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How Chris Osten's 'hardhat mentality' has driven his rapid improvement

The junior transfer's hustle and interior ability have made him a key player for ASU men's basketball


ASU junior forward Chris Osten (21) subs into the game against Oregon State on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021 at Desert Financial Arena. ASU won 75-73.

ASU men's basketball junior forward Chris Osten and assistant coach Anthony Coleman had one thing in common when Osten showed up on campus ahead of this season: They had no idea what to expect.

The junior college transfer arrived slightly undersized, standing at 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds, and unaccustomed to the pace of Division I basketball, particularly that of ASU's up-tempo offense, Coleman said. 

"I was like, 'Oh, this is going to be a process,'" Coleman said. 

Yet Osten, with what Coleman described as his "hardhat mentality," never shied away from the challenges presented to him, embracing each opportunity to improve his game and combatting any of his potential limitations by giving unrivaled effort. 

Osten's effort has earned him five starts and 17 minutes per game this season, filling a much-needed role for ASU as a rim protector and interior presence.

"He's been a real success story," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. "He's been fun to coach. He shows up every day, has a great attitude (and a) great work ethic."

Osten's journey to earn minutes began in preseason practices where he stood out by embracing the "dirty work," in one instance grabbing nine offensive rebounds in a single scrimmage, Hurley said. Coleman said that hustle not only highlighted Osten's potential, but it also elevated the effort from his teammates. 

"He was always a step quicker than everybody else," Coleman said. "He would jump up and then take a quick second jump to get the ball. It was good for us and good for other bigs, because again, they had to learn to play with a secondary effort."

With the departure of three-year starter Romello White following last season, ASU lacked impactful big men, with no player taller than 6-foot-9 consistently in the rotation. Hurley also questioned who would do "the little things" for ASU before the season, a task Osten has embraced. 

That meant Osten, with no Division I experience, would be thrown into the fire early, taking on a role as a defensive pest, shot-blocker and someone who "does all the intangible things that most players don't want to do," Coleman said. 

Osten was also committed to picking the brains of his coaches and religiously watching film to understand where he could most improve, a trait he believes is as essential to his success as his willingness to scrap in-game. 

"I've realized that I'm not the strongest, or the fastest, or the most athletic," Osten said. "I've just gotta work harder than most people and to do that you have to, you know, hear the output of the coaches and what they want from you and what you can improve on."

One of those areas for improvement was Osten's strength and physicality, as with the shortage of big men on ASU's roster, his minutes have overwhelmingly come at center against bigger players. To prepare himself for the challenge, Osten said he has had to "love the weight room" as much as he does playing and eat as much as he can.

Coleman said Osten has gone "above and beyond" to gain weight, "almost to the point of him being sick," an effort Osten believes has paid off.

"Most of these guys that I go up against easily have 20 to 30 pounds on me," Osten said. "I'm still down there grinding and pushing with them."

Osten's efforts culminated when he was asked to start five straight games in January when starting sophomore forward Jalen Graham was unavailable due to mononucleosis.

Osten said entering the role was "a little nerve-wracking" but embraced the "next man up mentality," something Coleman said was characteristic of his professional approach all season. 

"He's the ultimate teammate," Coleman said. "I love coaching him because he’s a guy that doesn't make excuses. If the job doesn't get done, he's gonna constantly try to find ways to get it done."

Amid that stretch, Osten put up a signature performance against Oregon State, notching a season-high 12 pounds and seven rebounds. He found particular success as a lob threat in the dunker spot. 

"I feel like I really proved myself that game," Osten said. "You give me the ball by the basket, I'll put it in the rim or I’ll dunk on somebody."

Although Osten hasn't matched that level of output since and has been recently hampered by an ankle injury, one which Hurley commended him for playing through, Coleman said he views this as a "redshirt year" for Osten, whose eligibility is unaffected due to COVID-19. 

Along with his continued physical development and improved basketball intellect, Coleman believes Osten can grow more comfortable playing out of the post and can continue to extend the range on his jump shot. 

Because of Osten's outstanding work ethic, Coleman believes he will reach that potential.

"Whatever wall is there to try to stop him, he's not gonna allow it to stop him," Coleman said. 

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