(AP) — Normally methodic Arizona State would like to speed up the tempo as it tries to climb out of the conference basement, a plan that would go a lot smoother if coach Herb Sendek knew whether he would have his standout freshman point guard Jahii Carson at the controls.
The Sun Devils are practicing without Carson as they await word from the NCAA on the academic eligibility of the youngster from nearby Mesa.
"That's something we can't worry about. It's kind of out of our hands," Arizona State's Trent Lockett said. "The NCAA is taking their time with that. Right now all we can work on is getting ready for the season."
Carson, Arizona State's top in-state recruit in decades, scored 58 points in Mesa High's state semifinal loss and was a member of the U.S. team in the U19 world championships. He was The Arizona Republic big-school player of the year. Sendek said only that he's "hopeful" that Carson will be allowed to join the squad soon.
In Carson's absence, the Sun Devils can turn to 6-foot-2 combo guard Chris Colvin, who averaged 13 points and six assists for Palm Beach, Fla., Community College last season. Colvin, who grew up in Chicago, played in 29 games for Iowa State as a freshman.
"The one thing that really stands out watching Chris is his quickness," Sendek said. "He's one of those you can get excited about on the defensive end of the floor. He has a very quick first step. He's eye-catching with his quickness."
The idea that he could start immediately is a major reason Carson chose to stay close to home to attend Arizona State. Whether he is there or not, and the general feeling is that he will be cleared to play, Sendek said he wants to push the tempo on offense. In fact, he believes the team's slow-tempo reputation is undeserved.
"We would like very much to push the ball and be an up-tempo team," the coach said. "I think we have some guys that are very comfortable doing that. I think at times in the past the tempo that we play with 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 against other opponents, and that's where things get skewed a little bit."
Sendek, entering his sixth season at Arizona State, has a reputation of producing more with less, a formula that didn't work a year ago, when the Sun Devils struggled through a 12-19 season, 4-14 in the then-Pac-10. The difficult campaign followed three 20-win seasons in a row for Arizona State, which struggles to get attention in a market saturated by professional sports.
Seven players return from last season's team, led by Lockett, a second-team all-conference pick who averaged a team-high 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds as a sophomore. There are no seniors on the team, so that leaves Lockett and some of the other juniors to assume the leadership role.
"Trent does the right things so he does has credibility with the guys, and he works hard to so he has the respect of the guys," Sendek said. "He's in position to be a terrific leader for us. I think that's really important for our team, and I think he's embracing that."
Lockett said he's worked on his outside shooting, his ball-handling and mostly the mental aspects of the game. He credits sessions with a sports psychologist that began early last season for the mental improvements.
"I think I've definitely evolved in a lot of mental areas of my game from freshman to sophomore year and look forward to improving again this year," he said.
Other returning players include 6-7 starting forward Kyle Cain (5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds per game), super-athletic 6-6 forward Carrick Felix, sharpshooter Chanse Creekmur (20 of 60 3-pointers), guard Keala King and a pair of big guys, 7-foot Russian Ruslan Pateev and 7-2 Canadian Jordan Bachynski.
Bachynski is just a sophomore but is 22 years old and said he is finally getting a feel for the game after returning from a two-year Mormon mission.
"A lot of us have been putting a lot of work in this offseason," he said. "Everyone is in the gym almost every day, getting up shots like we need to. We've all gained weight. I've gained almost 15 pounds since last season. We're working real hard in the weight room."
Low expectations don't seem to bother the Sun Devils.
"I like coming from behind to turn some heads," Bachynski said.