Team preview: Arizona State

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2004-05 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: October 20, 2004, 4:55 PM ET
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COACH AND PROGRAM

Rob Evans needed an infusion of talent.

After a 20-win season capped by a trip to the NCAA Tournament in the 2002-2003 season, his Arizona State squad lost several key members from that postseason run.

So enter eight new players last season to makeup for the turnover -- and Evans had his new horses.

But the problem was those newcomers were freshmen, and the old adage about freshmen and inconsistency rung very true for Evans in his fifth year in Tempe.

The baby-faced Sun Devils won 10 games, just four in Pac-10 play, and fell to the conference basement.

And that youthful roster showed itself after a 6-2 start. From there, the Sun Devils finished the season 4-14, at one point losing 10 of 12 in the heart of the conference schedule.

"They understand now, what it takes to win at this level," Evans said. "You can talk to them all you want to about how difficult it is, but they have to go through it to understand. I think, in the long run, it'll be good for us as a team. They know now what it takes to be a good basketball team."

Everything ASU does starts with the conference's top post player, the prodigiously talented 6-8, 250-pound man-child, Ike Diogu (22.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg).

All the junior from Garland, Texas did last season was improve on his impressive freshman campaign (19.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg), in which he was the lone freshman on the All-Pac-10 team and a member of the U.S. team that played in the Pan-American games.

As a sophomore, Diogu improved his scoring and rebounding averages, though his shooting percentage dipped from 60 percent as a freshman to 53 percent last season because of constant double teams.

Diogu's performance was all the more impressive considering the youth that surrounded him.

"The biggest thing about last season was our inexperience," Evans said. "In this league it is difficult to have a lot of success depending on a lot of young guys. We decided to go with youth instead of experience. I mean even Ike Diogu was just a sophomore."

Diogu, of course, will still be the focus of opposing defenses. That's why the rapid development of the rest of the Sun Devils is crucial.

"I think we have the makings of a good basketball team," Evans said. "We have talent, it's just very young. We got a lot more experienced because we had to play those guys last year. We'll be a team that can beat anybody."

PLAYERS

The bulk of Arizona State's experience lies in its backcourt.

Seniors Jason Braxton (7.1 ppg, 4.8 apg) and Stevie Moore (12.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg), along with walk-on forward Jamie Andrisevic (0.0 ppg, 0.3 rpg) are the lone seniors on the roster.

Evans expects the 6-2 Braxton and the 6-4 Moore to play interchangeable roles in the backcourt.

Braxton played out of position at point guard much of last season. Evans wants the athletic Braxton to spend most of his court time at shooting guard and even small forward.

"He can play all three perimeter positions," Evans said. "He's athletic and he's been through several seasons here. He gives us leadership."

Moore was Arizona State's second-leading scorer last season after transferring from Santa Ana College. Like Braxton, Moore is expected to play both wing positions.

"He played really well last year, and we expect more from him this year," Evans said. "He tailed off toward the end of the season, and I think it really began to affect him mentally. We really think he'll pick it up this season."

The reason Evans can shift Braxton and Moore to more comfortable roles on the perimeter is the arrival of junior college transfer Tyrone Jackson (22.3 ppg, 7.1 apg).

The 6-2 junior left Fresno City College as the program's all-time leading scorer and assists leader, and Evans said reports over the summer from his team was that Jackson was "the real deal."

"He's a coach on the floor," Evans said. "He has a feel for the game. He's lefty, he can shoot it and he can put in on the floor, everything you want from a point guard."

Another junior college transfer, 6-7 Bryson Krueger (15.8 ppg), is expected to provide an outside shooting presence for the Sun Devils. Krueger, who played for new assistant coach Brooks Thompson at Yavapai Community College in Arizona, played one season at Vanderbilt before transferring.

Thompson was a star guard at Oklahoma State in the early 1990s and played in the NBA and in Europe, before going into coaching.

"[Krueger] helps us out," Evans said. "He has a great basketball sense and he understands the game. He will make a big difference for us."

Evans also expects a contribution from 6-2 sophomore Kevin Kruger (5.3 ppg, 2.1 apg), son of UNLV coach Lon Kruger.

"He came on in the latter part of the season," Evans said. "He can shoot the ball. He's versatile -- he can play point guard and shooting guard -- and he can play a team game."

Athletic 6-2 sophomore Tron Smith (3.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg) gives the Sun Devils another athletic presence from the perimeter. Evans would like to see more consistency from Smith.

"Tron is very athletic, but he never got into the flow of things last season," Evans said. "I think it was part of being a freshman. I think he'll see minutes for us at the two or three this season."

Lanky 6-7, 190-pound freshman Tim Pierce of Hercules High School in Oakland, Calif. could also break into the rotation, because of his athleticism and shot-blocking ability.

While the backcourt seems in place, who joins Diogu in the frontcourt is still a puzzle.

Rising sophomore Serge Angounou (3.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg) is nearly fully recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half of last season. The 6-7 power forward gives the Sun Devils an active, athletic low-post presence when healthy.

"He's 99 percent recovered," Evans said. "I think he can get back into the flow of things, if he isn't as limited from the injury. We expect him to be a big part of the picture."

Evans would like to see more consistency from sophomores Wilfred Fameni (4.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Keith Wooden (3.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg). The 6-7 Fameni is a solid defensive presence who can rebound, while the 6-8 Wooden provides an athletic post with scoring ability.

"[Fameni] is a guy that has gotten better," Evans said. "He was someone we thought would be a good rebounder but we want more scoring from him. Keith can allow us to have Ike spend some time outside. He has the ability to let us give people different looks, so they can't double Ike."

Adding a physical presence on the blocks is 6-7 junior Allen Morrill (2.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg).

"He brings toughness," Evans said. "He can defend anyone, and that's what we want him to do. He's not a guy that's going to score, but he will make us tougher."

Expected to see limited minutes is 6-10 freshman Craig Austin, who comes from El Camino High School in San Diego.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B
BENCH/DEPTH: C
FRONTCOURT: B
INTANGIBLES: C

Evans realizes that despite his team's relative youth, he still has one of the nation's top players in Diogu.

While that may not solve all his woes, its nice to know he has the burly Diogu to carry the load until the rest of his team comes along. Diogu is one of the nation's most dominating forces, one of a few players capable of carrying a team and genuinely worth several wins just with his presence. But he will need help, especially to avoid the constant double teams be saw last season.

The Sun Devils are a mystery team, as easily capable of making a postseason run or having a mediocre season.

The addition of Jackson should take some of the burden off Diogu. Braxton and Moore are experienced guards and should make for a solid backcourt.

The biggest issue is with the players surrounding Diogu in the frontcourt.

If Angounou can get back to his old form and the rest of the Sun Devils' frontcourt can contribute, the Sun Devils could surprise.

Evans is cautiously optimistic about his young team. It'll take another step in the Sun Devils' development if they hope to return to postseason play.

But at least they have a nice place to start.

For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the 384-page "Bible" of college basketball, Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com.

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