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Men’s hoops tries to stay positive amid losing streak

Staying positive is easier said than done.

A competitor wants to win, that’s why athletes play the game. When you aren’t winning, it is easy to get down.  One of the many jobs of a coach is to keep his team positive, even while losing.

That is the predicament the ASU men’s basketball team finds itself in as it prepares to try and snap its nine-game conference losing streak when they take on UA (20-4, 9-2 Pac-10) on Sunday.

“We have absolutely demanded that we be positive,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “We are going to accent our strengths, celebrate small victories and build on successes. The guys are going to identify those. It isn’t going to be me giving one speech after another.”

But staying positive certainly is challenging for all involved.

With time running short in his collegiate career, ASU senior guard Ty Abbott gave a brutally honest take on the struggles his team has gone through this season.

“I’m not going to say it is easy,” Abbott said. “You have to follow what your coach says; if he wants you to be positive, you do so. Everybody knows what is really going on and how we’ve played. If he says we have to look at the good things to try and overcome it, that is what we are going to do.”

The Sun Devils (9-14, 1-10) made tremendous progress in the last two seasons, almost winning the Pac-10 regular season title last year. A preseason poll also picked the team to finish fourth in the conference.

Now it will take a big turnaround not to finish in last place, right where they were in Sendek’s first season in Tempe.

“It’s just crazy to think about,” Abbott said. “It is something I think about all the time. We made strides, a bunch of steps forward and then a giant leap back. It is just disappointing.”

Entering the season, the senior class of Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan all spoke of finishing their careers in the NCAA tournament.

Now Abbott just wants to avoid finishing with a dubious mark.

“Maybe get some wins,” Abbott said of his new goals. “Four years ago they were 2-16. Let’s get to 3-15 at least. That was the year before I came, leave it better than that. That is something we took pride in, was leaving it better than it was. We don’t want to hit that mark.”

Due to numerous player transfers and seniors lost to graduation, ASU had to rely on many newcomers in 2010-2011. Be it inconsistencies, injuries or just not being ready to play at this level quite yet, the lack of production from the new faces has hurt the Sun Devils.

On the flip side, it gives the seniors somewhere to leave their mark. Even though ASU didn’t reach its goals this season, Abbott still wants to impart his knowledge on the guys that will be back next season.

“I feel responsibility to establish some kind of culture, even though the wins aren’t there,” Abbott said. “That you still have to work hard, practice habits and bring it every day just so they know, because they didn’t really understand what it took to play in a league like this or at this level.”

The Sun Devils certainly have improved as of late, but the question remains — how many punches to the gut can they take and keep coming back for more? So far it appears that this group will fight to the end.

Maybe a victory over a bitter rival will be just what a struggling team needs to close out its season strong. McMillan thinks one win would go a long way.

“I think it is going to just take one to get the spark,” McMillan said. “It really is a play here, a play there. If we can make one play, we will be right there. If we get one win, hopefully it will snowball into a few.

“This team is so close and so willing to work with each other. We don’t have guys straying away like we did last year, even though a couple guys were tempted, they have made complete turns and are right there with us. Everybody has each other’s back. This is a trust we haven’t had since I’ve been here.”

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