With so many coaches in the hot seat these days, no seat is hotter than that of Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Herb Sendek. While Sendek’s Sun Devils haven’t shown promise since the departure of standouts James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to the NBA, there is reason for hope and redemption in the desert.
Sendek is entering his 20th season as a head coach and he knows basketball. He also knows to not let hometown boys get wooed to conference competitors or, worse yet, the evil empire 90 miles southeast in Tucson. Last year, local high school senior Jahii Carson was being heavily recruited and was ranked No. 33 by Rivals.com, but Sendek was not about to let the Mesa native leave home and worked his magic to get Carson to sign with ASU. Unfortunately, Carson was unable to clear academic requirements and red-shirted. Fortunately, he was able to learn from experienced players as well build the discipline required of a Division I basketball player.
“Simply put, we can’t wait to watch Jahii in a uniform in a game,” Sendek said. “Every Sun Devil should be really excited to watch him. He is dynamic and explosive. One of our responsibilities as coaches, and really the part I enjoy as much as any other is putting our guys in the best position to be successful and I think Jahii obviously has some real gifts on the open floor. I think he is going to be particularly good at using ball screens. He’s a guy that can really create shots not only for himself but his teammates and so I think he will allow us to open some things up and in particular do some fun things with pick and roll that we probably weren’t in as good of a position to do this past year.”
It is rare that the hiring of assistant coaches register in the media, but Sendek went way out of the box when looking to hire two new assistants. In fact, the assistants have such great coaching pedigrees that many in the media claimed that he had just hired his replacement. Larry Greer, an advance scout for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, is one of the best at what he does. He recognizes talent, can predict how opposing teams are going to play and will relay that information by putting the best game plan forward.
Eric Musselman was also tabbed by Sendek to join the coaching staff this summer. Musselman has been a head coach for three seasons in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings as well as stints in the CBA, USBL and most recently Coach of the Year for the NBA D-League Los Angeles D-Fenders. Musselman has also served as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies. Suffice it to say that his 24 years of coaching experience will help tremendously. ESPN analyst and former National Champion coach Fran Fraschilla said of Musselman on Twitter: “Eric is one of the best basketball minds that I know.”
Two big name transfers will also be playing this year after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer requirements. Scottsdale native Bo Barnes left for the beaches of Hawaii and set the freshman record for three-pointers made with 57. He looks to bring that long range jumper to the Sun Devils in grand fashion. NBA standout Eric Gordon‘s younger brother Evan Gordon played two seasons at Liberty University and led the team in scoring his sophomore year. With their combined experience and the expert tutelage of Sendek and staff, Barnes and Gordon will have an immediate impact to the Sun Devils.
Lastly, we shift our focus to the experienced players on the ASU roster and their massive improvements. Their two big men, 7-0 Ruslan Pateev and 7-2 Jordan Bachynski, are hoping to make a big splash this year in the paint. Bachynski, a devout Mormon who spent two years on a mission before coming to Arizona State, is the complete package. He is intelligent, articulate and has a work ethic that is second to none. Already a husband and father, Bachynski has made great strides to being a better player and person.
Finishing the season strong last year, Bachynski set his career-high scoring 20 against a tough Stanford team and followed it up with 19 against USC a couple weeks later. His abysmal free throw shooting average of .400 skyrocketed to .702, making 33 of 47 from the charity stripe in the last 13 games. His blocks and rebounds nearly doubled over the final stretch as well. Pateev also impressed coaching staff with his offseason improvements and will be part of the solid foundation for the Devils.
Two other seniors for Sendek who will be the heart and soul of the squad are guards Carrick Felix and Chris Colvin. Felix has been a roller coaster ride for Sun Devil fans and when he is on, the team responds, but if he isn’t hitting, it also brings down the team. He is the Devils’ leading scorer in last year’s wins with 14.4 ppg, yet in their losses, he only manages 8.8 ppg. If the coaches can get Felix to show up for all games, this year could be great for Felix and ASU.
Junior college transfer Colvin sputtered out of the gate last year and finally found his groove come February. It was like there was another player out there for the final 15 games of the season where Colvin nearly doubled his totals for points, field goal percentage and assists per game. There will be a crowded back court with the three newcomers in Carson, Barnes and Gordon, but I think Colvin will get a chance to prove his worth.
The Pac-12 Conference will be extremely tough this year with a log jam at the top of the heap and I don’t expect Arizona State to win the conference or even finish in the Top 5. I do feel, however, that all the pieces are in place for Sendek and the Devils to have a good season in 2012-13. Furthermore, I predict that they will play in the postseason this year if all things fall into place and that is really all that is needed to quell the “Fire Sendek” rumors.