Commentary: Tables turning in ASU’s favor

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
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Saturday cemented the beginning of an era at ASU athletics.

For after the Sun Devil football team’s debacle against Oregon, a sliver lining could not be clearer.

This is the first time in a long time that ASU students can utter the once absurd phrase, “just wait for basketball season.”

And while the sky is still falling in Tucson after legendary UA coach Lute Olson's retirement last week, the diet of the Herbivores is only growing.

After years of turmoil, going through coach after coach, ASU finally got it right by hiring North Carolina State’s throwaway, coach Herb Sendek.

For years it’s always been about one men’s basketball program in Arizona, and for years UA dominated not only its fiercest rival but much of the Pac-10 Conference. Its dominance was exemplified by a coach who ran an honest and efficient program. Olson’s reputation wasn’t just one of excellence, but also of class.

ASU could only watch in envy, hoping for the occasional upset while counting down the time until baseball season or football season.

While UA sent Mike Bibby, Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas and Andre Iguodala to the professional ranks, ASU’s hung its hat on Eddie House and, more recently, Ike Diogu.

The nation’s top recruits who traveled to Arizona usually landed in Tucson, not Tempe.

But UA has been losing its luster. The Wildcats haven’t attended a Final Four since losing to Duke in the 2001 national championship game, and they haven’t won a first round game since 2006.

Now, the reasons for recruits to travel south are diminished.

Enter Tempe, which has everything a recruit would want: the same weather, faithful fans, a dedicated athletic director and now one of the best minds on college basketball’s sidelines.

Sendek’s basketball IQ is uncanny. The results are there too: He took N.C. State to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances before leaving for his reclamation project.

The writing was on the wall even in Sendek’s first season at ASU.

Anyone could have seen it.

During the 2006-2007 campaign, the Sun Devils allowed 61.8 points per game.

Find me a team that limited opponents to such ghastly numbers and only went 8-22 (2-16 Pac-10).

You won’t.

Because this indicates two things: One, Sendek’s zone scheme can slow down even the most potent attacks. Two, it showed ASU had no offense.

ASU averaged 58.5 points per game that season, losing many close contests.

After an improved 2007-2008 season (21-13, 9-10), its Sendek’s recruiting that loosens UA’s hold on high schoolers in the state.

In his second recruiting class, ranked 19th nationwide by Rivals.com, Sendek tabbed James Harden (a five-star recruit), Jamelle McMillan (a three-star recruit) Ty Abbott (a three-star recruit).

According to reports Monday, UA lost three incoming recruits in the fallout of Olson’s retirement.

And you can bet, with UA at least temporally in shambles, ASU will not only garner more recruits, it’s going to garner more wins.

After years playing of playing second fiddle to the Wildcats, this is the time for a once ignored program to emerge onto the national scene, and to remain there until someone pushes it off.

Is the reign over in Tucson? Well that all depends on who UA attracts as its permanent coach.

But times are forever changed. A legend is gone and an opportunity for the Sun Devils has already been seized.

Because it’s a good coach that makes all the difference in this sport. He recruits, he educates, and he wins.

Just ask the Wildcats.

Reach the reporter at joshua.spivack@asu.edu.