Pendergraph appeared on Thursday afternoon with his trademark million-watt smile, and being as worry-free as one can be.
"I don't have any pressures on me right now," he claimed. "It's just fun time. Like the last day of class in high school. You just come here and enjoy it. You just come here, do your thing and enjoy it while it lasts."
So what about those high expectations this year on himself and the team?
"I think there's always gonna be expectations," replied Pendergraph. "This year it's like ‘oh, they're overhyped now because they did so good last year. They're not gonna do it again – they're gonna fall flat on their faces…people always have something to say."
"And then you have people saying ‘they're gonna be ten times better than they have ever been in history of college basketball.' There's always the extremes. It doesn't even matter what people say and what their expectations are. It matters what our expectations are. We expect ourselves to play hard and capitalize on opportunities when we're supposed to and not just play victim to circumstances."
Being the only senior on the team, evokes a wide range of emotions for Pendergraph, and has him reflect on the past, as well as the future.
"It stinks," he said of being the lone freshman, "because I didn't come here by myself. I try and remember all the people that have fallen off. I remember them and this helps remind me of how I got here. Definitely my friends that I have met here, like Sylvester (Seay) have definitely helped me get to where I am today. It's nice though, because on Senior Day, I'm all by myself. It's kind of fun."
Fun is also an adjective that can describe ASU's offense this year, as it will feature a more up tempo style that will push the ball more often than last season. "Is that what Coach [Herb] Sendek said?" asked Pendergraph with a smile, "because I bet he did. He thinks we're gonna push the heck out of the ball. I would hope so. That would definitely play to my strengths, since I'm not a slow big man. Definitely pushing the ball more on fast breaks, I think that will definitely help our team get a couple easy points every game. Everyone on our team runs, not just me, so I think that it will definitely help."
The fact that Sun Devils return a very experienced squad, is obviously one reason why the coaching staff feels comfortable about introducing a new style. Yet, expectations in practice will obviously be crystal clear for the vast majority of players on the squad.
"Coach Sendek is always ready to change things up," explained Pendergraph. "So, I don't think practices will be the same as last year. They might be smoother, but they're going to be a little more intense. I'll make sure of that. Losing Antwi (Atuahene)…that was our energy guy in practice. We don't have him anymore. Me being the senior, guess what my role is now? Practices are about to be way more intense than I think they were before. I think with the experience, practice will run a lot smoother because it's not a learning process anymore. It's more like repetition. It's just getting it down and fine-tuning things, it's not like a whole brand new system."
And experience will naturally breed comfort on the court.
"It just changed from just coming down on a fast break," said Pendergraph, "not being able to get a fast break point and looking at bench and asking ‘what do we do?' to ‘all right coach, you can go ahead sit down. You don't even have to say anything. This is what we're gonna run.' We can know the plays now especially going through last year. We know how teams are gonna play us and we know the offense better than anyone else. Nobody has seen it yet. The evolution of the offense is gonna give us a better advantage."
Pendergraph said that this offense has grown with the players. "Whatever guys have been telling you they're getting better at, what they're doing well, that's what the offense is gonna cater to," remarked the senior. "It's not gonna be like a set box that says ‘this is your game, but this is what the offense says you have to play.' The offense is gonna go around you and how you have grown as a player."
"That's' a sign of a good coach. It's not like ‘this is what I want to run, and if you don't wanna run it you have to get out of here.' It's more like ‘these are my players and my players change from year to year regardless of recruits, transfers.' Your players evolve getting older, stronger, better at what you do. Changing the offense to help your players, expand as players, shows how great coach Sendek is and what he's trying to do. He's not forcing his players to grow within a mold. He's letting them grow as much as they want. You're only limited by how hard you wanna work."
In terms of personal improvement the forward listed a few areas where he refined his skills. "Those last-second shot-clock 3's are done. I'm not doing those anymore," he claimed. "I'll still shoot them, just not with five seconds on the shot clock. It will be with 20 seconds on the shot clock. I'm not going to shoot one every ten games. I'll shoot one every five minutes. I worked on everything though; ball handling, not being just staying a back-to-the-basket type player. Things are changing. I'm not focused on going to the NBA right now, but I know that right there, being able to face up and go by people, along with scoring with my back to the basket is definitely gonna help my game. It will be a lot harder to guard me right now and will help me out in the future."
Pendergraph's work the weight and conditioning program has paid dividends already. "You tell me. What do you see?" asked a playful Pendergraph. "I've gotten bigger and I know I got a lot stronger. I think my big thing for me right now is my conditioning. Not to toot my horn, but I think I'm in the best shape that I've ever been in my whole college career. I might be able to hang with anyone in the conference right now."
"I worked all summer on it, and have not stopped since we got done with Florida. Every time, I weight lifting, working out, I am a treadmill. I think conditioning wise is a big thing for me. I think that's gonna help, because it's a lot harder to win a game when you're tired than when you're nice and fresh."
Many among the Sun Devil nation still have a hard time putting aside the memory of not being invited to the NCAA tournament last year. Pendergraph has filed that incident far in the past, as he did the infamous goal tending call he received against USC's Davon Jefferson in the Pac-10 tournament. That controversial infraction prevented ASU from having a chance to win a game that should have sealed an invitation to the big dance.
Again, the carefree forward won't fret over past events.
"Why would I think about it?" asked Pendergraph, "When everyone that was there, the players, Davon Jefferson said it, (USC coach Tim) Floyd said it, the refs said it – dang that was a good play. That's nothing to lose sleep (over) or pull my hair out. It's just basketball and not everything is perfect. You don't always gave a perfect game, refs don't always ref a perfect game…why even sweat it? Everyone makes mistakes. Just keep it moving and play the game."
The big dance snub was also hurtful because archrival Arizona, who was swept by the maroon and gold, did get a bid. To those who think that because of last season's results ASU is on the same level in terms of overall program as the Wildcats, Pendergraph offers some logical arguments against.
"It's not like they have beaten us just once or twice," stated Pendergraph. "They have been beating us for awhile. I think it's going to take a little bit of time for us to be on that powerhouse level like they have been. Coach (Lute) Olson has gone to the tournament 20 some ridiculous amount of times. I haven't even been to the tournament. He's been to the tournament more times than I've been alive. You can't really compare that. I think we are definitely on the right path to becoming a recognized basketball school and not just a party school, or the little brother to U of A. It's starting to be a little more equal, but they're still U of A they haven't lost any of their prestige or anything."
For the first two games of last season, Pendergraph shared the paint with 6-10 245 Eric Boateng. It was a short lived starting lineup as the junior was regulated to spelling Pendergraph the rest of the year. Pendergraph is happy to see the improvements that Boateng has gone through as he prepared for this season.
"I almost weight as much as Boateng," said Pendergraph. "I might pass Eric in weight by the time we start playing. That's gonna say a whole lot about me and ‘Boat.' I'm still growing and filling out my body and Eric is shaping up and getting his body right, being the athlete he should be."
"I think it would make things a whole lot easier," said Pendergraph about sharing the court with his fellow big man. "I remember going against the (former Stanford) Lopez twins (Brook and Robin). You would go by one and there was another one right there. I was like, ‘how did he get back here so fast?' That was quick."
"I figure having two big bodies down there will help. If I don't get (the rebound), I don't have to worry about someone like Jerren (Shipp) or Rik (Kuksiks) 6-5 or 6-6 having to go and fight a 6-10 guy for it. If I don't get it, then I know Boateng will get it. If he doesn't get it, then he knows I'll get it, so we can just both run the court all day. I think it will make things a lot easier. It will make us a lot bigger and a lot harder for teams to push us around and try to impose their size and weight on us."
Part of having a size disadvantage is being probe to fouls, and more often than not Pendergraph was in foul trouble. The senior promises a different approach so he can remedy this problem.
"If somebody is going to score, then just go ahead," he said. "Your two points is worth way less than my one foul. Not to sound like I'm conceding, but if it's not something I can get why even put myself in that situation to sit on the bench because of foul trouble. That hurts our team and gives the other team an advantage. The longer I can stay on the court, the harder we are to beat. Your two points right now is not going to be worth more later when I have two or three extra fouls I can give. Now I don't have to worry about just letting you score because I have four fouls. I can't foul out, because that's eight points instead of just two."
And as senior he hopes to get respect from Pac-10 officials in the 2008-09 campaign.
"I might have to go to the Pac-10's refs conference and tell them ‘you know how I play. I'm intense. So just talk to mean don't just start giving me little fouls. I'm a senior right now.' You would think the senior veteran guys would get a little more leniency. Who knows…?"
High expectations and pre-season accolades have naturally caused a stir on campus. All this excitement has required Pendergraph to re-evaluate his time management skills.
"On campus it's definitely a better experience than it was before," he acknowledged. "It's like dang I need to leave ten minutes early (to class) so I can go ahead and deal with the people that tell me how excited they are for the upcoming season, how happy they are that me and James stayed, that they bought season tickets, they wish the season started now…it's just random people. Students, alumni, professors. It's just fun because it wasn't like that before."
"It's fun. I love it," stated Pendergraph. "Fans are just as excited about the season as we are. They're ready to go. They have their face paint, Herbivores shirts on, signs for players, coaches and teams. I guarantee you that the first Pac-10 home game there's gonna be a line in front of Wells Fargo (Arena) just like there is one at football games."
Speaking of classes, Pendergraph is scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in Economics and is taking four classes this semester as his wraps up his bachelor's. Another thing that excites the senior are the proverbial ‘blow-off' classes he'll take in the spring.
"I don't know…golf, pottery, jazzercise, Tae Bo…something fun."
What about broadcasting for this media lover?
"I could do that to. That would be fun, interviewing myself after a game. ‘So Jeff, how did you feel about that performance…well, Jeff I feel pretty good.' I'll have to run it by you guys to proofread my interview."