Devils Go Dancing, Play Memphis on Thursday

At 4:32 PM Arizona time the already gusting winds outside of Wells Fargo Arena kicked up another several notches. This was due to the collective exhaling by the ASU coaches, players, and 500 fans who finally learned that the Sun Devils will be part of March Madness. However, waiting those anxious several minutes hardly diminished the jubilation of a team and its fans who waited eight years to go this prestigious tournament. The Devils will play in the West region in Oklahoma City on Thursday.

The ASU announcement came very deep into the selection show. Nevertheless, coach Rob Evans was confident all the way. "They tried to make us wait until the last minute. But we waited eight years, so we certainly could wait a few more minutes…we didn't have any nerves. Our RPI was 32, and our strength of schedule is 14. We lost to only one team that wasn't in the top 50 RPI. We did our due diligence, and we thought the committee would reward us for that."

When Evans addressed those in attendance he was extremely delighted in what his squad had accomplished. "This is a tremendous day for this basketball team and this program. I'm so proud of these guys, especially the seniors. Four years ago they believed in the dream that we talked about, that we wanted to be sitting here watching the pairings on selection Sunday. It's a tremendous tribute for them. They worked extremely hard to get to this point, and I pushed them a lot so all the students and the fans can relish in this moment."

The ASU coach wasn't apprehensive facing a 23-6 Memphis team who has been playing very well as of late. "I feel good about the bracket and our chances. Any team that is in the tournament is a tough out. I'm familiar a little with Memphis and coach Calipari. It's a good team for us to play…we'll know more about them this evening, and our coaches are gonna go to work. We'll get the films that we have, and talk to as many people as we can." He also felt very confident about his team's play going into the big dance. "These guys have been business like all season long. Every time we asked them to step up to the plate they have. Last week (against the Oregon schools) they had to win a couple of games so we can make it to this point, and they did."

Being launched into a major rebuilding project five years ago, Evans gains great satisfaction when he reflects on the fruits of his labor. "When we heard any negative comments, my wife reminded me that we were here before. This isn't my first rodeo; we did the same thing with Mississippi. We wanted to reward the school for their patience. We stayed the course, and it's rewarding not only for me but also for my staff. They were recruiting hard when there were doors slammed in their face, but they did continue to knock on those doors…this is just the beginning of getting this thing on the ground. We still have a lot of work to do, and we know what we have to do to get it to the next level. …I'm appreciative of this university allowing me to build this thing brick by brick. This is just the beginning of what we want this program to become"

Even though reaching the NCAA tournament was the biggest goal achieved this year, just achieving this feat doesn't satisfy Evans. "We're not only excited to be in this tournament, but we're excited to be playing again. We want to go and make some damage in this tournament. That being said, we have a lot of work to do." The ASU coach implored all Sun Devil fans to share in this grand occasion when the team plays in Oklahoma City on Thursday. "We need a huge crowd going there. If you guys get behind us, we'll make sure that we'll make you proud of the Sun Devil program."

"Whew!!!" That's the sigh of relief guard Kyle Dodd uttered when it was his turn to talk to the maroon and gold faithful in attendance. "That thing dragged on a little longer then we would have liked. The selection show kinda of went like the career of the seniors here. We slowly made it through, and finally made it to where we wanted it to be." Dodd reiterated Evans' feelings on not being satisfied just by making the tournament. "We're excited to be in the tournament. We're not finished here…we're not one and done. We're gonna try and get some excitement in Tempe back to Sun Devil basketball."

Center Ike Diogu said that he wasn't sure what he was feeling when the selection show announced the Sun Devils joining the field of 65. "I didn't know what to do. I really can't believe it. It's like a dream come true. I definitely knew that with coach Evans we could do it. But to actually get called on selection Sunday it's weird…you grow up watching this stuff, and now I finally get a chance to play in it. It is hard to sit down and digest this. I'm really overjoyed." The freshman sensation said that all he knew about Memphis was that "They got some pretty good big men." But just like his coach, he wasn't apprehensive about the matchup. "It didn't matter where we were, as long as we got in. I'm not concerned with the bracket we're in. That was a goal of ours, to make it to the tournament, and we were able to accomplish it."

Diogu said that he expects himself and his team to play hard, and "make some noise" in March madness. Furthermore, he doesn't feel that the pressure of the national media that is about to decedent on him will alter his game and his team's chances winning on Thursday. "I don't feel pressure. We can all play basketball, and that's what it comes down to. We have to take it like any other basketball game."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories