2011-2012 Pac-12 Basketball
Report: Arizona & ASU
High expectations for reigning conference champs
The All-America forward (Derrick Williams) is gone to the NBA, whenever that league reopens for business. The starting point guard and chest thumper (MoMo Jones) transferred. But the Wildcats have the same expectations as a year ago: to win the conference (which they did in 2010-11) and to reach the Final Four (which they almost did). There will be no backing down by the Cats or their coach, Sean Miller, who brought in four excellent freshmen and has a deep, versatile and athletic roster.
Winning at McKale Center -- where the Cats were unbeaten last season for the first time since 1998-99 -- is not optional. It's what is expected. "That's why we all came to Arizona," Miller said. "There's a tradition of excellence and a tradition of winning. For you to deny that as a coach or as a player is almost irresponsible.
"For us, it's about trying to get back there and knowing that losing is never fun and the name of the game is to win, and that's what we're working towards."
Because of the success the team enjoyed a year ago, Arizona is rapidly climbing back to the status it enjoyed during a long run under Lute Olson. Miller said achieving that level of success would require the same approach the team took last season.
"A year ago, because we didn't have those great expectations, we were able to go to work every day," Miller said. "I'll be really surprised if any member of our team won't speak to that, that one of the things we learned is the value of just staying with it. It's being consistent and working on who we are, don't get too far ahead of ourselves, and that's going to give us the best chance."
Senior shooting guard Kyle Fogg (9.7 points per game) and junior forward Solomon Hill (8.0 ppg) are the top returning scorers, but Miller is comfortable with a team that perhaps doesn't rely as heavily on one player as the Cats did on Williams.
"If things really work out well for us, maybe on one particular night we have five or six guys in double figures," he said. "To a man, everybody has the opportunity to play. As we play minutes in November, they may not be anywhere close to the minutes you see us give our guys in March or in February."
It's been a grim autumn for junior wing Kevin Parrom, who was shot twice on Sept. 24 while visiting family in the Bronx, then suffered the loss of his mother, Lisa Williams, who died Oct. 16.
"I have never been around a young person who has dealt with more hardship in such a short period of time than Kevin," coach Sean Miller said.
Parrom was listed as out indefinitely and could even be redshirted, depending on how quickly he recovers from the injuries sustained in the shooting.
He had lacerations to his middle, ring and pinky fingers on his left hand from one bullet grazing, and two bullet fragments in his right upper leg. He was shot on the side of the right knee and the fragments traveled up his leg. Parrom also had nerve and other tissue damage that complicate setting a timetable for his return.
Coach Sean Miller said the Wildcats will miss departed star forward Derrick Williams as much for his personality and demeanor as his scoring and rebounding.
"He was such a great kid. To have your best player, your leading scorer, the player who gets the most attention, be as grounded as he was -- he played six weeks of his sophomore year with a broken hand," Miller said. "Today there's so many kids who wouldn't have even tried it because they're worried about their own personal stock. Ironically for Derrick, because he did that, to me, his stock soared because of his character."
Miller made it clear he is not worrying about changes to the Big East Conference, where he competed as a player at Pitt in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"I'm just kind of on this side of the country, and I just care a lot about the Pac-12," he said. "I love Pitt because not only did I go there but my wife did. But other than that, I've never looked at the Big East as being in the same since I left."
That remark at Arizona's media day drew laughter, at which point Miller added, "And I don't mean me, I mean when it used to be having big John Thompson ... That was a long, long time ago."
LAST YEAR: 30-8 overall, 14-4 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Sean Miller, eighth year as head coach (46-23 in two years at Arizona; 166-70 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Sometimes you center on having to have that go-to player. We may be a team that just has great balance. We have a number of players who can get double figures on a given night." -- Coach Sean Miller, on the team's crunch-time offensive answer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Josiah Turner, SG Kyle Fogg, SG Solomon Hill, PF Jesse Perry, C Kyryl Natyazhko.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: There is no built-in veteran star on this team, as there was a year ago with Derrick Williams. Coach Sean Miller isn't worried. He has a deep and versatile roster and figures both minutes and points will be shared. The four freshmen will push the veterans, but the Cats will need all of them to achieve their goals. There are lots of questions, starting with whether junior Solomon Hill is ready to become a focal point. Hill can play at either forward spot. SG Kyle Fogg will get competition from freshman Nick Johnson, and no one is sure who will end up playing center. Kevin Parrom's status is entirely up in the air. But there is a lot of talent here and an expectation the Cats will compete for the Pac-12 title.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Miller brought in the Pac-12's top recruiting class, four freshmen who all will get the chance to play and likely will have significant impact. Josiah Turner, an explosive pure point guard, figures to earn the starting job. He is a dramatically different player than the departed MoMo Jones, who was more of a scorer. Turner is understated but an excellent distributor. Miller said it will be important that Turner learns to become a more vocal floor leader. Shooting guard Nick Johnson is regarded as the most athletic player on the roster, and he will push senior Kyle Fogg for the starting job. Power forward Sidiki Johnson is considered a ferocious rebounder, and post player Angelo Chol is a shot-blocker but more of a face-up player at the offensive end.
--Senior SG Kyle Fogg accepted coach Sean Miller's mandate to become a tough defender last season, but he shot poorly (35.5 percent) from the 3-point arc. To remedy that -- and knowing freshman Nick Johnson was on the way -- Fogg supposedly put up 40,000 jump shots over the summer to improve his perimeter accuracy.
--Junior C Kyryl Natyazhko is penciled in as the starting center, but the Wildcats really don't know if he can produce for them. He averaged 1.9 points and 2.2 rebounds a year ago. He's probably not expected to be a 25-minute player, but if he cannot deliver a solid 15 minutes on the floor, he may lose out to freshmen Sidiki Johnson or Angelo Chol.
--Sophomore G Jordin Mayes played well late last season, but he no longer figures to play exclusively at the point. Because of Josiah Turner's arrival, Mayes will get the chance to play both guard positions this season.
Nowhere to go but up for Sun Devils
The Sun Devils are counting on a fresh start in the new Pac-12 Conference after finishing last in the Pac-10 a year ago. Even without three departed senior starters -- who accounted for 53 percent of the squad's scoring -- Arizona State expects a better season than 2010-11, when the team dropped 11 consecutive conference games at one point.
Arizona State features a versatile star-in-waiting in 6-4 junior guard Trent Lockett, who is adept at several positions and has the ability to play above the rim. He averaged 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds a year ago.
All expectations, however, must be tempered pending resolution of the academic eligibility of freshman Jahii Carson. The program's top-rated in-state signee in the recruiting-service era, Carson is a smooth and explosive 5-foot-10, 160-pound point guard who figured to make everyone around him better.
But Carson still had not joined the team a week into the start of practice. The issue, according to the Arizona Republic, was an online summer-school course Carson took at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo. As of early October, the school had not released Carson's transcript. Until cleared, Carson could not practice or attend team functions.
And coach Herb Sendek couldn't speak to the matter because of privacy laws except to say, "We remain hopeful that he'll be joining us in the near future."
With or without their prize freshman, the Sun Devils have issues. They were the lowest-scoring team (64.0 ppg) in the Pac-10 a year ago and attempted 148 fewer free throws than any conference rival. They also were last in rebounding margin (minus-3.6).
On top of those woes, Sendek was not happy with his team's defensive work out of the matchup zone, usually the team's strength. Much time was spent during preseason skill sessions on defensive fundamentals.
"And in the process," Sendek said, "(we) tried to solidify that mind-set that we have to do a better job defending, and I think that's been good for us."
--Junior Trent Lockett told the Arizona Republic he talks periodically with a Minnesota-based sports psychologist, trying to help him boost his performance. "He's kind of on call whenever I have a question or a problem. I just take it to him and he's always there to help me with it," Lockett said. "Domination is my word. That's what has to happen. That's what we've been talking about getting ready for this season."
Lockett, who boasts a well-developed mid-range game, spent time over the summer trying to improve his ball-handling and 3-point accuracy.
Coach Herb Sendek said his team's defensive approach has more to do with the pace of games than the Sun Devils' style of offense.
"We would like very much to push the ball and be an up-tempo team. I think we have some guys who are really comfortable doing that," he said. "I think at times in the past the tempo that we've played on offense has been as fast as anybody's, to be frank with you. I think sometimes opponents take a little bit longer attacking our defense than they ordinarily would other opponents, and that's where things get skewed a little bit."
Sendek's priorities always begin with defense, and it's an area he said needs improving.
"Looking at last season in the rearview mirror, we felt like we really needed to do a better job of teaching, coaching, emphasizing (and) drilling the fundamentals of defense," he said.
LAST YEAR: 12-19 overall, 4-14 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Herb Sendek, 19th year as head coach (88-75 in five years at Arizona State; 342-231 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think Trent's had two terrific seasons for us. I thought he really took a big leap between his first and second year. I know he was given a lot of consideration for most improved player in our conference last year, and deservedly so. He's worked incredibly hard preparing for this season." -- Coach Herb Sendek, on junior guard Trent Lockett.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Keala King, SG Carrick Felix, SF Trent Lockett, PF Chanse Creekmur, C Kyle Cain.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Coach Herb Sendek said junior college transfer Chris Colvin and sophomore Keala King will play the point in Jahii Carson's absence. King, a 54.5 percent foul shooter last season, said he tried to shoot 500 free throws a day over the summer. Sophomore Chanse Creekmur spent the offseason trying to cut body fat and improve his strength and quickness. But at 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, he is physically overmatched inside, where the Sun Devils may need to play him until their big men prove ready. As a freshman, Creekmur often was positioned at the bottom of Arizona State's zone. "Going against (UCLA's) Josh Smith, in film, I couldn't even see myself when I was behind him," Creekmur said. The Sun Devils are hoping junior G Carrick Felix can become a scoring complement to Trent Lockett. Felix averaged 13.6 points over one five-game stretch last season before getting sick and losing his rhythm.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: At least for the short term, transfer Chris Colvin -- not Jahii Carson -- could wind up the newcomer to start at point guard. He played 29 games at Iowa State in 2009-10, averaging 15.5 minutes per game. Colvin played junior college ball last season. Ultimately, the Sun Devils look forward to having Carson, from nearby Mesa, Ariz., as their floor leader. Ultra-fast, Carson was rated as one of the nation's top-10 point guard prospects by Rivals.com. Jonathan Gilling, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward, is a good shooter with a solid knowledge of the game who probably just needs a year in the weight room.
Sophomore F Kyle Cain, who had 17 rebounds in a game last season, finally is carrying 220 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame. That might help him sustain through a long season. Last year, Cain started quickly, then faded. He averaged 5.4 points and 5.5 rebounds for the season.
Sophomore C Jordan Bachynski had hernia surgery over the summer, but he was practicing with the team by the official start of workouts. The surgery was one more thing that puts Bachynski behind schedule. Before arriving at Arizona State, he spent two years on a Mormon mission in Florida. That meant last season was spent trying to improve his conditioning and basketball instincts.
During summer rehab from surgery, Bachynski spent time watching tape of NBA star Dirk Nowitzki and former USC standout Nikola Vucevic.
Sophomore G Keala King admits he clashed last season with coach Herb Sendek and considered transferring. "I came pretty close," he said. "I came real close. But I wasn't ready to leave this program. I committed here, I signed here for a reason. I told coach, whatever happens, I'm going to still stay here. I gave him my word. I didn't want to take the easy route."
Sitting out as transfers this season are Bo Barnes, a sharpshooter who came from Hawaii, and Evan Gordon, younger brother of Clippers guard Eric Gordon, who transferred from Liberty.
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