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ASU hopes to reload, not rebuild in 2009-10

Senior guard Danielle Orsillo drives to the basket during a game against Oregon last season.(Matt Pavelek | The State Press)

Gone are six seniors that were the core of a Sun Devil team that advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years last March.

Gone is the two-time Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, who also happened to be a top-10 WNBA draft pick last April.

Gone is the team’s leading scorer and starting point guard from last season because of a second torn anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The 2009-2010 edition of the ASU women’s basketball team, which opens its season Sunday against South Dakota State, certainly looks different on paper than the squad that was one win away from the Final Four last season.

But what coach Charli Turner Thorne hopes isn’t gone is the winning tradition that has officially been established in her Sun Devil program that has advanced to five straight NCAA Tournaments.

Rebuilding is not in the vocabulary — it’s time for ASU to reload.

“Charli doesn’t have rebuilding years,” senior guard Danielle Orsillo said.

That doesn’t mean the road will be a smooth one.

The No. 16 Sun Devils are still working as many as seven new faces into the mix, as the program welcomes three true freshmen, three players coming off a redshirt season and one junior-college transfer to the fold.

Turner Thorne also admits that because of all those new players, the Sun Devils are still trying to find their identity.

“We’re still just kind of feeling out [what we want to do offensively],” she said. “We are absolutely 100 percent fine with ugly basketball. It’s not ugly to watch — it’s ugly for the other team.”

But that newness has also led to a renewed sense of urgency from the players who know their roles will all increase this season and that team chemistry needs to be established.

“This is the most productive offseason we’ve ever had,” she said. “Our seniors came back with the attitude to lead with a goal in mind, and we’re just ready to work. It’s been a process, but it’s been really cool, because I haven’t seen so much growth in so little time since I’ve been here.”

And even with the immense changeover on the roster and kinks that need to be worked out, expectations are still high in Tempe. Turner Thorne’s philosophy using defense and rebounding to win games is still the same, and if the new group buys in, she said her team should be peaking in March.

“We have the ability I think, to match up with anybody we play,” Turner Thorne said. “We’ll start there, and then we’ll prepare and we’ll work hard and we’ll get better and better. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we’re one of the best teams in the country.”


The graduation of 2009 All-Pac-10 selection Briann January, who is arguably the best overall perimeter player in the history of the ASU program, and the loss of Dymond Simon, who will redshirt this season because of the second ACL tear of her Sun Devil career, literally leaves ASU without a point guard with any extensive experience at the Division-I level.

Enter a trio of players who will look to fill that giant void in junior Tenaya Watson, sophomore Alex Earl and freshman Sabrina McKinney.

“As these younger guards get more experience, the sky’s the limit,” Orsillo said. “We have a lot in our arsenal. Everyone can run [and] everyone can rebound, so it’s just really exciting. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year.”

Watson, who transferred to ASU from Central Arizona College, started the Sun Devils’ exhibition contest against Vanguard at the position last week, while McKinney contributed 12 minutes off the bench and had a game-high four assists.

“Sabrina’s really our only true point guard,” Turner Thorne said. “All the other guards on our roster can swing. [Tenaya’s] an aggressive guard that can score and can get other people the ball, so we’re just really working on her being consistent in terms of her position defense and decision making, because everything is new.”

But helping the new group of point guards will be Orsillo, who is the Sun Devils’ only returning starter on the perimeter and averaged 9.3 points per game last season.

“Daneille Orsillo has got to be one of the top guards in the country from what I see,” Turner Thorne said. “The kid just has a knack — she can just put the ball in the basket. Take away Danielle’s scoring, she’s just usually the smartest kid on the floor. Sometimes it’s hard to coach her, because she sees so much and knows so much.”

Orsillo looks poised to close her college career with a bang, as she was healthy enough to participate in a full offseason of workouts for the first time while at ASU and will likely be relied upon to carry more of the offensive load this season and be the vocal leader of the team.

“If I have an open shot, I’m going to take the open shot,” Orsillo said. “If I have an open lane, I’m going to drive and dish or I’m going to drive and take the shot. I’m not putting any extra pressure on myself.

Yeah, I am looking for my shot more, because that’s what my team needs from me. Right now, until they stay stop, I’m going to keep shooting.”

Adding to the depth and adding a veteran presence at guard will be senior Gabby Fage, who was used sparingly in her ASU career before hitting some key shots when her minutes dramatically increased in the NCAA Tournament.

Freshman Deja Mann and redshirt freshman Haley Parsons, who is currently recovering from a broken foot, will also make their ASU debuts this season.

Post players

Despite the departure of three post players due to graduation, it looks like the Sun Devils won’t miss a beat on the inside this season.

The rotation on the block is deep and should be the strength of this ASU team, and Turner Thorne plans to cater to that strength by having more of the offense go through the paint this season.

“We just have to figure out how to creatively get them the ball in different ways,” Turner Thorne said. “They’re a little young right now, so I’m not going to throw out [that they’re] one of the best post games in the nation yet, [but] I think we can grow into that. I’m excited about the firepower and versatility of our posts to score inside and out.”

Leading the group of post players is senior Kayli Murphy, who is a returning starter and the inside player Turner Thorne said has been the most consistent.

“Kayli’s kind of that silent killer,” Turner Thorne said. “She picks off that pass for the layup and she gets the clutch rebound or gets that deflection with her defense.”

Murphy really came on strong in the NCAA Tournament, where she notched her first career double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) in the Sun Devils’ first-round win against Georgia, and she said she hopes to continue that growth in her final season in Tempe.

“At the end of the year I was the most confident I’ve been,” Murphy said. “I felt prepared and I knew what was going on, and I have that starting this year. I don’t have to think on the court, I just know what’s going on, and I can really see outside the box.”

Also back is junior Becca Tobin, who will likely move into the st

arting lineup and is a threat on both ends of the floor after ranking second in rebounds last season (5.1 per game) and eighth in the Pac-10 in blocks (0.9 per game).

“Becca is really scoring the basketball,” Turner Thorne said. “We knew she could even [do that] last year, and we tried to get her to do more, and it came really slow. Now, she wants the ball. I think she’s really worked hard in this offseason to be a complete scorer for us.”

Sophomore Kimberly Brandon will also return to her wing position and is arguably the Sun Devils’ most athletic player that could be ready for a breakout season. She scored a game-high 19 points and added seven rebounds and three steals in ASU’s win over Vanguard.

“The girl has more athleticism in her pinky than a lot of people get in a lifetime,” Orsillo said of Brandon.

Heading the new players on the inside is redshirt sophomore Kali Bennett, who sat out last season after transferring from Washington.

Bennett is one of three players that stand at 6-foot-5 and showed her physical presence in the paint when she scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Vanguard.

“She’s a big, strong girl,” Turner Thorne said of Bennett. “When she goes straight up and down, she’s a very good finisher. [I’m] really pleased and excited for Kalli’s game.”

Redshirt freshman Janae Fulcher is also expected to make a big impact in her first season of game action, and freshman Joy Burke, a local product out of Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High School, should also see a fair amount of playing time.

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