Men's Team Prepares for Season Opener

For the first time this century the Arizona State Sun Devils men's basketball team is starting a season with national hype and high expectations. Head coach Herb Sendek and his players realize the hype, but for now are just trying to improve as Friday's opener against Mississippi Valley State draws near.

"Well right now we're really focused on Arizona State. We're trying to take advantage of every opportunity to get better. We have a lot of work to do," said Sendek. "The tricky part about Friday's opener is that it's Mississippi Valley State's first game and they have a new head coach. So we really go into the game without a lot of information in terms of scouting to provide for our players."

"We're going to have to rely on habits. We're going to have to rely on the ability to make adjustments as things present themselves and we get a better idea of what they're going to do against us."

The Sun Devils participated in scrimmages against other teams during the last two weekends and the results have been mixed. Two weeks ago they went on the road and lost a tough game at New Mexico without senior center Jeff Pendergraph. This past weekend they traveled they hosted UNLV and came away with a win despite losing superstar guard James Harden to a foot injury late in the game. Despite the outcomes and minor injury setbacks Sendek stated that the team is progressing.

"We've gotten better over the last week," said Sendek. "We've made some improvements. It's good every time you go out and play. You get good feedback. You need to play against other teams. I definitely think we've made progress and we'll continue to do that every time we're out."

"We're actually a little banged up. Fortunately we've been able to go through the preseason so far without anything really bad happening. Jeff (Pendergraph) missed about a week with a quad strain then he had a bruise on his back. James (Harden) hurt his foot a little bit at the end of the scrimmage on Saturday so he'll probably need a couple days to recover."

Sendek added later that he does not think Harden's injury will force him to miss any time.

While the ASU head coach is trying to keep his players grounded and focused on improving, sophomore guard Jamelle McMillan thinks that the high preseason ranking (no. 15) could actually improve the team and make everyone better in the long run.

"I wasn't necessarily surprised (at the team's high ranking) just because I've talked to a lot of people and a lot of people behind the scenes expect a lot from us this year," remarked McMillan. "It changes our season completely. How we approach it, what we're doing to prepare for it. But ultimately the key is for us to go out and play the way we've been taught and play the way we know how to play. "

"It makes it that much more fun. The way you think about it, your approach towards it. It just makes you feel somewhat bigger than being picked dead last in the conference. Saying you have nothing to lose every single time you go out and play. That feeling we've felt for a while. Going out now we're expecting to beat teams and we hold ourselves to a higher standard so I think we're going to improve individually and collectively as a group."

Arizona State fans and the people of the greater Phoenix area are starting to take notice of this improved Sun Devil squad as well. With the season quickly approaching a large amount of fans have turned their attention towards the basketball team in hopes of forgetting a disappointing football season. After suffering through a couple painful years with low fan support Jeff Pendergraph has really noticed a difference in the fans' attitudes.

"When I'm on campus there are a lot of people that are glad basketball is starting, getting tired of football. I think that's pretty cool because it has never been like that," described Pendergraph. "Football is always buzzing and the little time in between when they're both going at the same time no one knows basketball even started yet until Pac-10 play starts."

"But now people are like ‘Man, we can't wait. We're tired of football.' I'm already thinking there are going to be people in lines waiting outside to get into Wells Fargo for the student section. It's getting pretty intense right now."

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