I ventured into Wells Fargo Arena yesterday afternoon for the first time ever, for Arizona State men's basketball Media Day.
It was something new for me, just as ASU coach Herb Sendek has plenty of new faces in the program this year. Gone are three players Sendek took time to acknowledge Wednesday, Derek Glasser, Eric Boateng and Jerren Shipp.
Sendek says this season's Devils are a loose bunch that really seem to have fun with one another.
"I think they genuinely like just hanging out, ripping on each other, laughing together. I think they naturally have developed some pretty good chemistry early on," Sendek said.
Chemistry is one thing. Sendek also has three seniors he'll rely on to be leaders and provide production, guards Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan and forward Rihards Kuksiks. Those three figure to be starters when the season opens on Nov. 16 at New Mexico.
ASU has only five returning lettermen from last season, four of whom got major minutes last season.
"Our key will be to integrate an unusually large number of new players with some really good returning leadership," Sendek said.
The Devils didn't make it easy on themselves with their schedule. Before the Pac-10 season begins on Dec. 30, they'll play at New Mexico (30-5 last season), host UAB (25-9) and Richmond (26-9) and travel to Baylor (28-8) and Nevada, which was 15-2 on its home court last season.
"Our schedule has to be as competitive as most," Sendek said. "Right out of the gates, we're going to be tested by fire when we play at New Mexico ... and if you look at our schedule, there's not a breather in it. I think that's what our program really needs at this point, as we continue to try to move forward and advance."
ASU does have other things going for it. Sendek's suffocating zone defense is allowing just 60.4 points per game, eighth-best in the nation over the past three seasons.
"If we're all clicking and we're going as one and we're all moving together at the same time; you don't really know where the weak spot is," Abbott said of that zone.
They also have 68 wins over the past three seasons, even if 2009-2010 ended in disappointing fashion with a first-round loss to Stanford in the Pac-10 tournament that knocked ASU out of the Big Dance, and then a 67-66 loss to Jacksonville at Wells Fargo Arena in the first round of the NIT.
Abbott is excited for the schedule, as are others, because it can only boost the Devils' RPI should they be on the bubble again this season.
"It's kind of better to have a short memory of something like that," Abbott said. "There's more guys here that weren't there for that than there are that were."
Wednesday was all about taking team and individual photos, putting on the yellow home uniforms and answering reporters' questions.
This season, the Devils don't want to be shortchanged by the NCAA selection committee if they are in contention.
"It's a deal where we feel we lacked in that area last year, and it cost us at the end of the year," McMillan said. "It's something that I think has created a more exciting mindset with this team. We know we open with New Mexico, a ranked team, on the road, and that's not easy. It's going to force us to be better ... and make sure we're on top of our game.
"We have to play and we have to win. We appreciate the coaches for going out and getting us a schedule like that."