ASU adjusts to life without Harden, Pendergraph
Arizona State went 8-22 and lost a school-record 15 straight games in point guard Derek Glasser's freshman year. Then gifted guard James Harden arrived and led the Sun Devils out of the college hoops desert. Last March, Arizona State won an NCAA tournament game for only the second time since 1995. Now Harden is gone, off to Oklahoma City and the NBA after two seasons in college. Senior forward Jeff Pendergraph also graduated and moved on to the pros. In the past, the Sun Devils may have been crippled by such losses. But Glasser said he thinks Arizona State has been transformed in Herb Sendek's four seasons. "When I first came here, it was OK to lose," said Glasser, now a senior. "You're competitive, so that was OK. As long you don't get blown out, it's OK. But now we've learned how to win. "The culture is different," Glasser said. "It's not OK to lose. We win now." The question is whether the Sun Devils will win as consistently as they did with Harden and Pendergraph. Arizona State won 25 games for the third time in school history and finished third in the Pac-10. Most nights, the Sun Devils relied heavily on their two pros-in-the-making. Harden and Pendergraph combined to score 34.6 of Arizona State's 69.4 points per game. When the Sun Devils needed a bucket, they'd usually hand the ball to Harden and let the lefty carve up the defense. But Sendek noted that several of the players on this team have hit pressure shots, and he minimized the loss of Harden as ASU's go-to guy. "Some of our veteran players have made big shots before," Sendek said. One of those players is Glasser, who nailed late 3-pointers in victories over UCLA and Arizona last season. The Sun Devils may look for more scoring from Glasser, a poised ballhandler who led the Pac-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio last year, and they'll need more production from junior swingman Rihards Kuksiks and junior guards Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan. Freshman guard Trent Lockett, a product of Minnetonka, Minn., is also expected to play a big role. The Sun Devils should be strong on the perimeter, but they have big question marks inside, where Pendergraph provided a fiery presence for the last four seasons. Arizona State's top returning rebounder is the 6-foot-3 Abbott, who grabbed 139 boards last season. Kuksiks had 128 rebounds, but no other returning player had more than 69. ASU hopes 6-foot-10 senior Eric Boateng will finally emerge as more than a backup. He averaged 1.8 points per game last year and has been an afterthought for much of his career, which began at Duke. "I expect Eric to be really good this year," Sendek said. Said Boateng, "I've just tried to improve on everything, and not have any weaknesses." The Sun Devils have plenty of time to come together against a soft nonconference schedule that includes home games against Texas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and South Carolina Upstate. Arizona State plays only one nonconference road game - at Brigham Young on Dec. 8. Against a weak schedule, Arizona State should be able to pile up wins before wading into conference play. That may help the team's confidence when it opens Pac-10 play at UCLA on New Year's Eve. "People are going to overlook us again," Glasser said. "To us, it won't be a surprise if we beat teams."