Nonetheless, once you look back at the entire season and reflect on it, it was far from a bad year. There was much accomplished, and winning over 20-games when virtually every pundit in the pre-season was projecting much less than that, should certainly be a point of pride for ASU.
The losses of James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph obviously made everyone wonder what the makeup and the identity of this squad would be. The Sun Devils did end up being better defensively than the 08-09 group, but as stated many times before – the margin of error for the team throughout the season was always razor thin. This required this group to be more cohesive than ever and by and large ASU demonstrated that trait time and time again in this past campaign.
Ty Abbott – (12.0 PPG, 40% 3PT)
The junior exhibited noticeable leadership by example on and off the court, and picked up the offensive slack when his team needed it the most. His season was highlighted by a spectacular 28-point performance against Arizona in Tucson leading ASU to a precious rivalry victory. With Harden's departure, Abbott took upon himself to drive to the basket more and he normally was successful in that area. His offensive and leadership role will be even bigger next season as the Devils will look to the former Phoenix Desert Vista star to be their go-to guy when duty calls.
Rihards Kuksiks – (12.1 PPG, 38% 3PT)
Easily the Devils' most dangerous outside shooting weapon. When he is on his game, Kuksiks is simply unstoppable. His shooting kept ASU in many games and was the difference in numerous wins. His offensive game expanded more this season than in years past and he had great success with running leaners and mid-range jumpers to keep defenses honest. His defense lacked consistency, and he was even yanked out of the starting lineup late in the season for poor effort. However, when he did put his mind to it, he showed marked improvement over last year in rebounding and steals. Overall, Kuksiks is becoming more of an all-around player than ever before.
Derek Glasser – (10.1 PPG, 4.8 APG)
ASU is losing one of the best players they have had in the last decade. Coming out of a state championship team in Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia, the point guard was a late signee in Sendek's first recruiting class. Glasser was a confident player who was smart with the ball and a great distributor. His leadership was second to none and his competitive nature drew the ire of everyone he faced. He was hated by every other Pac-10 school and that is something to take serious pride in. After all, they don't hate you if you're not good.
Eric Boateng – (8.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG)
Let's be honest here, based on his past performance who really thought Boateng could seriously average 8 points and 7 rebounds for a 22 win team? In a conference short on solid big men, the Sun Devil center was for the most part a force to be reckoned with throughout the season. While he was hardly the team's top offensive option, he was a great presence that had some truly tremendous games over the season including a perfect 11 of 11 shooting night in Palo Alto to lead the way over Stanford.
Jamelle McMillan – (6.6 PPG, 2.8 APG)
As is often the case with McMillan, his impact didn't come solely through statistics. However, he did everything that was asked of him, played very well on top of the zone defense, and like Abbott and Glasser was one of the undeniable leaders on this team who gave great effort every day in practice and on game days.
His shooting improved greatly this year and he gained more confidence with the ball in his hands. He will be counted on heavily in ASU's backcourt next season. Therefore, he will need to work even harder on both those aspects to become a viable offensive threat. He may split the ball handling duties next season with Walker and 2010 class commit Brandon Dunson but McMillan's basketball IQ is unparalleled and will be the team's leader.
Trent Lockett – (6.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG)
A player oozing with energy and athleticism, Lockett seemed to bounce around the court and his explosiveness was a big plus that awarded him significant minutes each game and aided him in earning a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshmen team. Having said that, he had the typical ups and downs that any newcomer encounters and did hit the proverbial "freshman wall" on one than more occasion.
Lockett will be expected to play even a bigger role in the offense next season and his perimeter game and ball handling will need some work. He only made four shots beyond the arc this year and that number will need to dramatically pick up in this offensive scheme. Nonetheless, his ability to slash into the paint and his rebounding are precious assets for a team that isn't known to be deft in those areas. Lockett is an extremely cerebral young man, who will have to do less thinking and allow his athletic gifts and instincts to take over in order to improve his all-around skills.
Jerren Shipp – (4.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
He wasn't the most athletic player on the team or the best shooter but Shipp was a vital cog to this program not just this season but over his whole career. Finished the year much better than he started it, and was instrumental in ASU's win in Tucson. Shipp is a player who did a bit of everything and never backed down from a tough assignment – he will be missed.
A highly touted recruit, the athletic freshman was an explosive offensive force at times. Yet was often a bit frenetic when he got into games and had an inconsistent jumper. He will naturally benefit greatly from Glasser's departure and should build on his generally good defensive skills. When Walker reaches the point where he can harness his energy in a positive manner, play at a high gear both in practice and during games, he will certainly be able to become a significant part of this Sun Devil team.
The Devils were thin in the post this year and Rohde was able to contribute some good minutes as he bulked up and played much more aggressively than his freshman year. In fact, he led the team in taking offensive charges and generally was a good rebounder. On the other hand, he often had a hard time finishing around the basket. With Rohde in tow as well as Ruslan Pateev and the newcomer Jordan Bachynski – it will be very interesting to see who emerges from the pack to be the starting center for next year's ASU team.
Frustration is the word that can best sum up this past season for the forward. It has been well documented how Rudd waited nearly the whole semester to gain academic clearance from the NCAA and the true freshman was never able to recover. Consequently, he let that situation get the best of him and his first year in Tempe was essentially a wash.
Being able to convert that strong sense of dissatisfaction into positive energy will naturally determine whether he will find success in the maroon and gold. If he can establish consistency in every aspect of his live, make the necessary sacrifices every good player eventually has to make, he has a very good chance to effectively utilize his basketball gifts. Rudd's potential is irrefutable but his everyday effort, much like Walker's, is something that continues to be questioned. A full pre-season practice session with the coaching staff would be a welcomed change and could work wonders for Rudd.
As the saying goes "you can't coach someone to be seven feet", but what Pateev will have to do is put on some pounds and work on his post game. Much like Lockett, the grind of the long season did slow down what was by and large a solid start. If Pateev can get considerably stronger and learn a few face-up and back-to-the basket moves, he will get a lot of playing time regardless whether he's starting or not.
Most Valuable Player
What a difference a year makes. Last season, After one of the most prolific freshmen seasons in ASU history, Abbott became one of the biggest offensive liabilities imaginable in his second season in Tempe. Simply put, Ty Abbott redefined the term sophomore slump.
This year, Abbott became a man possessed when Herb Sendek opened up the offense early in the Pac-10 season. While the team was quite balanced throughout the year, Abbott's game took a giant step forward. The junior averaged 12 PPG and shot 40% from 3-Pt land and those exploits earned him a spot on the All-Pac-10 first team.
Most Improved Player
A season ago, the Sun Devils won 25 games behind James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph. While Harden was one of the best players in the country, Pendergraph may have been more important to the team because without him, the Devils had just about zero interior presence.
Pendergraph's backup was Eric Boateng, an uncoordinated Duke transfer that had done very little since coming to Tempe. With JP gone, Boateng became the man in the middle this season and he surprised everyone when he came storming out of the gates becoming a real option on the offensive end. After averaging just 2 PPG and 2 RPG in 09-10, the Englishman put up 8.8 PPG and 7.2 RPG to solidify the post all season.
Deciding this matter is a tough call. With a knack for struggling in big games this season, the Devils were regulated to the NIT after the NCAA Tournament committee passed on them due to a perceived bland resume. With no real signature victories and a patsy-filled non-conference slate, the Devils had a nice record but nothing to show for it.
However, if I were to settle on one victory that stands out over the rest, I would probably select the 73-69 win in Tucson. After getting trounced at home by the Wildcats in Sean Miller's first visit to Tempe as Arizona's head coach, the Devils returned the favor as U of A failed to make the postseason for the first time in 25 years.
The loss to Stanford in the Pac-10 Tournament popped ASU's tournament bubble without question but the worst defeat on the year had to be the NIT loss to Jacksonville. It was an embarrassing display of apathy as the Devils relinquished an 11-point lead with just less than four minutes while the Dolphins won on a virtual last second shot. So what if it's the NIT? This program shouldn't take any postseason games for granted. Hopefully (and for good reasons) we won't have to worry about any NIT losses anytime in the near future.
As we said before, his statistics don't jump out at anyone, but there was no question that when Jamelle McMillan was not in the lineup, the Sun Devils weren't half the team they were with the junior on the floor. When McMillan missed time with Plantar Fasciitis, ASU couldn't move the ball very well and even worse, the defense was getting sliced up. In his absence, the Devils lost crucial games to Cal and Arizona at home. A split in those contests, let alone a sweep would all but assure ASU a return trip to the NCAA Tournament regardless of their Pac-10 tournament results. Even though he may have taken a step back after coming back from that injury, he was unquestionably one of the team's biggest contributors prior to that setback and that was largely unexpected.
It will be a new look ASU team next season. With as many as five players potentially departing, the Devils will welcome a new batch of newcomers with open arms. Leading the 2010 class will be Keala King, a swingman out of LA who has drawn comparisons to Harden. Another impact recruit is the 2010 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, Corey Hawkins – the state's all-time leading scorer who plays bigger than his 6'2 frame. Chanse Creekmur (currently committed but not signed) out of Iowa will look to do what Johnny Coy couldn't. An athletic small forward, Creekmur could be a real force if he bulks up and can add some interior moves to his repertoire. The two wild-cards in this class are Jordan Bachynski and Brandon Dunson. The 7-2 Bachynski will return from his Mormon mission and step right into the mix for playing time down low while JUCO transfer Dunson (currently just a commit) could immediately fill the void left by Derek Glasser.
With a proven defensive scheme that has seen the maroon and gold improve in that area every year in Sendek's tenure, this Sun Devil team will go as far as their offensive talents can take them. Therefore, offensive improvement will be detrimental for ASU to improve on this year's record. Specifically speaking, the maroon and gold will have to show their prowess to score off the bounce and with a unit that should be noticeably more athletic next year that feat should be in reach.
If there are any deficiencies on the other side of the court, then guarding the ball and rebounding would surely be two aspects at the top of the to-do list for 2010-11. Again, athleticism should help in this area as well.
The overall hope is that this past season was a merely but a speed bump in ASU's rise to Pac-10 prominence. While the NCAA Tournament evaded them, a strong returning nucleus to go along with what could be an underrated recruiting class, the Devils will be right back where they should be next March. Herb Sendek has undoubtedly awoken a sleeping program and turned in three straight 20-win seasons so far – a fourth in 2010-11 has come to be expected. The Pac-10 stands to be a much more challenging conference next season the Sun Devils should be at or near the top of the standings when all is said and done.