The Arizona State basketball had their media day on Wednesday as they start their first practices of the new season. There was, as there always tends to be, a feeling of optimism and hope as the new season begins, especially when it follows as tough a season as the Sun Devils went through a year ago.
After a 12-19 season in which they were last in the Pac-10, they return seven players, none seniors. They have their star recruit point guard Jahii Carson in the wings and is supposed to play this season, but as of yet the NCAA has not declared him eligible to play. "We are hoping he (Jahii) will be joining us in the near future," said coach Herb Sendek, but further than that he could not give more information. He is not yet technically part of the team and because of federal privacy laws related to education, no information regarding what is holding up the process can be shared.
Nonetheless, Sendek is looking forward to this season. When asked about the advantages or disadvantages of having a young team, he was quick to point out that the team is not as inexperienced as it sounds.
"We have some guys that have some experience," he explained. "We just don't have any seniors."
Most don't consider the Sun Devils as a threat to contend this year, but Sendek didn't think that the idea of flying under the radar mattered. "Whatever circumstances you find yourself in you try to make the best of it," the coach explained. "I don't suppose it would be that bad to be a preseason No. 1 either."
As for what is different going into this season, the coaches know more of what they have in their players and abilities. He said that a year ago "we didn't know what we didn't know" and that he thinks that as a coaching staff the have "a better feel" of what they can and cannot do successfully.
One of the big questions deals with Carson. Without him, there is left the question of who will play point guard. For right now, returner Keala King and transfer Chris Colvin are handling duties at the point.
Sendek described King as "special." In terms of being a leader, "people tend to gravitate to him" and they listen when he speaks and acts.
A surprise could be had in Colvin, a transfer from Palm Springs Community College. Colvin has "eye-catching" quickness and a good first step, according to the coach. "He's one of those guys that can get you excited about on the defensive side of the floor."
Junior Trent Lockett, the most experienced player on the team, made the same observation, saying he "likes his defensive mentality."
That sort of mentality will fit in with what the coaching staff is trying improve upon. The skills exercises from the offseason were focused on defensive fundamentals. Lockett observed that the team gave up far too many points a year ago. Look for a focused emphasis on that part of their game this season.
One of the commonly heard criticism of Herb Sendek's teams has been their slow offensive system. He and Lockett both addressed that subject.
Sendek defended it a bit, saying that the lower point totals on offense are in part because of the slowness with which opposing teams attacked their defense. He explained that the team always looks to play fast and push the ball to get easy baskets. This year will be no different. He did, though, explain that a couple of years ago with Derek Glasser, he pushed the ball with the pass, rather than the dribble.
Even still, we can expect the offense to be a motion team, but "massaged to put guys in specific places for them to be successful."
Lockett said that there will be tweaks made to the offense, "tailoring it a little differently to our personnel." That comes out of necessity. The team, as Lockett explained, "lost quite a bit of shooters and gained a few more penetrators and slashers." While the team will still space the floor, but will use the skills of their players to create offense.
Lockett is expected to be a leader. But who else is expected to step up and make a marked improvement, and who is the coaching staff counting on in particular? Coach Sendek wouldn't say, but rather spoke of the wonderful idea of synergy. "I'm not looking at any specific guy, or two or three, to be better or further advanced."
"We have seven returning players. It's really important that all seven are better than they were a year ago," he elaborated. "Hopefully through the power of synergy, we are greater than the sum of our parts as well."
Lockett also was not very specific about who he feels will improve and make a larger contribution. However, he did mention by name one player -- Chanse Creekmur. "Chanse has really impressed me," said Lockett. "He's really putting the ball in the basket right now." Lockett also noted that he has gotten leaner and stronger, something that was a theme about all the players.
7-2 Jordan Bachynski was one of these players. Still only 18 months removed from his Mormon mission to Miami, he feels that he finally has his legs under him. He has bulked up a bit, now weighing at about 260 pounds. He is expecting "a lot" from himself and says that the offense will be "more efficient" and that the team has been "focusing more on defense."
As he has been told by others who have been through serving a mission and then returning to college athletics, it takes about a year before getting your legs back. He feels that this has been the case. At his size and ability, I would not be surprised to see him be one of those guys to step up.
What type of expectations should we have for the team? There were no specifics given, but Lockett gave this, "We finished last in the Pac-10, so the only way to go right now is up."
Well stated, Trent.
What will be the characteristic of this team? Hopefully it will be like Lockett. "I'm not going to give up." The goal is to win.
Hopefully for this young team they can build some momentum and make an impression in the inaugural season for the Pac-12.