Q&A with ASU Hoops Analyst Brad Nahra

Former ASU basketball player Brad Nahra is in the midst of his first season as a color analyst for the Sun Devil network's radio broadcast, and has been impressed with the 11-1 non-conference record by the maroon and gold. As the Pac-10 season is about to start, Devils Digest caught up with Nahra to get his thoughts on the current state of ASU basketball and their prospects in league play.

Brad Nahra was a ‘recruited' walk-on from Lexington, Ky., who played at Arizona State from 1998 through 2002. He earned a scholarship for his sophomore and junior seasons, and played in in 70 games for the Sun Devils.

He earned his Business and Communications degree in 2002 and has stayed in the valley ever since, working in the real estate field. He never stopped following his alma mater, and his passion and knowledge of the game aided him in getting hired as ASU's basketball radio color analyst teaming up with the voice of the Sun Devils, Tim Healey.

Nahra was excited upon his hire, and suffice to say that he's elated to begin his broadcasting career having a floor seat and a close look at one of the best Sun Devil squads in recent memory.

Devils Digest: Brad, ASU fans are naturally excited with the team's 11-1 record so far in the 2008-09 season. As someone who has watched this closely since the season tipped-off, how would you evaluate this team at the end of their non-conference slate?

Brad Nahra: "It's always tough to get a good gauge on a team in the pre-conference (schedule). You might play one or two good teams, but you also play a lot of teams from smaller conferences. But at 11-1 I think they played very well, especially in the last week or two.

"Being 11-1 certainly beats the alternative, and even though they beat just a couple of major conference teams it's better than being 7-4. They're taking care of business."

DD: To no one's surprise, James Harden is the focal point of the team on offense and carrying out that duty very well so far. Even though he's obviously the main focus of opposing defenses, how has he been able to play at such a high level this season?

BN: "I think he's gotten a lot better from last year to this year. I think he got stronger, maybe a little bit taller. He's finishing plays a lot better than he did last year and his jump shot has really come along nicely, after he started off kind of slow.

"But in the Pac-10 it will get tougher. They are guys in the Pac-10 that are defensive stoppers, like (USC's) Daniel Hackett, that will really lock him up and are really long and athletic. So James is gonna have games where he's scoring in the low teens and guys like Rik (Rihards Kuksiks) and Ty (Abbott) will really have to step up."

DD: On that note, how do you think Kuksiks and Abbott have performed in the first 12 games?

BN: "I think Rik has been very consistent and is the most improved player on the team. Quickly he's becoming a fan favorite. His shot has gotten better, he has gotten better on the interior on the offensive end, and more aggressive on the glass. He's still a little bit of a liability on defense, but he has improved so much on the offensive end that you can live with it.

"Ty hasn't shot the ball as well as I would have liked to see him do, but he is a streaky shooter. He has a short term memory and is always able to make the next four or five in a row. I'd like to see his shooting percentage go higher but he is always a dangerous player and he has gotten a lot better putting the ball of the floor."

DD: Jeff Pendergraph had a slow start, but has picked up his play lately…

BN: "He did have the slow start, but you hadn't had to rely on him a whole lot because the team was shooting the ball well and he didn't have that many touches. In games where he had the advantage down low he did play well.

"But obviously in the Pac-10 the competition gets a lot tougher and you have to go inside. That interior game has to be there. After a few games Ty was leading the team in rebounds but Jeff is up there now with seven rebounds a game, so that's fine. I do expect him to get the ball more in the upcoming weeks, because when you play in a major conference you have to throw the ball inside and score."

DD: The current rotation has been pretty much seven players, and reserves Jamelle McMillan and Jerren Shipp are averaging 15 and 16 minutes per game. Eric Boateng just eight minutes per game. In your mind, should we be concerned about the short bench and fairly low minutes per game by the Sun Devil reserves?

BN: "I don't think they have another choice, and they will just keep on going with that rotation. I would like to see Eric contribute a little bit more, and there were such high expectations on this McDonald's All-American transferring from Duke. But you have to realize that he won't be a 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) player, but he will be a guy that will get you solid minutes, not do anything spectacular but not make a lot of mistakes either.

"It would be great to be able to go nine, ten players deep, but Herb Sendek has the seven, eight players he can rely on night in and night out and that's what it has to play with."

DD: Just like it has been every year in the Herb Sendek era, ASU's matchup zone defense has been very effective. Why is scheme so hard for opponents to attack?

BN: "I think one the main reasons, and you really can't see that unless you're at practice or at the game, are that the players communicate so well. They do a good job locating players, recognizing when a player will cut, and things like that.

"The one game they really had problems with their defense was BYU, because they did a good job getting into the nooks and crannies of the zone. Baylor obviously solved that defense. IUPUI solved it for one half.

"I often hear Herb say that the style of defense that you run really doesn't matter whether it's zone or man-to-man, it sometimes just comes down to how well you guard people. That's what he really preaches to his guys. You have to get out to the shooters, you have to guard dribblers – you have to use all the man-to-man defensive principles.

"But again, if you do a good job communicating and locating people it's a hard defense to play against. You have to be so disciplined to beat that zone and that's so difficult to do over a 40-minute period."

DD: On the flip side, what has been working really well for the ASU offense to improve its production from last year?

BN: "It's no secret that it all hinges on James. He's probably the best in the country driving the basketball and he draws so much attention on defense that his teammates can get wide open shots.

"It's also that they are so disciplined on offense. Herb has thought them so well. I know it looks like a structured offense when you watch a game, but the players have a lot more freedom than it looks like. They're instructed to create action, and it doesn't necessarily involve a ball screen or a back screen. It can be one of four or five different things and they do that very well.

"Here too, communication is another reason why they are so successful. If you watch them in practice or closely in a game they are constantly calling out ball screens, back screens, calling guys to ‘dive'. It's actually a thing of beauty to watch up close and personal."

DD: You obviously followed the Pac-10 in the non-league portion of the season. How does the conference race shape up this year?

BN: "I think top to bottom the Pac-10 is one of the more competitive conferences in the country. That's not to say that they're the best conference in the country, and they're probably a couple of notches below the Big East and conferences like that.

"Obviously ASU and UCLA have gotten the most fanfare. Russ Pennell has done an awesome job down in Tucson with Arizona, and people are quick to forget that they have three really good players in Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Nic Wise. In college basketball, sometimes that's all you need. So I'm expecting them to be competing for the championship as well.

"USC is starting to come together. Demar DeRozan is starting to find his way and Taj Gibson is just an animal inside. I know Jordan Hill gets a lot of credit, but Gibson may be the best big man in the league.

"A lot of people have obviously made a big deal with Stanford losing Brook and Robin Lopez, and forgot that they have players like Mitch Johnson who have been on the team for a few years returning with a lot of experience. They also have a pretty good coach in Johnny Dawkins. I think they're gonna be a very competitive team.

"A team that has a coach like Mike Montgomery is always going to be involved, so Cal is another good team. I think Oregon once they figure everything out, is a team that can do enough damage with the talent they have and upset some people.

"This is a year where I don't think you'll see someone with a record like 16-2 winning the conference. You'll probably see a 14-4 or 13-5 team win the conference. Overall, I think this will be an awesome Pac-10 season with a lot of competitive games night in and night out."

DD: You spoke of Russ Pennell, and it's probably pretty weird that you're replacing your former assistant coach as ASU's color guy while he's the head coach at Arizona?

BN: "Yeah, it's kind of an interesting situation. I have some big shoes to fill because I was listening on the radio last year and Russ did an awesome job. He's one of the better color analysts out there. I'm still good friends with Russ and he was happy that I got the job and still wanted to make sure I said good things about him when he was at U of A."

DD: What kind of advantage do you think Pennell will have when ASU faces Arizona this year. He naturally has intimate knowledge of the Sun Devils, a team that hasn't changed all that much from last year.

BN: "Obviously he will have that intimate knowledge, but one thing I do like about Herb is that he doesn't necessarily coach every single game the same way and doesn't approach every single season the same way. He evolves as the season progresses and I'm sure Herb will counter the fact that Russ knows ASU pretty well. Herb is a very smart guy if people haven't figured that out yet."

DD: Do you think that ASU will meet all the expectations that have been put on them at the beginning of the year, namely finishing in the top three in the Pac-10 and making the NCAA tournament?

BN: "It's hard to say for certain, but I know that the expectations aren't too lofty. The thing is that college basketball this year, more than any year that I can remember, is experiencing a lot of parity. Aside from North Carolina, it's very difficult to rank # 2 to #100.

"ASU is looking really good at #14 with an 11-1 record. Where do they go from here, I don't know. As we all know, teams can really get hot or really cold as the season goes on. I expect them to be in the NCAA tournament, and what they can do there is yet to be determined. But if they get a good draw there, I don't think it's unrealistic that they can go all the way to the elite eight or even beyond that.

"I've been very impressed with what they have done so far."


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