 810 missed a score that would fully qualify him by a mere 10 points. He's getting ready to take it again and has been studying. "I only missed it by 10 points so I know I can get it (this time)."

Smith is also starting to lift weight in preparation for the more physically demanding basketball in his future despite being tremendously strong and fit naturally with an excellent body. "I'm trying to get in the weight room because this is the first time ever really lifting weights. My coach has been telling me that the Pac-10 is a real strong and has strong play, so I've been trying to get in there a lot."

Smith doesn't expect much of a deal to be made about his signing experience. "I just think we're going to fax it ‘cause I don't think they do all of that (hold a press conference) at my school. Still he wants everyone to know that he's ready to take his step up to the next level. "I just want everyone to know I'm excited to come out three and I've actually known since my sophomore year I wanted to go there and when I do get down there I'm going to work real hard, real real hard to do whatever it takes to make the team better."

The second player to give Arizona State head coach Rob Evans a verbal commitment in the 2003 recruiting class was Keith Wooden, a 6'9 230 pound athlete from Free State High School in Lawrence Kansas. Widely considered to be the best college prospect in the plains region, Wooden is also a top 100 national player and a leading candidate for state player of the year honors in Kansas. Despite ‘only' wearing a size 14 shoe Wooden has a 7'6 wingspan, with extremely long arms and turned 17 years of age only a month and a half ago. Doctors have told Wooden that there is a very real chance he could wind up as tall as 6'11 and with a wingspan already larger than most 7 footers, and athleticism that will allow him to play as many as three positions, Wooden has almost limitless potential.

Recognizing all that he is capable of, Wooden has set a loft singular personal goal for the year ahead. "My goal is to play in the McDonald's (All-American) game." Should he become one of the top 30 high school players that are named to play in the event, Wooden would become the first Sun Devil signee to ever accomplish such a feat. His high school coach has gone on record as saying the team will go as far as Wooden carries them. A very soft-spoken and reserved person, Wooden says that he has no problem taking care of business on the hardwood. "When I'm on the court I'm like a totally different person. I don't have a problem showing emotion or anything like that. Normally I'm a kind of laid-back guy."

Wooden's recruitment to ASU was largely fostered by his AAU coach L.J. Goolsby, a former player under Rob Evans as Ole Miss. "He's the one that really got them to start recruiting me I guess, they first saw me after my sophomore year in Vegas and he talked to me a couple times about Coach Evans and he let me know the type of person he is and I really have faith in him to lead me the right way."

Wooden was so enthralled with Arizona State in fact that he wanted to commit to the Devils even before seeing the Tempe campus but his mother insisted that for a decision that big he's have to take his official visit first. Wooden loved it. "The campus was real nice with the scenery and the sun and I liked all the palm trees so it was just a real nice experience for me. Everyone around campus was real nice too."

One of the more remarkable things about Wooden's visit was that both of the other players taking official trips to Arizona State on the same weekend would eventually commit to the Sun Devils as well. Wooden got along well with both Chris Low and Will Fameni and it made the entire experience that much easier for him. "Chris can really shoot it from the outside and Will has some very nice moves, they both get out and run the floor too. We're all big and it's kind of exciting that all 3 of the guys on the trip committed. Me and Chris actually talked about it and I had told him that I was going to commit."

Wooden knows that there has been a lot of speculation regarding his academic situation, and that also may have contributed to his only receiving a scholarship offer from Arizona State despite some legitimate interest from the likes of Indiana, which wanted him to visit, and Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and countless others as well, but he along with the Sun Devil staff remain very positive about the situation. "I've been doing pretty well, I got a 3.0 last quarter so I'm working on that. They (the ASU staff) did my class schedule. They're really upbeat about it, they're never even brought it up actually (the possibility of not qualifying)." Wooden received an ACT score of 15 the first time he took the test and he'll likely need a score of 21 but he believes there's a very good chance he'll get the required score. "I took the ACT at the last testing date a couple weeks ago and I feel like I did pretty so we'll see when I get my test results back. I think I did a lot better because I actually had a calculator this time. I want to do well, but not really to prove to them (the other schools) it's to prove to myself, but even if all those schools had offered me a scholarship I probably still would have gone to Arizona State, that's just how strong I feel about the coaching staff and how I got along with the players and stuff."

Besides playing basketball, Wooden enjoys spending time with his family. His mother owns her own business as a beautician and Keith enjoys being "able to go there and interact with a lot of people." His sister is 9 years old and it's likely she'll be tall too, though currently she's more interested in gymnastics than basketball. Wooden's step-father works the night shift so they don't see each other too much, but when they do they have some pretty intense chess matches, a sport that both recently took up at about the same time. "He's a good guy, he tries to go out and play basketball with me, he thinks he can still beat me. I let him win from time to time."

The Sun Devils continued to recruit Texas hard a season after signing Ike Diogu and Allen Morill from the lone star state. Chris Low, a 6'9 210 multi-talented forward from Gorman HS in Tyler Texas became the third oral commitment of the 2003 class this summer and very shortly after Keith Wooden's decision. Low has deep roots in East Texas. "My dad's an accountant, born and raised in East Texas pretty much and my mom's an interior designer, same thing with here and East Texas." Low's only sibling is also involved in basketball but in a different capacity. "I have one older brother who officiates basketball, he's trying to work his way up to college."

Having such strong ties to the Dallas area made it difficult to decide to leave the Texas area, particularly considering the fact that Low had been recruited locally since junior high school. "By the end of my 7th grade year I started getting letters from Baylor, Texas, Stephen F. Austin, (Texas) A&M, all of the local schools really." By the time he was in high school schools from all across the country were mailing him on a regular basis. Low's height may have something to do with it in addition to his advanced level of play. "In 7th grade I was probably 6'4 maybe 6'5 and in 8th grade I was probably 6'6 or 6'7. I think I've grown maybe a half inch in the last 18 months so it's definitely slowing down."

Even with being use to getting all the recruiting letters it was overwhelming when the phone calls started coming directly to him home. "Yeah it was weird because the first couple of days they were allowed to call I had like 30 messages(a day) plus the coaches I had already talked to and kind of unfortunately I hadn't narrowed it down at all, so there were a lot of schools I'd never even considered. But I started to narrow it down and focus on 6 or 7 schools."

With regard to ASU the recruiting interest started relatively late when compared with the schools in Texas. "I had been getting letters(from ASU) my junior year and the phone calls in June and the coaches there knew my AAU coach (Mitch Malone) this summer real good and they had the player already from the Dallas area." Both Ike Diogu and Allen Morill played for Malone's Texas Blue Chips and Low knew them somewhat even having roomed with Diogu on several occasions at summer tournaments. "With Arizona State really it felt comfortable with Ike and the Texas guys out there so it's real familiar and I think all the coaches are morally sound guys too so that just made it that much easier to make a confident decision."

By the time Low took his visit in August he had his list narrowed to Indiana, TCU, SMU and Arizona State. All of those schools had offered scholarships. Low had been recruited by countless other schools but "a lot of what I was looking for with them kind of fizzled out so we just didn't keep up the communications to that point (of scholarship offers)." One of the reasons it may have never come to that is how impressed Low was on his official campus visit. "We toured the new ICA building which was real nice, I liked that a lot, the weight room I've seen in Sports Illustrated and that was pretty cool and then that night eating with Coach Evans and the players, they were really laid-back and everything like that which was a neat experience. Then, the following day going to the business school and then walking over to the student recreation building and all the sororities where having their meetings so that was pretty cool too."

Just like Smith, Low was particularly impressed with walk-on senior Brandon Goldman. "I hung out a lot with Goldman and we talked a bunch and seemed to share a lot of common interests and a weekend is a really short time, I mean, as soon as you get to know somebody you've got to go, but like I said I felt real comfortable." After getting back home Low talked to his family before making up his mind to commit and give himself more time to focus on his senior season. The Texas 3A all-state player is looking forward to finishing off his high school career with a bang. "It's been occupying a lot more of my time you as the season gets closer I've been stepping up my workouts, shooting the ball a lot more and all that kind of stuff. We scrimmaged this past weekend and I thought we did surprisingly well."

Low watches a lot of basketball in his spare time along with listening to music, playing golf occasionally and hanging out with his friends. In terms of comparing himself to other players he says, "I like Dirk Nowitzki a lot and if I could be like him that'd be great but I think I play a little more like a Scott Padgett type of player and I say that because coaches have told me that before." He hopes to have an immediate impact and realizes that there will be a lot of opportunities to go around with the outgoing seniors. "Every indication I've got is that I won't be redshirting, I'm going to play. They're losing a lot of forwards too. I'm anxious to get out there and you know a lot of people around here have given me there take on Arizona and I've found that to be real interesting."

Speaking of interesting, perhaps the most curious recruiting story in the class of 2002 is that of Cameroon native and Arizona State's fourth oral pledge Will Fameni. Despite only being in the country for about a year Fameni is a near straight ‘A' student who speaks English fluently despite only taking up the language a year and a half ago. He also speaks French, the native language of Cameroon, German and a local tribal dialect. Fameni at 6'8 230 pounds, plays his prep ball in the state of Virginia at Amelia Academy.

He described the process of coming to the United States as starting only several years ago. "It really started about a year and a half or two years ago when a friend of a my cousin's was living in California and came back to Cameroon on vacation and one day came to watch me play in a pickup game and saw that I was pretty good and he talked about that with my mom, and how I'd have a chance to come to the United States and pursue my education and play basketball. But my mom didn't know where I was going and so she said no at first and then he send my mom information back (to Cameroon) and she thought it was pretty good so she let me."

In leaving Cameroon, Fameni left behind not only his mother, but also two sisters. "I have two sisters, one older and one younger. I lose my dad when I was pretty young. My mom raised me and my two sisters. My dad died when I was only 4 months old." Still, the reason Fameni is in the States is for his own personal benefit since his sister works in finance in Cameroon and the family is doing fairly well financially. Like current Sun Devil basketball and fellow Cameroon native Serge Angounou, Fameni played a lot of soccer growing up and only picked up a basketball about 5 years ago. "Everyone plays soccer in Cameroon, it's like a religion."

Having another Cameroon native on the roster certainly helped the Sun Devils cause but there were several other factors as well including a bit of hard work and fortuitous luck on the part of the ASU staff. "When I came back from (a tournament in) Orlando, ASU was the first school to call me. I got back on a Thursday and they called me either that night or early Friday morning and that was the first school that wanted me to come out to visit." In the ensuing months Fameni would spark heavy interest from Richmond, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Georgetown, William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth and receive as many as 20 calls per day, but by this time he had already decided ASU was among his favorites, in part based on that early recognition.

When he visited ASU along with Wooden and Low, Fameni was extremely impressed. "My first impression of it was pretty hot but it didn't really bother me because I'd been living in a hot climate for almost my entire life. I think the city is really nice and the thing I like about Tempe and Arizona State the most compared to other schools, it's a big school but things over there are not spread out so everything is basically in the same spot going from my dorm to the gym to school is pretty close and that's one of the main things I like about it compared with the other schools I visited."

Along with going to the mall, listening to music and hanging out with friends, Fameni likes to watch a lot NBA games and not so much college basketball. "Right now I would like to be like either T-Mac or Paul Pierce. I really like those guys. T-Mac has more athleticism (that I do) but Paul Pierce, if I really keep working I'm going to play like that (I hope). I'm working hard because most of the time people like to ask me what position I play, but I don't really have a position, I'm just a basketball player, I can play everywhere on the floor, so that's why I really like those guys because you don't really know what position they play."

Currently, Fameni is eager to lead his high school team in a run at a State Championship. Last year they finished #3 in their division and he thinks they have a legitimate shot at going all the way this year. He spends his time practicing on his handle, jump shot, and even though the weight room is small at his school he even gets in there from time to time. He has designs on playing right away at ASU and like Low knows that there will be a lot of chances to be had by new players, particularly in the frontcourt. "They (the ASU staff) won't really say you're going to come in and play right away (because) you've got to show you want to work hard to play right away, so they let me know that nothing is guaranteed and anything is possible." And with this fine crop of recruits, the sky is the limit as ASU's chances of returning to glory.

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