Devils Digest: In the pre-season you naturally formed your own expectations concerning this year’s Arizona State team. Therefore, as they stand at 4-8 at this juncture of the season how surprised are you by that mark and the Sun Devils’ overall play thus far?
Kyle Dodd: “I understood that this was going to be a young team without any seniors and having leadership issues. But I am surprised by the record. They obviously shown in some stretches that they have the capability of playing well, but they can’t sustain any kind of effort to finish games that they should have won.”
DD: You mentioned the inability to sustain effort and finish off its opponents, and we have already seen a few second half collapses from this ASU team that have contributed to that trend. As a former player, when you have that recurring tendency what are usually the reasons for this shortcoming?
KD: “When you look at the way this team has lost its last few games (ASU lost three straight contests by three points or less), you can see that the minute things start to turn a little bit the body language changes, the energy is deflated and they get the “here we go again” feeling.
“The team has to find ways to change that and I think this is where not having a senior, having a player that can look to that has been through some of these battles is hurting them. Trent (Lockett) is the most experienced player and he is trying the best he can to be a leader, but the team needs to have multiple guys to step up and understand that the last few games they lost are games that the team has to have. The team has to have more of a sense of urgency. You can’t go into the Pac-12 losing three straight home games.”
DD: Head coach Herb Sendek is undoubtedly known for his effective zone defense that he has employed ever since arriving in Tempe. Yet, out of necessity he has been playing more man to man defense than he has ever employed in his ASU tenure. Do you feel this schematic change has been able to significantly help the team at times?
KD: “I think Sendek is in a tough spot because he is at a point where he is reaching for things and trying to pull what he can get out of his players, and he’s obviously frustrated with what he’s seeing. He’s tried different defenses to get his players to respond, and I think for a coach like Sendek who is very knowledgeable and manages the game very well, it must be really frustrating for him to keep on trying to find ways to have his team improve.”
DD: You talked about Trent trying to be the team leader and stats wise he is one of the better players on this squad. But on the same token, he has a tendency to have slow starts and when the game is on the line it seems that the team doesn’t always look for him to deliver during those times. As a player that the Sun Devils are really counting on, who would you rate Lockett’s play so far?
KD: “Trent is a great kid who works his butt off. But right he is frustrated like the rest of the team and is trying to figure out where his spots are offensively. You can just sense that he is still trying to feel his way when he’s out there. Even though you’re an upperclassman, sometimes you have to go back to the little things you did as a freshman and sophomore, like hit the glass every time the ball goes up, try and find different ways to score and let things play themselves out.
“I think the team needs to figure out ways for him to get more involved, but he has to also understand that some games you just have to make it happen.”
DD: Carrick Felix is generally having a better year than he did last season. What are some of the reasons for his improvement?
KD: “He’s one player that everybody in the program and every ASU fan is just waiting for him to explode. He has some moments where you can see how good he can be, but now he has to put together good back to back games, or even good back to back sequences. It seems that as soon as he has some success he might float out there a little.
“As talented as he is, he has to understand that consistency is huge on this level.”
DD: It might be weird to declare any one player on this team as an MVP, but many would agree that if anybody deservers that honor it would be Keala King. He’s virtually an unrecognizable player from last season. What have you seen from King in the first 12 games of the year?
KD: “For me the biggest thing is seeing him as a point guard getting so many teammates involved. He struggled with turnovers early in the year but those have gone down lately. He really has good feel and good instincts for the game, and in the last couple of games he showed that he’s a player you can rely on down the stretch.
“He can be a load for a lot of teams because he can beat you off the dribble, beat you down the post and when he’s shooting the ball well he’s tough to guard. He’s doing a better job shooting free throws now too.”
DD: Is there any player aside from King that you would call a pleasant surprise so far?
KD: “I think Ruslan (Pateev) is starting to play better and starting to figure things out. He is a guy that is skilled in the post and makes good decision there. He has been really active the last couple of games and the one game is sat out due to suspension I think really hurt the team.
“Kyle Cain is one of those guys that quietly plays very well. He’s pretty consistent and you know what you’re going to get out of him. He hits the boards every game and plays hard. With this team it’s all about everybody playing well at the same time. It seems like once they get one thing figured out, something else pops up and hurts them. They’ll cut down on turnovers, but not defend the three-point line well. The most frustrating thing for this team is just not being able to put it all together.”
DD: As well as King has played at point guard, is it even possible to overstate how much ASU is missing freshman point guard Jahii Carson who is sitting out this season due to academics?
KD: “It’s definitely a luxury having a point guard like Carson who is so dynamite, quick, and makes as many plays for himself as he does for his teammates. He’s a very talented kid who plays at a very high level. Having him on the floor would give ASU a lot more flexibility personnel wise, allowing Keala to slide over and it would make things that much easier on everybody else too. It’s too bad that he has to wait until next year to play.”
DD: With the team clearly not performing well and beginning Pac-12 play this weekend, how does ASU turn this thing around and do you think it’s too late this deep in the season to achieve significant improvement?
KD: “I definitely don’t think it’s too late to fix it. You’re obviously getting to the point where you have to make changes and you have to show improvement or it will be a long season. There are a lot of winnable games in the Pac-12 this year because there are so many teams that are down. Like I said, we’ve seen that when ASU can put it all together they can play well and play almost with anyone in the conference. It’s just up to the players to understand that the season can go one of two ways: either go really bad from here on out or understand that they have enough talent to improve this year.
“The players have to buy in and believe in what the coaches are telling them and just get after it. The one good thing about a struggling team is that you flush all the people out who don’t believe in you, the people that hang around the team only when they are winning…and now it’s all about the players and the coaches that are in the locker room. The people that are loyal to the program and those are the people who will keep on competing.”
DD: When you’re 4-8 there are clearly many things that need to be fixed. But what would be in your list of the top three aspects that have to be addressed as the Sun Devils enter conference play?
KD: “Number one, they have to stick as a team and every night bring unbelievable energy and out compete their opponent all throughout the game. Number two, is cut down on the turnovers. That has been a huge issue all season and they have to do a better job taking care of the basketball and get good possessions every trip down the floor. Number three, they have to eliminate those long stretches where they don’t execute on either end of the floor. Every game they have those long lulls that really hurt them.
“All three things really go hand in hand with each other, but this are the things that this team needs to improve on the most.”