With seven returning players and five freshmen breaking into the mold, the Sun Devils will have a solid balance of veterans and first-year players in the rotation. Among the returning players are Derek Glasser, Ty Abbott, and Rihards Kuksiks – starters on last year's squad who will all take upon much larger roles in the offense as the Devils will look to replace the 35 points per game that NBA rookies James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph combined to contribute last year.
The most common question asked by the media and Sun Devil fans alike is how ASU will manage offensively with the loss of two of the best players to ever don the maroon and gold?
It would be easy for the returning players to try and assume additional responsibilities as they try to replace the aforementioned tandem, but having said that it is crucial for them to not try and be the type of player that they cannot be capable of.
Players such as Glasser, Kuksiks and late in the season Abbott have proven to be successful and they will have to simply continue and play the same style that helped them flourish last season. They cannot but help feel confident in their abilities, and how they carried the team when Harden struggled in the post-season. It is that assurance that will be hopefully translate into a collective team confidence that will go a long way in helping the Sun Devils find similar success to the one experienced in the 08-09 campaign.
The best manner to adjust to this loss is to have the players, especially the veteran ones be as consistent as they can be. The offensive scheme, while being less structured than last year, is one that will still give players open looks to score and it is imperative that those chances are converted at a high rate. Exercising the necessary discipline and patience will be a crucial component on this side of the court.
The offense will be one that naturally fits the personnel on the team. It would be hard to label it one title or another, as Sendek is known for mixing and matching nuances of various schemes, on both ends of the court for that matter, to come up with a system that will put his players in the best chance to succeed.
ASU's zone defense, which again incorporates elements that wouldn't necessarily be part of a classic zone defense scheme, has generally been the bane for ASU opponents regardless if they won or lost their contests with the Sun Devils.
Nonetheless, some aspects of that scheme such as guarding the ball, defensive help, and blocking out are fundamentals that ASU will need to improve on in order to maintain the suffocating nature of this defense. With five newcomers on the team, teaching a fairly complex defensive system is just as challenging as having them learn the offense. While there has been noticeable improvement in how the true freshmen have done in this area from the beginning of the pre-season practices until now, it certainly is still work in progress. However, these young players have already demonstrated good work ethic which can combat the natural learning curve that are still experiencing.
Here's a look at the scholarship players on the 2009-10 ASU roster:
Derek Glasser – Even with Harden and Pendergraph around, Glasser was and still remains the true team leader. A heady point guard with loads of confidence, Glasser will be relied on more than ever this year as a scoring threat to go along with his already vast repertoire of tools. Mentally speaking, he has been in the last couple of years the proverbial go-to guy who runs the offense.
When Glasser is locked in and focused that attitude resonates to the rest of the team. It's role that will have to continue and embraced, but equally as important is for the senior to balance his by example leadership with a vocal guidance. His improvement from his freshman year until now has been nothing short of remarkable, and there's no reason why the former Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia standout cannot continue his trajectory of development.
Ty Abbott – Despite seeming to be missing in action for most of last season, at least offensively, Abbott turned his game around in a big way in the last month of the year and will looked upon to be an all-around offensive threat as well as maintaining his lockdown defensive presence. The former Phoenix Desert Vista player was dealt a setback having undergone an arthroscopic knee operation to repair his meniscus which not only caused him to miss virtually all of the pre-season practices, but will also sideline him for the first few contests of the year.
Even while he's not able to practice, he has shown some leadership and is mentoring the younger players. His presence on defense is invaluable for the ASU newcomers as they try and grasp the system Sendek and his staff will ask them to run. There is so substitute for experience and as a player who has started 65 of 69 games played in, his knowledge of the schemes the team is running is second to none.
Abbott is another player who absolutely shined offensively in the post-season. If he can pick up where he left he will prove to be an offensive weapon opponents will need to respect this time around. One of the more amazing statistics of this squad is that when Abbott scores in double digits ASU is 23-6.
Rik Kuksiks – The Latvian sharp shooter is another imperative component for success for the maroon and gold. Kuksiks returns for his junior season after being one of the nation's top three-point shooters a year ago. He ended last year eighth in the nation in three-point percentage (for players with a minimum of 2.5 made shots per game) shooting at a .443 clip beyond the arc.
Granted, with Harden and Pendergraph no longer commanding the attention of the defense, he may not enjoy as many open looks as last season. Yet, as mentioned, this offensive scheme will be designed continue to lower the resistance he will face when squaring off for a shot from downtown.
With the departure of Harden, Kuksiks will need to expand his offensive game and try driving to the basket more in an effort to keep defenders honest. This has been an ongoing transformation for the junior but Kuksiks cannot lose sight of what has brought him this far in his ASU career and that is a lethal jump shot.
The 6-6 forward is one of two defenders down low in ASU's zone, and while he has been effective in that role he will also have to be vocal in communicating with his teammates while defending and much like Abbott impart his wisdom on others especially from his vantage point behind the front line of the zone.
Jamelle McMillan – Another high-IQ floor general that has gradually shown more confidence as he gets more run, McMillan will see a lot more minutes this year and will also be looked on to score more than he has been in the past. Unlike Glasser and Kuksiks, he finished last season on a low note due to injury, but certainly showed some flashes during the season that he can build on for the 2009-10 campaign.
His level of maturity and professionalism has been at a high level ever since the junior has set foot in Tempe and those attributes have only skyrocketed from there. Not only is he the consummate leader by example who always does the proverbial "small things", but he has also stepped up his vocal leadership this year.
Eric Boateng – The Big Boat will get thrust into the spotlight from day one as he will be the primary big man trying to replace Pendergraph. Some as gone as far to label him the "X-factor" of this year's squad. After transferring from Duke, the former McDonald's All-American has struggled with consistency but has shown flashes of talent as well. Fortunately, by many accounts he has been the pre-season highlight for the Sun Devils.
Boateng is displaying confidence and rhythm, on both ends of the floor, that he has never exhibited in his maroon and gold tenure. He has become a better rebounder, making better decisions on offense and generally has shown the potential to take that next step in his development.
The senior has displayed more aggressiveness, an attribute he generally lacked thus far, and knows that the Sun Devils will have to heavily rely on him this year. At the same time he is also playing carefree letting the chips fall as they may, and this mindset has been a positive one as he prepares for his last go-around in Tempe.
Jerren Shipp – The versatile, and considerably slimmer, Shipp enters his last season with the Devils and more impressively, enters the last season of Shipp brothers playing in the Pac-10. Playing a number of roles in the past, Shipp will continue to be a basketball Renaissance man of sorts for Sendek. In some ways, he will be asked to hold down the fort until some newcomers are ready to assume greater roles. Shipp's hustle is something that the ASU freshmen should certainly take note of.
Taylor Rohde – A local product who enters his sophomore season with a little more experience and a much larger role. With Kraidon Woods and Pendergraph gone, Rohde returns as the lone experienced big man to back up Boateng. His outside shot is an attribute he was able to display at times and in Sendek's offense that characteristic is always desirable, especially for a big man. However, Rohde will have to become a better-rounded player, especially on defense, to ensure that when he does spell Boateng the drop-off on the court will be minimal.
Trent Lockett – the true freshman has already created some buzz in the pre-season and will be looked upon to make an immediate impact early in the year. Hailing from Minnesota, Hopkins he arrived on campus already in May and has worked hard to grasp the offensive schemes as well as Sendek's complex zone defense in order to succeed quickly.
At 6-5 185 Lockett brings an amazing ability to play above the rim, and for a true freshman he is very physical. Like all newcomers, especially with a cerebral player such as Lockett, once he thinks less and lets his instincts and physical gifts take over he will flourish.
Demetrius Walker – a bruising wingman, Walker will be a fiery complement to Lockett and has already shown in practice that he can put up points in a hurry. One thing that is slowing him down is his health as he went under the knife to repair his knee in the summer and was sick with the flu most of last week.
Nonetheless, in pre-season practices he got off to a solid start. Offensively, he has displayed a lot of confidence taking shots and overall making plays at this end of the floor as he has picked up the scheme relatively fast. The offensive system should also allow him to display his skills night in a night out.
Brandon Thompson – Somewhat unknown after flying under the radar throughout the recruiting process, Thompson is a solid combo guard that will back up Glasser and McMillan. In a short time on campus, and after a slow start, Thompson has shown good range on his trademark jumper and quick feet on defense, skills that are always endearing to Sendek and his schemes on both ends of the floor.
Like any true freshman, he still is in the process of learning the ins and outs of playing at the college level, and once he has mastered those aspects he should be able to contribute. Ruslan Pateev – Needless to say that the 7-0 240 Pateev is just a monstrous presence in the post, and will get his share of minutes (along with Rohde) spelling Boateng. He has been a pleasant surprise in the pre-season, has shown a soft touch in the paint and has impressed coaches with his court awareness, especially passing the ball.
On the other hand the physical aspect, especially lower body strength, is probably the biggest area the Russian native has to work on. Having said that, he is showing an ability to impose himself defensively in practice and overall is showing very good instincts on both ends of the floor.
Victor Rudd – a talented forward that is still waiting to learn his eligibility fate from the powers that be in the NCAA Clearinghouse. On paper, he was probably the true freshman that the team needed the most in terms of immediate contribution, which makes the situation that much more frustrating.
Not only was Rudd not able to participate in pre-season practices, but he also had to sit out the majority of individual workouts leading up to practice. Therefore, once he is reinstated he will greatly be behind the "eight ball" so to speak, and his development will naturally be slower than the rest of his fellow freshmen.
The 2009-10 squad is one of the more experienced teams in its league, that possess proven outside shooters and a defense that has a remarkable track record. When it will have its full allotment of players, the Sun Devils will be the deepest and the most athletic they have been under Sendek. There is a good balance between upperclassmen and newcomers, and that should serve the team well especially in the Pac-10 play.
Conversely, rebounding is an aspect that the maroon and gold will have to hone especially due to the fact that they play the type of defense that can be prone to giving up offensive caroms.
More than anything, the team will have to define their identity early in the season. The quicker that question is answered, the greater are the chances that this program can get the season off on the right foot and foster confidence both to itself and the fans. Again, it has a proven defensive scheme, yet it will be vital particularly with a good number of newcomers onboard, for that scheme to continue and be as effective as it has been in the last three seasons. Offensively, the team in the post-Harden and post-Pendergraph era, will have to play much more in unison now that it lacks the so-called go-to guy.
Nonetheless, it isn't farfetched to think that the nucleus of this team can help the newcomers grow up in a hurry and have a good chance to continue and build on its recent achievements, at least to some degree. There is no substitute for experience and luckily for the Sun Devils they still have a great deal of it.
Even with a solid core of veterans and an extremely exciting freshman crop, the Sun Devils will naturally still miss Harden and Pendergraph dearly. With that said, there is no reason to think that Herb Sendek and his staff will settle for a step backwards. There are great shooters and solid defenders that fit Sendek's schemes perfectly. A winning season overall is now expected and a finish in the middle of the Pac-10 standings is within reach. An 18 win season in 2009-10 could be in store.