There’s a new sense of urgency going around the ASU men’s basketball program.
For two straight seasons, the Sun Devils recorded no more than 15 wins in one year, but that finally changed last season when ASU finished with 22 wins. The team had a star emerge in redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson and coach Herb Sendek has given him some reinforcements over the offseason with four transfers.
After missing the NCAA Tournament by a couple of wins last season, it’s clear that the Sun Devils aren’t settling for anything less than a tournament bid this year.
And there is no time greater than the present.
“As one of our core values says, ‘Now is the only time — the path is the goal,’” Sendek said.
Of course, it’s hard to discuss ASU’s success on the hardwood without acknowledging Carson’s contributions.
Carson, the 2013 Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year, nearly left ASU during the offseason for the NBA Draft but remained on the team to help ASU win. With the NBA still in his sights, Carson has already declared this season would be his last and wants to make a final push.
“I want to win more than 20 games,” Carson said. “I want to win the Pac-12 championship, all-first team in the conference, get Pac-12 Player of the Year, All-American honors and get in the NCAA Tournament. That’s the way to end my last year.”
Carson will see some of his supporting cast from last year return, too. Senior center Jordan Bachynski is in his final year as well. The 7-foot-3-inch Canadian is the Sun Devils’ lone true center and is 88 blocks away from setting the Pac-12 career record in rejections.
“As Jordan’s career has gone, we expect him to take yet another really positive, significant step forward,” Sendek said. “I think if we retrace the steps he’s taken since he’s arrived in his first three years, he’s been on a very positive trajectory. We would expect him to take one more giant step and have his best year yet coming up. He certainly is stronger and more sturdy.”
Another starter the Sun Devils retained is junior forward Jonathan Gilling. Now in his third year on the team, Sendek said he wants Gilling to play something similar to a point forward. Not necessarily by bringing the ball down the court, but rather by facilitating the offense as a floor general.
“The biggest thing I see with Jon is his basketball IQ,” Sendek said. “Whatever team he’s on playing offense, they’re more fluid and more connected. He not only knows what to do himself, he’s like a symphony conductor.”
Sophomore forward Eric Jacobsen and junior wingman Bo Barnes also return as role players off the bench.
The biggest departure from the roster over the offseason is Carrick Felix, who was named onto the All-Pac-12 Second Team and the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team last season. The Sun Devils also lost guard Chris Colvin and center Ruslan Pateev to graduation with guard Evan Gordon and forward Kenny Martin transferring out of the program. Sendek filled those holes by adding six newcomers this season — four transfers and two freshmen.
The Sun Devils’ most notable pick-up was senior guard Jermaine Marshall, a transfer from Penn State who averaged 15.3 points per game last season with the Nittany Lions. Marshall is immediately eligible to play as a graduate transfer per NCAA regulations and is expected to start with Carson in the backcourt.
“He’s a mature guy, on and off the court, so I definitely learn from him on and off the court with my leadership qualities,” Carson said. “He just helps me all around with my game, little things, tips, free throws, boxing out (and) defensive things.”
Joining Marshall from other schools are sophomore Sai Tummala from Salt Lake City Community College, junior forward Shaquielle McKissic from Edmonds Community College and junior forward Brandon Kearney from Michigan State (who won’t be eligible to play until December).
Sophomore Calaen Robinson returns after leaving the team last season because of a personal matter and should back up Carson at point guard. Senior forward Richie Edwards, who transferred from Valparaiso in 2012, is eligible to play after sitting out a year per NCAA regulations.
Wingman Egor Koulechov and guard Chance Murray are ASU’s last two additions as incoming freshmen to what Sendek called the deepest team he’s coached at ASU.
“We have a number of guys who are very versatile,” Sendek said. “We’re going to have a lot of flexibility, and the way we’re playing is going to allow us to play many different combinations.”
A tough road lies ahead for this team, though. The Sun Devils have a much tougher nonconference schedule after being criticized for playing easy opponents last season. The schedule highlights include a trip to UNLV on Nov. 19, a home game against No. 17 Marquette on Nov. 25, a game against Creighton in the first round of the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif., and a home game against Texas Tech on Dec. 21.
Bachynski acknowledged that the Sun Devils have a chip on their shoulders this year after not making it to the Big Dance last year. He knows ASU is flying under the radar, but he’s confident the Sun Devils are in a win-now situation.
They must prove it beginning on Nov. 8 in their season opener against Maryland-Baltimore County.
“Every year, no one has picked us to do well,” Bachynski said. “This year is no different. We don’t really dwell in that but we know in our hearts that we’re better than people give us credit for, and hopefully (we can) turn a lot of heads.”
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