Here comes a crossroads. ASU had a wildly successful season in 2008-09. Can they build on that next season without Jeff Pendergraph and -- likely -- James Harden?
Here comes a crossroads.
In many ways this was a dream season for the Arizona State men's basketball team. For the first time under coach Herb Sendek, the Sun Devils were a team with external (and internal) expectations.
A team that felt snubbed by the NCAA selection committee last year returned intact, and nothing short of an NCAA tournament invite and victory would have felt good enough.
Done and done.
The Sun Devils (25-10) won 20 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1979-1981 seasons and finished one win shy of the school record. The Sun Devils had the Pac-10 player of the year and an All-American in James Harden and a first-team all-Pac-10 forward in Jeff Pendergraph. They reached the conference tournament championship game for the first time in school history and beat Arizona three times and UCLA twice.
Next year, however, they'll likely have to do it without the two players most responsible for that success.
Pendergraph has graduated. Harden, a sophomore, says he hasn't made up his mind about the NBA but looks like a lottery pick. Those two players accounted for 49.8 percent of the team's offense, 44.5 percent of the rebounding and 62.5 percent of its free throws.
Harden is expected to decide his future in the next two weeks, and despite a rough tournament (3-of-18 shooting, 19 points, six turnovers in two postseason games), NBAdraft.net lists Harden as the No. 4 overall pick in June's draft.
Given the abundance of experience returning in the backcourt (Derek Glasser, Ty Abbott, Jamelle McMillan), Harden's decision could have a significant impact on next season's freshman class.
Phoenix St. Mary's guard Demetrius Walker, Hopkins (Minn.) guard Trent Lockett and Russian center Ruslan Pateev have signed on for next season.
A late addition or two is also possible. According to Scout.com, Ukranian center Kyryl Natyazhko (6-foot-10) has Arizona State among his narrow list of schools, which includes Pittsburgh, Kentucky and Florida State.
Natyazhko is playing at the IGA Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a similar school in close proximity to where Kuksiks and Pateev came from.
As for the known commodities, if Harden doesn't return, both the 6-foot-5 Walker (who led St. Mary's to the 5A Division I state championship) and the 6-foot-5 Lockett have a chance to earn immediate playing time, though they'd be hard-pressed to match Harden's efficiency and immediate impact.
Despite the prospect of losing an All-American in the backcourt, the frontcourt stands to be the biggest wild card. Eric Boateng and Taylor Rohde are the only players who saw notable minutes this season behind Pendergraph, while junior-to-be Kraidon Woods could get his first chance to earn minutes and the 7-foot, 240-pound Pateev will need to gain a little weight and improve offensively.
Unlike last season, the lineup is in flux, but earning consecutive NCAA tournament appearances begins from within.