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March 5, 2011During the offseason, Rihards Kuksiks's future in Tempe was uncertain due to an economic crisis in his home country of Latvia. Galvanized to play professionally to support his family, Kuksiks listened to his mother and instead returned to Arizona State for his senior year to get his degree.
Entering the final game of the regular season, Kuksiks will be honored before Saturday's game against Oregon State alongside senior teammates Jamelle McMillan and Ty Abbott.
"His family has had a really bad struggle back in his country," McMillan said. "For a guy to make a sacrifice like that, to come back and do this deal for one more year, all the respect in the world for him."
Not all of the recruits in his class stuck around all four years. The class of 2007, ranked 19th according to Rivals, started off with five players. Kraidon Woods transferred to Drake, while James Harden went on to the NBA.
"I feel like I made the right decision because I'm going to get a diploma," Kuksiks said. "Basketball wise, I haven't had a successful year because I was injured and couldn't get out of it. Overall, it was still a good experience."
His expectations were derailed by ankle and IT band injuries all season. Kuksiks struggled to find his rhythm leading to inconsistent play. He appeared in a career-low 25 games this season. He did not play in four consecutive games, something he hasn't done since his freshman year.
He may not carry the vocal leadership his fellow seniors possess on the court, but Kuksiks's character inadvertently provides a bond in the locker room.
"He's a guy that I think you need on your team simply because off the court," McMillan said. "He keeps a team together. He doesn't try to be funny, but he is. He can't help himself. We find ourselves listening to him after practice all the time just for no reason. I blame our closeness on the team because of him for that reason."
During his career, the Sun Devils have won 79 games, fourth most during a four-year span in school history, and Kuksiks has 273 3-pointers, second most in school history and seventh in the Pac-10 record books.
Experience and hard work is something Kuksiks will take away from his four-year career in maroon and gold. Focused on getting his 80th win Saturday, Kuksiks wants to pick up where he left off after he graduates in May -- playing basketball.
"I'm going to play somewhere," Kuksiks said. "I don't know where yet, but I'm going have a big summer of practicing. Maybe play for my national team in the European Championships and go from there."