The few veteran players left weren’t sure this day would come. The Arizona State men’s basketball team was picked ninth in the Pac-10 preseason poll, with only Oregon State there to cushion the fall to the basement.
On Monday, however, the Sun Devils cracked the Top-25 poll for the first time since March 13, 1995 — a drought of 231 consecutive weeks — by being ranked No. 22 in The Associated Press poll and No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.
“It’s a ‘Take that,’ kind of feeling,” ASU junior Jeff Pendergraph said. “Ha, ha, ha, ha, joke’s on them.”
So it is, at least for now. But with the first Pac-10 road swing coming up Thursday at California, a ranking in mid-January was viewed as a milestone.
“We’ll put it in its proper place,” said ASU coach Herb Sendek, who went until his fourth season at North Carolina State before cracking the Top 25.
“It’s recognition in some form we’re making progress, but at the same time it really is a snapshot for only this moment in time.”
ASU (13-2, 3-0 Pac-10) is the third ranked team from the Pac-10, joining UCLA (No. 4) and Washington State (No. 8). Oregon, Stanford and Arizona all received votes in both polls, but did not crack the top 25.
ASU owns three victories over teams in the top 25 of the RPI rankings — Arizona (9), Xavier (11) and Oregon (24) — but the Devils only come in at No. 69, largely because of a 246 ranking in strength of schedule.
That figures to rise with each future Pac-10 victory, as does the team’s profile and confidence by winning with four new players assuming critical roles.
“I think from the beginning when I saw the pieces of the puzzle we had, I thought anything was possible,” senior guard Antwi Atuahene said.
“If we did this and took care of business we could be ranked or around there. I’m not going to say it was definite or likely, but one of my goals was to be ranked and win a lot of games.”
So far, so good for Atuahene’s predictions and ASU’s fortunes. But as the players acknowledged, they are a target for the first time in their careers.
Still, those around campus can’t miss the buzz this team has begun to revive.
“I hope there are some fans walking around with their ASU gear and everything,” Pendergraph said.
“Especially the ones from last year that stuck with us through a rough season, where the fan base kept growing even when we were losing. It’s a tribute to them.”