2002-03 Pac-10 Preview #4 -ArizonaState Sun Devils

<p class=txt>This is by far my surprise pick for the 2002-03 Pac-10 Season, and to a certain extent…it's a reach. However, the Sun Devils finished in 7th Place a year ago, and I think they'll get a boost this year. They have added an excellent core of talent to go with a pretty solid group already in place, and with Coach Rob Evans now hearding into his 5th year - that seems to be his magical year.&nbsp;<br>

While at the University of Mississippi, Evans managed a .404 winning percentage during his 1st four years at the school…and now after his 1st four years at ASU, Evans has posted a .500 winning percentage. I think its fairly easy to say that the turnaround at Mississippi was a much tougher task to complete than in Tempe though. His final two years coaching the Rebels saw them playing in back to back NCAA Tourney's, clinching back to back SEC West Titles, and posting a .724 winning percentage. 

Not too shabby…

The Arizona State Sun Devils head into 2002-03 with very few question marks, and that has to be encouraging for their fans and the ASU Staff. As Coach Evans stated recently, "We have had the opportunity to compete with anyone in the league on any given night the past two years, and that is because of good depth, experience and also being able to recruit some good players. We'll have an experienced backcourt for the first time in our five years. Not only will our starters have a year of experience, but our guys off the bench have played a lot of games and give us great depth."

So with that, lets take a look at the Projected Starters, Bench, and Newcomers at ASU;

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold)
PG-Jason Braxton, 6-2 180 So. (6.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.3 apg) 
SG-Curtis Millage, 6-2 175 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.4 apg) 
SF- Jamal Hill, 6-6, 200 Jr. (El Cerrito HS/San Jose City College) 
F-Tommy Smith, 6-10 220 Sr. (11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2 apg) 
F/C-Ike Diogu, 6-9 240 Fr. (Garland HS, Garland TX) 

Key Returning Reserves: 
Donnell Knight, 6-7 195 Sr. (3.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.8 apg) 
Kenny Crandall, 6-3 195 Jr. (6.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Kyle Dodd, 6-0 175 Sr. (3.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.3 apg) 
Shawn Redhage, 6-7 225 Sr. (5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.2 apg) 
Chris Osborne, 6-9 245 Sr. (2.1 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.1 apg)
Justin Allen, 6'7 225 Jr. (1.8 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Recruiting Class;
Ike Diogu, 6-9, 240 Fr. (Garland HS, Garland TX) 
Jamal Hill, 6-6, 200 Jr. (El Cerrito HS/San Jose City College) 
Serge Angoungou, 6-7, 225 Fr. (Rio Grande HS, Albuquerque NM) 
Allen Morill, 6-6, 220 Fr. (Sam Houston HS, Arlington TX) 

I think this line-up will play very well for Coach Evans in 2002-03, and most of that starts in the Frontcourt with the combination of Tommy Smith and Ike Diogu. Smith, a Senior from nearby Pheonix, should be a 1st team All Pac-10 Preseason Selection…and has a solid jumper to go with an athletic body. He has been relentlessly foul prone in his career, but I believe he'll play much better this year alongside the two necomwers who will likely start alongside him. 1st is the extremely talented Ike Diogu, a premier talent from the state of Texas (played at the same HS as Randy Duck I believe) who can score, rebound, and mixes in physicality. Unlike many Post-Playing youngsters, Ike is very familiar with his frame and moves very well in the lane, with excellent footwork. Diogu has an excellent background as well, as his brothers (Eddie & Eric) were both Tight Ends in College - one the starting TE on 1998 National Champion Tennessee Volunteers. Backing up both Smith & Diogu will be Chris Osborne and Shawn Redhage. Osborne is definitely a post defender, but Redhage is primarily a wing who can play the 4. Redhage wont do much scoring, but he is athletic and seasoned…a former Mr. Nebraska too.

Out on the wing, the Sun Devils might have the best group they've ever had at one time. Jamal Hill is my pick to be the starter, simply because of something Rob Evans said about him; "We expect Jamal to give us the same kind of impact that Curtis gave us last year. That is the kind of impact we expect at this state in our program from junior college players, and we are confident Jamal can give us that spark." There's no doubt that Hill can score either, averaging 22 ppg at the JuCO level a year ago…and he played HS ball with Drew Gooden at El Cerrito HS. Competing with him will be another exciting newcomer, Serge Angounou…an incredibly gifted prepster orginally from Cameroon, but played HS ball in New Mexico. Serge was the 2002 Gatorade New Mexico State Player of the Year, and combines wing & low-post skills. Excellent shot blocker too. Behind Hill & Angounou will be a familiar face for ASU, Donnell Knight. Knight is combo forward who looks disinterested out there most of the time, but has always had a good outlook. Perhaps his senior year will be much improved, as sometimes guys like Knight find their game. However, its going to be tough to log a lot of minutes in front of Hill & Angounou. Another player in the mix is Allen Morill, a frosh from Arlington who also plays the wing. Rob Evans described him as "the type of kid I love to have." He's an aggressive, football type…and is definitely built. He might be considered a replacement for Awvee Storey.

In the Backcourt, returning starters Curtis Millage & Jason Braxton will get the nod. Both were newcomers in 2001-02, and played well together during their starts…with Millage starting all 29 games, and Braxton starting 20 of the 29. Braxton was one of the most athletic Point Guards in the conference a year ago, and had some monster games against both Arizona & UCLA. He even led ASU in scoring on two occassions. Some teams finally figured out how to slow Braxton down, and that was simply by playing off of him some…and since "J.B" shot an abysmal 17% from the trifecta, and 43% from the free-throw line…its easy to understand sagging on him quite a bit. Hoepfully, Jason will improve his outside shot, as its really in his best interest to improve in those areas. Millage brought a definitive toughness to the Sun Devils - and knocked down some big shots as the season progressed for Coach Evans. He led ASU in scoring three times, including a career high 27 points at Arizona in a late season loss. A 31% three point shooter, it seemd liked he shot the ball a lot better than that…and the one area of concern is really just his driving game. What makes this tandem work so well together is that both their weaknesses are each others strengths. Backing up this duo is a trio of vets; Kenny Crandall, Kyle Dodd, and Justin Allen. Crandall has the best outside shot of the group, and Dodd will outhustle most guys, but is limited offensively. Allen is a great story, coming back from Hodgkin's Disease…and definitely has a solid jumper. He'll probably see limited time though overall.

Overall, this ASU squad is certainly improved. Chad Prewitt was really the heart & soul of the squad a year ago, but Millage & Braxton raised their game at times too. With the influx of Diogu, Hill, Angoungou, and Morill…this program becomes extremely athletic. I think ASU will surprise some teams, starting with their trip to Maui early on in the season. Smith should be able to carry the scoring load, and so the true test of this team will be the three point shot. If they struggle out on the perimeter, they'll finish in the top 7…but if they consistently knock down their jumpers, they can be a solid scoring team. I know they'll rebound, and defense is never a problem for a Rob Evans team…so it truly comes down to knocking down the long range jumpers. Millage might be their key player overall. 

I like their chances to improve from 7th to 4th, and I think their newcomers will play really well. ASU is one of the most intruiging teams in the Pac-10…that's for sure.


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