Scott Bordow: Life after James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph never was going to be easy for the Arizona State Sun Devils. You don’t lose two players of that quality and just pick up where you left off. OK, maybe North Carolina does. But not ASU. Like Bill Murray in the movie, “What About Bob?,” the Devils will have to take baby steps.
Life after James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph never was going to be easy for the Arizona State Sun Devils.
You don’t lose two players of that quality and just pick up where you left off. OK, maybe North Carolina does. But not ASU.
Like Bill Murray in the movie, “What About Bob?,” the Devils will have to take baby steps.
A little progress here, an encouraging sign there, and if they end up in the postseason NIT, it’s been a good year.
Step One was their 87-35 victory over the Western Illinois Leathernecks Friday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Yes, you read the score right. It was the biggest margin of victory in Herb Sendek’s three-plus seasons at ASU, and the largest point spread since the Sun Devils beat Camp Pendleton in the 1948-49 season.
(Maybe that’s why you don’t hear much about Camp Pendleton’s program these days).
“We were the better team but opponent aside I liked the energy and effort,” Sendek said. “That was a good way to start the season.”
It’d be a mistake to make too much of the blowout win – it was Western Illinois, and the Leathernecks were missing their best player – but here are some first impressions of the Sun Devils:
1. Harden and Pendergraph may have moved on to the NBA but some of the excitement they helped create was left behind. The Sun Devils drew 8,992 for a no-name opponent. Four years ago, ASU wouldn’t have gotten 5,000 people in the building.
“We’re making progress,” Sendek said. “I’ve been saying it, but people ought to get their tickets now because someday they won’t be able to. I was really encouraged by the student turnout. I’m encouraging them Monday to wear pajamas because the game (ASU faces Texas State at 9 p.m.) will be so late. It’ll be pajamas night.”
(Wait a minute. Who does Sendek think he is? Bill Frieder?).
2. With the notable exception of Harden, ASU’s wing players haven’t been known for their athleticism, but that will change with freshmen Trent Lockett and Demetrius Walker. Lockett is the smoother player and has a better feel for the game – as evidenced by a drive and kick out to Rihards Kuksiks for a 3-pointer in the first half – but Walker is a freak of an athlete. He had 12 points, eight of them coming on drives to the basket. He’ll play out-of-control at times, but he has a little Hassan Adams in him and that’s not a bad thing.
“I love the way he attacks off the dribble,” Sendek said. “That may result in things happening that aren’t always favorable but more often than not I think he’ll be able to get in the paint and create offense for us.”
3. Center Eric Boateng has a chance to be a contributor his senior season.
Boateng is still a mechanical player, and he doesn’t have a lot of dependable post moves, but he had nine rebounds Friday and was, stunningly 3 for 4 from the free throw line. If he can play solid defense, avoid foul trouble and not be a liability offensively – he’ll have to score some to keep defenses honest – he’ll help ASU win a few games.
4. Freshman Ruslan Pateev is an intriguing prospect.
The 7-foot center needs to get stronger, but he can run the floor and he has an instinctual feel for the game that Boateng lacks. He had nine points and nine rebounds against the Leathernecks, and he should be able to give Sendek some solid minutes off the bench.
We also could mention the quicker first step senior Jerren Shipp (eight points on 4 of 6 shooting) has since he’s lost 15 pounds and the improved long-range shooting of Jamelle McMillan (12 points, 4 of 5 from 3-point range), but we’ll finish with this thought:
Once the competition gets better, the losses of Harden and Pendergraph will be felt. But it’s obvious the overall talent in the program is getting better, and as long as the Sun Devils continue to hound teams with Sendek’s pet zone defense, they’ll win a few games this year they shouldn’t.
Right now, that’s all you can ask from them.