What's the remedy to an offense that ranked 293rd in points per game in 2010? For head coach Herb Sendek and the Arizona State men's basketball team, it's upping the tempo and opening up the offense.
"We are really looking to strike in transition when we can," Sendek said. "[Our players] have as much freedom to play as anyone could possibly have."
And that freedom translated into points, 55-50 to be exact in only 24 minutes of play in Saturday's scrimmage. But you can't score that many points without some criticism falling upon the shoulders of the defense.
"When you score [in a scrimmage] it's either because your offense was good or your defense was bad," Sendek said. "I thought our defense wasn't as good as it needs to be. It certainly [didn't] reflect the effort and time we've put in on it so far."
While the coach may not be entirely satisfied with the results, the players are already buying into the renovated fast-paced, improvise-on-the-fly offense. And one of the big reasons behind their endorsement of the run and gun system is their confidence in the new conductor, junior point guard Chris Colvin.
Colvin, a 6'2" transfer from Palm State College in southern Florida, has stepped up in the absence of freshman Jahii Carson while he tries to get his academic eligibility situation figured out and has taken the reigns of the offense with assertion. Showing both excellent court vision and on-the-ball defending skills in the scrimmage, players and coaches alike have taken notice.
"It's tough coming in and not knowing how guys play and what coach expects of him [but] he's doing a great job carrying the load so far," said junior swing man Trent Lockett.
"He's an unselfish player," said Sendek about Colvin. "He seems to be just as content making the pass as taking the shot. In fact, I encouraged him in practice this week, 'hey, if you're open, let it rip.' But he's unselfish, which you ideally want to have in a point guard."
Although Sendek is looking for unselfishness in his point guard, he isn't looking for Colvin to replace recently graduated senior Ty Abbott but rather be more of a straight point guard. However, Sendek is hoping that sophomore guard Chanse Creekmur can elevate his game and be the next outside sharpshooter for the Devils with the departure of senior Richards Kuksiks. And Creekmur did almost everything he could in Saturday's scrimmage to overtake that role, draining multiple shots from downtown with relative ease.
"He really shot the ball well today," Sendek said. "He's a terrific shooter."
Still, while there are players stepping up to replace their production, there still seems to be a leadership void lingering after the graduation of ASU's three seniors last year (Abbott, Kuksiks, and Jamelle McMillan) leaving the roster bare of fourth year players. In fact, sophomore guard Keala King specifically singled out McMillan's exit as the one that will affect him the most.
"[Jamelle] was a guy that guided me through the whole year last [season]," King said. "He was my mentor when I was down on myself."
King went on to vocalize how fortunate he was to have McMillan to learn from for a year but now he is ready to take the next step. Explaining that "the scouting report knows I can't really shoot", McMillan went out of his way to make 300 shots from the free throw line during each of his summer practices sessions.
In Saturday's scrimmage, he didn't showcase his improved jumper but rather his aggressive slashing skills that made him the 26th best prospect coming out of high school in 2010, according to Rivals.com. He also seemed more comfortable making moves with the ball out of his hands. That, doubled with his position-flexibility, makes him such an exciting weapon for Sendek to toy with.
"[King] can play both guard positions," Sendek said. "He can play the wing, he can play up top; [Chris Colvin] and Keala can play together as well; he's a very versatile player."
Versatility is the exact trait Sendek is looking for in his players this season. With only nine scholarship athletes on his roster, Sendek knows he must be crafty if this team is to be successful.
"[We try to] not limit ourselves," Sendek said. "Basically [we want to] be able to play almost any combination of players."
And that's exactly what Sendek did Saturday. Sendek began the day with Colvin and King at guard, Carrick Felix and Lockett manning the forwards and the undersized Kyle Cain at center. From there, Sendek did everything you could possibly imagine, sliding Cain to power forward when junior center Ruslan Pateev moved into the lineup, allowing King and Lockett to run point on a whim and even running his own version of the twin towers with a front court comprised of the 7'0" Pateev with 7'2" sophomore Jordan Bachynski.
Still, Sendek knows he must have some form of stability with a plethora of potential lineups operating in a offense that allows the players free reign.
"I like our framework but it's a framework that really allows them tremendous freedom," Sendek said. "[We] have to have some semblance of framework or you become a gym class."
But when you're coming off a 12-19 season in which you finished last in the Pac-10, what do you have to lose?
Other notes on the scrimmage
- Freshman forward Jonathan Gilling didn't play due to aggravating his Achilles in what Sendek called "one of those freak injuries." The 6'7'' swingman out of Denmark was running lines in practice when he tweaked his tendon on a routine turn. Sendek didn't seem too concerned about the injury, joking that Gilling will "put some Tabsco sauce on there and hopefully he'll be back soon."
- Sophomore forward Kyle Cain added weight to his 6'7" frame stabilizing at about 220 pounds according to Sendek. And that added strength really paid off as his play seemed to be as well-rounded as it's ever been, knocking down 15-foot jumpers and playing physical on both ends of the court. He also shot his free throws one handed when he went to the line. Cain either suffered an injury to his hand or was doing his best Shaquille O'Neal impression.
- Both ineligable transfers, sophomore Bo Barnes from Hawaii and junior Evan Gordon from Liberty, played extensive minutes. It seems like both would be in the rotation if they didn't have to redshirt due to transfer rules.
- The gold team went inside early and often to Ruslan Pateev. While this didn't always translate into points, it did show a new commitment to the low post game after relying too much on the three last season.
- Keala King was the loudest person, player or coach, on the court Saturday. He was either shouting out defensive corrections or emphatically applauding during almost every second he was sitting on the bench. When asked about it after the scrimmage, King replied that "Coach [Sendek] wants me to be more talkative." It seems King is becoming a "real leader" (his words) alongside Lockett as this team begins to take shape.