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May 14, 2010

Glasser leaves impressive mark at Arizona State

On one of the busiest stretches of highway in the world tempers overheat by the thousands during rush hour but on a typical morning Derek Glasser was more likely to be dreaming peacefully than stressing out about the daily 33 mile morning commute.

Riding shotgun down the consistently excruciating 405 freeway from his mother's house in Brentwood to Artesia High School in Lakewood, Calif., with his coach Scott Pera driving, Glasser usually got a little extra shut-eye before another long day.

The drive typically took between an hour and two hours each way depending on whether traffic conditions were terrible or worse, and the duo made the trek together for all four years of Glasser's duration at the school.

While Glasser was often asleep, fantasizing of a basketball prowess yet to be developed, Pera's thoughts often wandered with contemplation of his own aspirations in the sport.

Neither coach nor student could have known it at the time, but the reality of their respective futures would be more intertwined than even their dreams.

*****

Today he lives in a plush high rise condominium complex overlooking Tempe Town Lake and is easily -- and frequently -- recognized by the white Range Rover he drives around town in.

He has nearly 4,000 friends on facebook, which, if you're unfamiliar with the popular social networking site, is a lot. Not only is it more than your average Arizona State student, it's probably more than any of them.

With good looks, the visibility that comes with being the school's starting point guard, and the deep pockets that come with being the son of a prominent designer jeans magnate, Glasser is, to put it mildly, popular.

He's the guy a lot of guys would like to be, or at the very least be friends with. He's the guy a lot girls would like to know, or know a little better.

The term that would most appropriately describe Glasser is one commonly bandied about by students in jocular fashion but is rarely apropos: Big Man on Campus.

But this wasn't always Glasser's reality.

Years before his father co-founded wildly popular Seven Jeans and became a multi-millionaire with subsequent clothing start up Citizens for Humanity, Glasser was not much different than your average kid with an unlikely dream.

"Both my parents are very hard working and came from nothing," Glasser said. "My dad got what he has from grinding. He got divorced for the second time when I was 12 or 13 and he had nothing. He moved into some lady's apartment's second bedroom for like a year and a half.

"People think I grew up with money my entire life but if I wanted to go see my dad at that age I had to go stay at some lady's apartment and sleep on the floor. It wasn't until I was maybe 17 when my dad actually had a lot of money. From then until now has only been five years."

A desire to have a future as a basketball player led Glasser to attend Artesia, a popular public school with a decidedly urban demographic. As one of just a handful of white students, Glasser initially stood out like a sore thumb.

The differences between Glasser and his fellow students became more pronounced as his father came into his wealth, but by that time, his personality had already been set on a course it would not deviate from.

"His gritty determination I think comes from that foundation," Glasser's mother, Veronica Klein, said. "We're all survivors and scrappers here. We're street smart people, we're not college educated. His father has been successful and he's landed on his feet and done well this last go around, but he's been up and down his whole life. Derek doesn't come from a type of affluent family."

*****

Pera was accomplished as a young basketball coach before he moved west to southern California. In 1999, as a 31-year-old he guided Annville Cleona High School to a 30-3 record and Pennsylvania state title.

So when Pera began replicating that success at Artesia starting in 2000, many people took note, including Glasser's father.

Michael Glasser didn't have high expectations his son would be particularly successful at Artesia, but he thought it was worth a shot, and certainly it was an opportunity Derek would relish.

"When Derek was growing up I thought maybe he'd be able to play at a private high school or something," Michael said. "I didn't think he'd be able to play against the real basketball players. I thought he had no shot at being a star player for a big successful school like Artesia."

But that's precisely what happened.

In 2004, Glasser earned all-league honors as a sophomore and as a senior in 2006, he and fellow future Sun Devil James Harden helped lead Artesia to a 33-1 record and Division III state title.

In Glasser's four years at the school, the Pioneers went 111-19 and earned three trips to the state tournament's final four.

Even so, Glasser's goal of playing big time college basketball seemed on the verge of being snuffed out. He had some small school opportunities but yearned to play in a major conference and was headed toward accepting a spot as a walk-on at USC under then-coach Tim Floyd.

But Pera was offered, and accepted a job by newly hired ASU coach Herb Sendek as the school's Director of Basketball Operations soon after Artesia's season was over.

Almost immediately, the Sun Devils found themselves desperately in need of a point guard after their lone scholarship player at the position, Kevin Kruger, transferred to play for his father Lon Kruger at UNLV.

Sendek asked Pera if Glasser was up to the task.

Pera wasn't necessarily sure and didn't immediately respond in the affirmative, but after some contemplation, decided Glasser was up to the challenge -- or at least as up to it as any other player they'd be able to secure at such a late stage in the recruiting cycle could be.

So Glasser became a Sun Devil and the duo was reunited in Tempe.

*****

Losing is difficult when you're not used to it and especially so when you're not good enough to do anything about it.

Such was the reality of Glasser as a freshman at ASU when, despite being the only true scholarship point guard on the roster, he often failed to play more than a handful of minutes in big early season games, such as at Xavier on Dec. 12, 2006, when the Sun Devils lost 76-58.

Glasser played five minutes in the game and had a stat sheet devoid of anything other than a lone turnover.

Years later, Sendek would recount being nervous at the prospects of Glasser being asked to do even the most mundane of tasks against high quality competition.

"There were times in his first season, like in that Xavier game, when, against athletic defenders, I didn't even know if he'd be able to get the ball across halfcourt to be honest with you," Sendek said. "He had that far to go to become a guy who could even play a role at the high college level."

As the season wore on, Glasser earned more time on the court, where he was primarily joined by other young players, including classmate Jerren Shipp.

The Sun Devils went 8-22 on the season -- Sendek's first at ASU -- and at one point lost 14 consecutive league games spanning more than six weeks.

Glasser averaged 6.3 points and 3.2 assists in 27.9 minutes, but shot a dreadful 34.5 percent from the field and was limited at both ends of the court. The basketball often seemed more like a hot potato in the halfcourt, with Glasser eager to move it to someone else as quickly as it came to him.

It wasn't exactly a good sign for a player tasked with the responsibility of playing the position of on court leader.

"It was learning and surviving and a lot of losing," Pera said. "He wasn't good, he wasn't used to losing. The full intensity of the deal was getting to him but he also had his moments, like the game winner at Cal (to end the regular season). We had conversations where he'd tell me what he thought he was capable of and I'd say, 'You have to be motivated every game, every practice, you need to be motivated non-stop.'"

*****

No major conference basketball program had a better turn around in the win column from 2006-07 to 2007-08 than Arizona State.

Much of the success in that season will deservedly be attributed to the arrival of Harden, who earned first-team all-league honors with averages of 17.8 points and 5.3 rebounds

Glasser played a major role though, even if it wasn't always clear he would be given the opportunity.

Freshman Jamelle McMillan earned the start at point guard in the Sun Devils' first 10 games of the season, but Glasser simply wouldn't be denied.

Not long after the start of the season, Glasser, though coming off the bench, was playing more minutes than McMillan, and eventually ascended to the starting lineup.

On the season, Glasser averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 assists per game, made a higher percentage of his shots from the field and 3-point range, and displayed significantly improved protection and distribution of the basketball.

Glasser finished third in the Pac-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio and ASU had success running a high pick and roll offense featuring Glasser and Jeff Pendergraph whenever it wasn't running isolation sets for Harden.

"He played like a deer in headlights at times his freshman year which surprised me because he was so confident and he played so well in high school," Klein said. "I think he had to grow into himself and into believing in himself and that process really kicked into gear the following season."

To hear Glasser tell it though, while the change may have really started in his second year with the program, it was still in a nascent phase.

"I watched game tape of me as a sophomore and I was like, 'Holy crap,'" Glasser said. "I was terrible. I would get the ball and just immediately pass. What I think people don't realize is the difference between the level of player at a school like ASU or even UCLA and a school like Colgate isn't that great. It really isn't. It's about experience and opportunity. As I played more and worked to develop those things, everything became increasingly easier."

*****

NCAA Tournament appearances are rare at ASU and 25-win seasons are even rarer but both were accomplished by the program in 2008-09.

The Sun Devils earned a NCAA Tournament bid for just the sixth time since joining the Pac-10 in 1978-79, and reached the 25-win plateau for the first time since 1975, which was the year Wells Fargo Arena -- then known as the University Activity Center -- opened its doors.

One of the primary reasons for ASU's almost unparalleled success was the play of Glasser, who helped the team lead the conference in assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio.

Glasser finished second in the Pac-10 with 4.8 assists per game and easily finished first with a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also averaged 8.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.

"Freshman and sophomore year every time I stepped on the court, I said to myself, 'I'm going to show people I can do this,'" Glasser said. "I sort of stopped doing it junior year. I think at that point I'd already demonstrated I could do it but I still kind of had it in the back of my head a little bit.

"As that year went on I just got more and more confident and then at the end of the year it was, 'I'm just going to forget playing to impress everyone else,' and from there it took off. I was kind of holding myself back and then finally I just let go and played and everything kind of fell into place."

Indeed, Glasser helped guide the Sun Devils to their first Pac-10 Tournament championship game and then took his game to new heights in the NCAA Tournament, ASU's first since 2002-03. In the tournament opener, a 66-57 win over Temple, Glasser had 22 points and four assists.

The Sun Devils lost 78-67 in the second round to Syracuse, with Glasser and a number of his teammates, most prominently Harden, struggling to put the ball in the basket.

But by that point, a significant accomplishment had already been earned. It was ASU's first back-to-back 20 win seasons since 1979-81 and Harden would go on to be selected third overall in the NBA Draft, tying the top mark by a Sun Devil.

Most importantly, a culture shift had begun in the community, where ASU outperformed rival University of Arizona in television ratings in the state, and the interest of students on campus had been piqued.

"When I first came here, I don't think anybody knew who any of the people were on the team," Glasser said before his senior season. "Maybe on campus some people did especially Jeff (Pendergraph) because he was so tall. But it's changed. You can't walk 20 feet without somebody saying something to you."

*****

Despite everything they'd accomplished during the two seasons prior, the departure of Harden and Pendergraph to the NBA led pundits to write off the Sun Devils with a nearly universal voice leading up to the 2009-10 season.

It didn't matter which preseason magazine you picked up off the shelf at your local bookstore, they all predicted ASU to finish at or near the bottom of the Pac-10, and the league's official media poll generously -- at least when compared to most other prognosticators -- picked the team to finish seventh.

At the time, it seemed ludicrous to Glasser, who lambasted the general media perception over lunch with a reporter a month prior to the start of the season.

"Coming from a high school team that lost 19 games in four years and then coming here and losing 22 games my freshman year, I didn't really know or understand what losing felt like. It was kind of the attitude," Glasser said. "It was okay to not get blown out and just be close.

"We finally learned how to win. Once we learned how to win, everything changed. That's why I think people underestimate us this year. We lost Jeff and James and that's like two-thirds of our scoring or whatever, but we return everybody else from a team that won a lot of games. We're still the same guys. Our goal is to go 11-7 in the Pac-10 and 11-2 in the preseason, which is 22-9 going into the Pac-10 Tournament."

Pac-10 media members perhaps should have asked Glasser for his opinion rather than formulate their own, as his stated goals in October proved nearly identical to how the team finished in the regular season.

ASU went 22-11 overall and 12-6 in regular season Pac-10 games before a disappointing first-round exit in the conference tournament, coupled with a weak league RPI left it on the cutting room floor when the NCAA pairings were announced. It was the first time in Pac-10 history a team finished in second place and did not receive a bid.

It was a difficult pill to swallow for Glasser and the Sun Devils, who had an excellent season, surpassing all expectations except perhaps their own. They had won 20 or more games three years in a row for the first time at ASU since 1960-63 -- the only Pac-10 school to do so over that span -- and yet the season ended with significant disappointment, a first-round NIT loss to Jacksonville on a fluke 3-point buzzer beater.

That members of the ASU team and those fans in the community who follow the program closely felt disappointment about the season, perhaps more than anything else, speaks to the elevated expectations which have developed under Sendek. And if there is any player who personifies the program's evolution, it's Glasser, who arrived as an entirely overlooked prospect, started for a consistent loser as a freshman, and eventually set school records for games played (131) and career assists (551) for a regular winner.

"I think in basketball as in anything in life the only true measure is how successful you are at something when compared against your potential," Sendek said. "And it's in that respect that Derek is one of the most accomplished players I've ever coached and I'm most pleased with what he's become. Where he's at now compared to where he started is about as big an improvement as I've seen in any player I've coached. That's what it's all about, that's how you judge success."

*****

Years from now ASU fans will likely remember Glasser for being the first player in school history to score 1,000 points and have 500 assists; or perhaps they'll remember him primarily for being the starting point guard for a program that won 20-plus games three seasons in a row for the first time in decades.

True, over the last four years Glasser dished out more assists than any player in school history and helped deliver something even more important to the program: respectability.

"When Derek graduates I think one of his wishes will be that people remember him as a great floor leader, a great representative of the program and university," Pera said. "That would make him very happy. He's not going to get the flashy headlines and all the stuff that James got but he's okay with that.

"Derek gets his share of attention but he doesn't need the light shined on him all the time. I think he'll just want to be remembered as a guy who helped make this program a national name and a formidable Top-25 program every year. That's going to be a heck of a legacy for him."

But above all, what Glasser will be forever known for among those most closest to him is far more personal.

Friday at 11:30, when he receives a degree in Communication, Glasser will become the first member of his family to graduate from college.

The evolution of Glasser as a person has paralleled his growth as a player, and it's unfolded under the watchful eyes of parents who never missed his games, even on the road.

"His freshman year in the dorm, it was frightening, just an absolute mess," Klein said. "Then when he got his own place, coming in and always seeing everything laying around and the books everywhere, to all of a sudden now everything is in order. Everything is organized, the dishes are in the dishwasher, not the sink, clothes are in the closet by the hamper as opposed to being everywhere.

"He's a man today."

With an assist from Pera, no doubt.

ASU's recruiting coordinator won't be able to attend Glasser's graduation -- he'll instead be in Oregon at the Villa 7 Coaching Consortium presented by Nike, an annual gathering of several dozen of the top Division I college assistants nationally -- but his presence will certainly be felt.

"I think me and coach Pera have as good a relationship as any player and coach in the country could have," Glasser said. "In a lot of ways, he was like a second father to me and as I've grown up it's become more like a big brother relationship. He's one of the most important people in my life and as responsible for my success as anyone and I'll always love him for that.

"To have that and parents who travel all over the country to be at all my games and sacrifice other things in their lives they could be doing to support me, especially on road games where you have 14,000 fans cursing you out and it's like a calming influence, is an amazing feeling. I'm very lucky."

The son of a mult-millionaire business owner, Glasser didn't need a degree to procure a high paying job just as he didn't need to overachieve in basketball in order to forge a successful life.

But Glasser was dead set on building something on his own, and that's even more admirable than the background role he played as he generated more baskets for teammates than any player before him in school history.

Glasser recently signed with professional agent Keith Kreider and will pursue opportunities to play basketball overseas, perhaps in Europe or Israel, before a possible coaching career.

"I'm fortunate that I don't have to make the NBA for my family to have a nice lifestyle but I don't want to be some kid who waits for his monthly check to come in so I can go party and do whatever it is I do," Glasser said. "This is my thing. The jean thing isn't really what I want to do. It's there but I want to make my own path and the only way you can do that is to work as hard as you can every day, and that's what my dad's told me."


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