The month of April was something of a roller-coaster ride for Herb Sendek.
And that was something the Arizona State head men’s basketball coach really didn’t need. He was still catching his breath after the heart-breaking loss to Texas the month before, when the Longhorns beat his Sun Devils in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament by putting up the winning shot with .2 seconds left on the clock.
That was despite the fact that the Devils shot 48 percent from the field, 53 percent from behind the arc, and out-rebounded the ‘Horns. So what does it take, Sendek must have asked himself, to get out of the first round?
As the off-season began, he was all but certain that he was going to lose his point guard to the NBA. And, indeed, Jahii Carson‘s official announcement of his intent to enter the pro draft came in mid-April to crush any possible hope the ultra-talented sophomore might change his mind and give Sendek one more season. Carson had to sit out his true freshman year after graduation from nearby Mesa High School because of eligibility issues, but averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists as a sophomore to lead the Sun Devils to their first appearance in five years at the NCAA Tournament.
Carson’s declaration came just about the same time that the eighth-year head coach was faced with accepting the resignation of his associate head coach, Eric Musselman. Sendek knew his old friend wasn’t planning to hang around much longer than the two years Musselman gave the ASU program, but the departure was similar to Carson’s. Sendek knew it was coming eventually, but it’s still hard to take.
Musselman brought a wealth of basketball experience and savvy to the program after serving as head coach for a couple of NBA teams, and as an assistant with three other pro teams. That kind of staff support at the college level is hard to come by.
But Sendek didn’t waste any time bringing in reinforcements. Knowing that Musselman was about to move on, Sendek picked up Barret Peery to fill the void on the bench, hiring the junior-college coach as an assistant. Peery spent the last three years as head coach at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, taking the program to the national title game last season. Before that he was named the Scenic West Athletic Conference (SWAC) Coach of the Year after leading College of Southern Utah to a No. 1 national ranking during the 2007-08 season.
And then there was the disappointing news to start the month that a 6’10” junior-college center who had signed to play for Sendek in November wouldn’t be coming to Tempe after all. Octavius Ellis ran into academic problems that derailed his plans to wear the maroon and gold next year, leaving Sendek’s roster thin at the post position following the graduation of 7-footer Jordan Bachynski.
But a blast of sunlight broke through the clouds as the month turned the corner into the final two weeks when the NCAA granted Shaquielle McKissic a sixth season of eligibility. The 6’5″ forward averaged nine points and five rebounds for last season’s Sun Devil team after being out of basketball for a couple of years, due in part to a run-in with the law. But those stats don’t really tell how important his return next season could be.
McKissic really stepped up in the second half of the season, with the third-most minutes per game of those in the starting line-up, averaging 32 minutes. He led the team in scoring three times during the season, was top rebounder in nine games, and had 16 games with scoring in double digits.
The first full month of true off-season activity did end on a high note, as Sendek tied down a couple of new recruits before April closed out. Both are junior-college transfers, with Willie Atwood listed as the No. 7 JUCO prospect in the country and Savon Goodman coming in with a year spent learning the college game at UNLV.
Goodman, a 6’6″ forward, attended Indian Hills Community College in Iowa after leaving UNLV, but didn’t play in that program, so he still has three years of eligibility remaining and will be eligible to play for the Sun Devils following the fall semester. Atwood, a 6’8″ forward, transfers in from Connors State in Oklahoma where he averaged 21 points and nine rebounds last season.
After a 21-12 campaign, the re-loading for next season has begun in Tempe. But there’s still that huge hole to fill at point guard.
Jahii Carson is just 5’10” tall, but he left some big shoes to fill at ASU.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)