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October 14, 2010

Sun Devils unlikely to be overlooked

Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice…not going to happen?

Coming off a 22-11 record last season it would be easy to assume reduced expectations would be in order for Arizona State considering its roster is comprised of more newcomers than returning players.

But the Sun Devils were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 preseason media poll last October after losing stars James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph before earning a second-place league showing for the first time since 1981.

So it's a safe bet that when this year's poll comes out in two weeks, voters aren't going to ding ASU too hard for losing Eric Boateng, Jerren Shipp and the school's all-time assist leader, Derek Glasser.

After all, ASU returns Pac-10 all-conference selection Ty Abbott, a Wooden Award Preseason Watch List candidate, and senior classmates Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan.

"We have three seniors in Ty, Jamelle and Rick who offer us outstanding leadership," ASU coach Herb Sendek said at the team's Media Day at Wells Fargo Arena Wednesday afternoon. "They've been quick to point things out to the new guys and share with them what our culture is all about and I think that has really helped bring things along.

"We have five returning players, four of whom have played appreciably, the three seniors and obviously Trent Lockett, who was first-team All-Pac-10 freshmen last year. The fifth being sophomore Ruslan (Pateev), who really didn't play significant minutes last year but has gained 23 pounds and is now up to 250."

ASU's biggest question marks will be at point guard and center as it looks to replace starters Glasser and Boateng. Scoring options shouldn't be a problem on the perimeter with Kuksiks and Abbott, the team's two leading scorers from last season, returning.

"Well I think it's important that as much as you want to try and answer questions and have a plan in place that all the guys going into practice fell like those kind of questions are ultimately determined on the court not in the coach's head, but I think Jamelle McMilan, as a senior, a guy that has played point guard as well as off-guard for us throughout his career, is poised to have a good senior year and we have some other guys that are capable of playing that [point guard]," Sendek said, when asked about replacing Glasser. "The one thing about our system is it really takes advantage of guys being interchangeable."

Pateev and 7-foot-2 freshman Jordan Bachynski will likely man the center position in some combination, though Sendek isn't going to reach any conclusions on who will start or how the minutes will be allocated until he gets further into evaluating the players in action.

"Once again in terms of precise roles and who is going to start and those (things), it would be disingenuous to decide those things before practice starts. But Ruslan I think has really improved. Like I said, he is much stronger and thicker and Ruslan really knows how to play he has a great feel for the game and I expect him to have an outstanding season."

The biggest challenge facing the Sun Devils may be the indoctrination of so many new scholarship players -- seven in all -- who are learning the ropes.

"I've had five, six maybe but I don't recall seven," Sendek said. "There is always so much to learn and people have come in at different points. They come in having different vocabulary sets, different terminology for things. So I think the key for the coaching staff is not to presume anything and we have to start by defining terms so that when we communicate everybody is on the same page.

"I think one of the big adjustments for most new guys is just the level of intensity that is required all the time; every second, every minute of every day and sometimes getting them to understand what they are capable of doing. In their mind they might think they are working really, really hard but you know they have so much more that they are capable of doing. So as much as anything early in the season it is just understanding and communicating the kind of work habits that have to be sustained to enhance improvement."

McMillan said he believes the newcomers what it takes to ultimately be successful.

"This group has been easy," McMillan said. "They ask a lot of questions. They come in and they spend a lot of time in the gym. But the main thing is you have to keep an open mind. You can't sit around and think too much. You can't take what people say personally, criticism especially. They don't do that, they're a group that comes in with a high basketball IQ. They're easy to work with. They are completely engaged in what they are trying to do. I am extremely excited to work with them, I have learned a lot from them this off season, and going into Friday, our first practice, we should be at a good level for our intensity and excitement going into this year."

ASU's athleticism should also be at a solid level, according to its coach, but exactly what that will yield is yet to be determined.

"I think we probably, overall top to bottom improved our athleticism," Sendek said. "That's not to say we haven't had some great athletes on other teams. But I think if you take the group as a composite and just look at the athletic quotient -- which is by the way only a small piece of the basketball equation -- we're more athletic. More athletic doesn't necessarily mean anything or guarantee one thing other than you're more athletic."

Except perhaps more difficult to overlook.

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