Most Valuable Player
Maybe it's cheesy to give two players equal credit but the most valuable player honors have to be shared by James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph. Harden has the hype and media buzz. The first AP All-American in school history, the sophomore lefty did it all for the Sun Devils this year and took home Pac-10 Player of the Year honors. With a bright NBA future on the horizon, Harden has likely played his last game in the Maroon & Gold but who knows; maybe he wants another crack at the tournament and a deeper run.
On the other hand, Jeff Pendergraph was the lone holdover from the Rob Evans era and is the only player on the team who really has seen the hard work pay off. Pendergraph was named to All Pac-10 second team and has a great chance to make a living in the NBA.
Most Improved Player
Last season, Rihards Kuksiks came in as a renowned sharpshooter without much else in his arsenal. This season, while still primarily a long-range gunner, Kuksiks really elevated his game across the board. With more confidence in his shot and good instincts on both ends, the Latvian sophomore finished the season with 10.3 PPG and a 44% mark from three point land. He finished his season on a high note with 20 points in the loss against Syracuse.
The biggest win is a tough call. Fresh on the mind is the victory over Temple in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the first tourney win in six years. That win was significant but the best of the season would be the win over UCLA in Westwood. Not only was it their first win at UCLA since 1995, it was a big win after a deflating loss two days prior at the hands of USC. The Sun Devils held the Bruins scoreless in the last 8 minutes of regulation and won in overtime.
Losing at Washington State at the buzzer in overtime still stings to this day. Taylor Rochestie's 30-footer was on the money and Ty Abbott's desperate heave fell short to ensure an Evergreen State sweep in the regular season. It was simply a game the Devils should have won and it would have helped their chances for the Pac-10 title as well as possibly a better seeding in the Tournament. That loss paired with the Stanford loss at home were two games that ASU should not have let slip away from them in the waning weeks of the season.
Three years ago, Derek Glasser was planning to walk on at USC; instead, he was offered a scholarship and has been a three-year starter for the Devils and really grew as a player in his junior campaign. His offensive game really jumped when the calendar changed to 2009. Glasser averaged 10.0 PPG over the last 24 games highlighted by hitting two huge shots to clinch the win over Arizona and then a career high 22 against Temple in the first round of the Tournament.
The offensive surge was great but his finest moment came in the Pac-10 Tournament when Glasser stood over Venoy Overton after Overton pulled James Harden to the ground in hotly contested Sun Devil victory in which Glasser scored 16 points.
Who is leaving?
The only departure that is assured is Pendergraph. The four year starter won 68 games as a Sun Devil and finished his phenomenal career with 12.6 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per contest. In his final campaign, Pendergraph averaged 14.5 PPG and 8.2 RPG. The other likely goner is Harden. After coming in as arguably the most heralded recruit in ASU history, Harden was the face of a rising program and led the team to three postseason wins.
Who is coming?
With Pendergraph gone and Harden likely out of the picture, the Sun Devils will have to regroup quickly and a strong recruiting class will help ease the pain of their departures. Already signed are wings Trent Lockett and Demetrius Walker as well as Russian big man, Ruslan Pateev. Lockett and Walker will step in to provide much needed scoring ability and depth in the backcourt while Pateev will likely get playing time right away in the depleted frontcourt. Lockett's team won a state championship in Minnesota and he is known for his impressive athleticism and Walker is a scoring machine that de-commited from USC to sign on with ASU. Pateev is a big body that is still learning all the facets of the game but is a strong rebounder and has a soft touch in the paint.
Herb Sendek has turned a program that was seemingly in ruins three seasons ago. His win total has jumped from 8 in his first season, 21 in his second season, and a staggering 25 wins in his third year. With one of his key players graduating and his star likely to depart, Sendek will have to find a way to get everyone else still around to step up their games.
Three starters will return in Glasser, Kuksiks and Ty Abbott while Eric Boateng is the top candidate to replace Pendergraph. If Harden stays, the team will be one of the country's best but if he leaves, the newcomers Lockett and Walker will be asked to play a big role. The general consensus is that Sendek and his Sun Devils are a team on the rise and will be a tournament contender for years to come. This is just the beginning.
James Harden – (20.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG)
There isn't much that can be said that hasn't been said already. In his two years in Tempe, Harden has been the face of a rising program and given the team an identity. If he stays for a junior season, the Devils will have four returning starters highlighted by Harden himself, the first AP All-American in school history and the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year. If he goes, he will be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft and will likely embark on a successful professional career.
Jeff Pendergraph – (14.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG)
As the years go by and Arizona State basketball starts taking bigger steps toward national prominence, Sun Devil fans will remember the big man whose finger prints are all over the resurrection of the program. While Harden garners national attention, it's Pendergraph who has been the catalyst through all the commotion. His soft touch, his tenacious rebounding, and his passion to win will be remembered in Sun Devil lore.
Derek Glasser – (8.8 PPG, 4.8 APG)
The gutsy floor general that never gets rattled, Glasser was the unsung hero of the season with his clutch play and fierce competitiveness. Once an afterthought in the recruiting process, Glasser was Sendek's first recruit and he has overcome some long odds to become one of the Pac-10's best point guards. His confidence to shoot the ball soared as the season carried on and he will be relied upon more often with the ball next season.
Rihards Kuksiks – (10.3 PPG, 44% 3PT)
As was mentioned above, Kuksiks' improvement this season was a huge reason the Devils were able to win 25 games this season. His ability to stretch defenses and ignite rallies while defusing opponents with his stroke can't be ignored. He is deadly from anywhere and when he was hitting his shots, defenses could not afford to keep doubling Harden and Pendergraph. Expect his responsibilities to expand next year and possibly a major scoring role in the offense.
Ty Abbott – (7.1 PPG, 28% 3PT)
The good news is that Abbott showed up when it mattered. The bad news is that Abbott was seemingly absent from Pac-10 play in which he was mired in a horrific shooting slump. When Abbott is playing well, that means he is knocking down jumpers and attacking the basket to keep defenses off balance. When Abbott is not, he is non-existent on the offensive end and allows defenses to clamp down on others. Abbott played extremely well in the final few weeks but next season; such a slump will not be acceptable.
Jamelle McMillan – (4.8 PPG, 1.8 APG)
Another guy who made a big improvement from year one to year two, McMillan was a big bright spot this season as he proved to be a formidable backup to Glasser while also showing he can be a dangerous shooter when left alone. His role will likely be expanded next season as ASU was successful with both Glasser and McMillan playing together.
Jerren Shipp – (2.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
With a thin bench, Shipp was called upon to play any number of roles depending on the situation this season. A smart player with good versatility, Shipp's role next season may diminish next season depending on the newcomer's abilities but his experience and IQ are important to the ball club.
Eric Boateng – (1.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
His development is still a major project but Boateng's time to step up is fast approaching. With Pendergraph graduating and moving on, Boateng is the lone experienced big man on the roster and his performance will be a factor next year. He played well in his minutes this season and showed flashes of brilliance with his post moves. He will need to gain more consistency in all facets to adequately replace Pendergraph and Boateng will work diligently to constantly improve his game.
Playing sparingly in his first year on campus, Rohde showed a solid inside-outside game and with some beefing up, could play a big role next season. Kraidon Woods
After a couple years fighting for minutes, Woods has a chance to make a big impact next season. A raw big man with a good skill set, Woods still has some bulking up to do but will vie with Rohde, Boateng, and Pateev for minutes down low.