"What I like most about this team are the guys on the team,” said Head Coach Herb Sendek. “We have really great guys. We have guys that are easy to cheer for and easy to be proud of. I enjoy our time together. Our team has a good personality and a good a good chemistry. They are enjoyable guys to coach.”
In terms of tempo, Sendek said the team has to be able to play not only at a fast pace, but also at a deliberate rate when the situation calls for it.
"It is always vital that you play smart balanced basketball,” Sendek said. “Speed can be fun and it can be an easy sell, but speed also kills. I know there is always a push to play fast. People like passing more than running. They tend to like running more than slow in basketball. But having said that when you play against the best teams you must be able to execute in the half court. The best teams don't give you a lot of easy baskets in transition.
“So although it is a fan-favorite topic and players always talk about playing fast, ultimately you must be able to execute in the half court because the best teams don't give you a lot of easy baskets in transition. I have said this all off season so it is not breaking news, but I would be surprised if anyone is able to push the ball any faster than Arizona State."
When asked what his team needed to improve on the most, again Sendek’s words sounded eerily familiar to those of ASU Head Football Coach Todd Graham.
"I will hit on one thing that isn't necessarily X and O orientated that is important is that we continue to improve our mental and our physical toughness,” Sendek said. “I think that is a real area of concentration for us. That doesn't mean that somehow we are meaning to be bravado or macho or see how hard we can hit our head against the wall, or how loud we can growl. We have to be more mentally focused, more mentally able to take a blow and respond the right way.
“We have to be a more physical basketball team without fouling, without being foolishly aggressive. So that is one area we have really focused on as we have put our thoughts together going into this season that is outside of the box of schematics."
Not only did the Sun Devils endure a rocky off-season as leading scorer Trent Lockett elected to transfer and play his last year of eligibility at Marquette, but the team also saw two of their assistant coaches, Scott Pera and Lamont Smith, resign in late August.
It what has been a highly intriguing move, ASU was able to land two-time NBA Head Coach Eric Musselman and former NBA assistant coach Larry Greer to join Sendek’s staff. Sendek expressed his elation with those hires and described how this tandem can enrich his staff.
“We have a staff that is really passionate about the game and they are really good on the bench and on the practice court,” Sendek described. “It has been invigorating for all of us to have some good basketball talks and X and O sessions. I really love being around good coaches who are passionate, care about the game, and people who know about the game. Any time you come to work and are around people like that, it is invigorating."
Sendek commented that returning assistant head coach, Dedrique Taylor, has been assisting Musselman and Greer in getting acclimated to the world of college basketball recruiting. However, Sendek added that this may be the only defined role among his assistants.
“There has been a lot of cross-pollination, a lot of inner change but it has been very healthy and a great work environment for us,” Sendek remarked. “What drives us are the fundamentals and those typically do not change when you make changes in the coaching staff. Obviously having coached as long as I have there are things that are really important that we continue to buy in to. But having said that each and every season, and in fact all the time, it is good to be aware of all possibilities and put everything up to question.
“I love learning, exploring new possibilities, maybe thinking outside the box. It is always fun to put a new team together. What are we going to keep the same, what are we going to change, to me that is the fun part of coaching. Over the summer we decided the big directions we are going. What these sessions have done is helped us identify some of the details and particulars I think overall the plan and superstructure is in place for this team coming out of last season and over the summer and now most recently we are just filling in the details to support that overall plan."
To no one’s surprise the most interviewed player today was one who has yet to play for the Sun Devils. After being forced to sit out his first season due to academic ineligibility, point guard Jahii Carson is finally able to strut his skills on the Wells Fargo Arena court this year, a proposition that undoubtedly has the Sun Devil nation deeply intrigued, if not extremely excited. Sendek shares that enthusiasm but also practices caution in regards to the sophomore.
“He continued to make great progress in all ways in over the course of the last year,” Sendek remarked. “Obviously like you, just like the community, we are excited about him being able to compete with us this year. He is an extremely talented young man. My central message to Jahii was that I have your back, and I'm standing with you, just be yourself because I think the danger is that legendary reputation, the great interest, there is some of us that expect him to take us to the court with an S on his shirt and a cape on his back wouldn't be fair to him. It doesn't mean we do not have high expectations for him, for all of our team, it just means sometimes we have to stay on earth."
A naturally anxious Carson felt that he can effectively block the monumental expectations placed on him and focus on the task at hand.
"It's something that's there but the more I think about it, the more it's going to affect me,” Carson admitted. “The more I don't think about it and keep focus, the better I'll play and the more I'll keep that out of the way. I just try to focus on the season since I wasn't able to play last year. I think that is what's best for me.
"I try not to think about the pressure. I'm just trying to think about taking the Sun Devils to another level. I know there is a lot of pressure coming in on me but I try not to take too much of that load onto myself. I think about the season and having a better season. I'm trying to take the Sun Devils over the hump. I'm trying to be a better teammate and making my teammates better every day."
Needless to say that his forced one year hiatus was a humbling experience, but also one he feels that has benefited him.
"I learned to never take anything for granted and to always work hard for everything,” Carson explained. “I also grew a little bit and matured more. I looked at things from a different point of view as I became older. I definitely grew a lot and learned not to take anything for granted."
Carson’s well publicized traits are naturally one significant reason why ASU will be able to effectively play at a faster pace.
"I think I'm one of the fastest guys in the country,” Carson claimed. “With the offense Coach is putting in and the fast break style we're putting in, I think I'm going to flourish on that offense. I think Carrick Felix is going to flourish on offense as well as Evan Gordon, Chris Colvin, Jordan Bachynski, and Ruslan Pateev. I think everybody is looking forward to pushing the ball down the court and beating the defense down."
Nonetheless, Carson feels that he certainly has room for improvement. His mid-range shot was the first aspect he mentioned as an area of opportunity.
“A lot of guards nowadays like to shoot 3s and take it all the way to the basket,” Carson explained. “I think if guards have a great mid-range jump shot, it keeps the defense on their feet. They can't really guard it. Coming off the pick-and-roll, it's the hardest thing to guard in basketball. I think being a small, under-sized point guard with a mid-range jumper is definitely something I would like to perfect.
“I think for me to get defenders off balance, changing my gear and speed is going to be something that can help me get to the basket easier. Having a mid-range jump shot will keep the defense balanced and not just have them commit to every move I do. Having a nice three-ball will keep the defense on its feet. I think once I get that going, my teammates are going to be open. With me having the speed that I have, I don't think they can come up too close. With me having the shooters in the corners and down low, I don't think they can help too much. I think it's going to be tough for the defense this year."
Just like Sendek is mindful of when to employ a rapid and slower pace, Carson is cognizant of not having confidence and swagger turn into arrogance or cockiness.
“I definitely have a confidence about my game,” Carson said. “I have a confidence about my teammate's game. I think that together, we can be something super. I just have a nice little swagger about myself and about my teammates. I think that us coming out on the floor together, not just myself, we can be something super."
And being “super” is something that will more than likely defy the low expectations levied on an ASU team that has placed 10th in the conference in back to back years and still has many question marks to address.
"Obviously we want to get this team turned around,” Sendek stated. “We have a great plan, we have a great group of guys and we really have a big picture in mind. We have a very accurate, honest evaluation of what happened and I think we also are bolstered by the fact that if you look at a large body of work it is very, very positive.
“There is a lot that goes into any one season so you learn from every experience and keep the big picture in mind and you stay the course. With that we have a very strong belief, and we are looking forward to it."