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July 8, 2013

Sendek turns unexpected transfer into improved roster

Cynics used the offseason transfer of shooting guard Evan Gordon to Indiana as an opportunity to lambast Arizona State coach Herb Sendek.

Sendek used it as an opportunity upgrade his roster.

Less than two months after the decision by Gordon, who averaged 10.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his lone season in Tempe, Sendek pivoted confidently and threw down a slam dunk with the addition of prolific scorer Jermaine Marshall, who will be immediately eligible at ASU for his senior season.

Such is the modern day reality of college basketball, an increasingly chaotic, migratory landscape not for the faint of heart fan or uninitiated coaching staff. More than half of all Division I players finish their careers somewhere other than where they initially sign, so it's how programs do in secondary markets that increasingly determins their success, and that trend is unlikely to abate.

The Sun Devils didn't know at the time they'd have a opportunity to get better with the departure of Gordon, but they took advantage when it presented itself.

There's little doubt the Sun Devils have improved by flipping up from Gordon to Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season at Penn State.

Gordon often disappeared on offense against better opponents including a three point effort at Arizona. In a 10-game stretch near the end of ASU's regular season, when it needed wins most, Gordon scored five or fewer points in five games including back-to-back goose eggs.

Marshall, meanwhile, had 25 points in a win over No. 4 Michigan and 29 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to No. 18 Michigan State, showing that he was no shrinking violet under the brightest lights.

Marshall earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Big Ten last season with 16.3 points in conference play, fifth best in the league. He led Penn State in 3-pointers with 59 while converting 33.9 percent and at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he's a bigger, longer athlete who finished first on the team in steals and deflections.

Sendek put the ball threw the hoop but no doubt has to credit sophomore point guard Jahii Carson with an assist. Imagine that, his star player is even setting things up in the off-season.

The opportunity to play with Carson, arguably the nation's top returning returning point guard after averaging 18.5 points and five assists last season on his way to Co-Freshman of the Year honors in the Pac-12, was one of ASU's biggest draws, Marshall said.

So now the Sun Devils will have not only one of the best backcourts in the Pac-12, but arguably in the country, with two big time athletes who can score the ball and demonstrate a well rounded court game.

In the frontcourt there are veteran Pac-12 players returning, with 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski capable of anchoring the team inside if he can become more consistent after averaging 9.8 points and 5.9 rebounds last season and leading the league in shot blocks. 6-foot-7 Jonathan Gilling is a good shooting and passing stretch four man who averaged 9.7 points last season and shot 36.7 percent from 3-point range.

There was a legitimate concern Carson wouldn't have enough athletes to run with following the departure of Carrick Felix to the NBA after a stellar senior season, but that's now been addressed to some extent. In addition to Marshall, ASU signed 6-foot-4 junior college wing Shaquielle McKissic, a run and jump athlete who averaged over 22 points and 10 rebounds last season, and third-team junior college All-American Sai Tummala, 6-foot-6 forward who averaged 14.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.

All told, the Sun Devils will have eight new players in 2013-14. 6-foot-3 guard Calaen Robinson has drawn solid reviews for his off-season workouts after sitting out last season for disciplinary reasons imposed by the school. The Sun Devils also add Michigan State transfer Brandan Kearney, a 6-foot-5 guard who will be available in January, 6-foot-7 power forward Richie Edwards, who sat out last season post-transfer from Valpariso, 6-foot-2 freshman guard Chance Murray, 6-foot-5 wing forward Egor Koulechov.

The Sun Devils now appear much more likely to contend for NCAA post-season consideration -- and potentially even the league title backed by Carson at the game's most important position -- than just a couple months ago, and almost certainly will have a quality, exciting team to watch. Last season they fell just a few games short as a lack of depth perhaps contributed to losses down the stretch. That shouldn't be nearly as much of an issue in the year ahead.

ASU's positive player acquisition momentum extends beyond the transfer and junior college ranks as Sendek, with some key help from new assistant Stan Johnson, has already landed commitments from two Rivals150 recruits in the 2014 class, 6-foot-8 post Connor MacDougall (No. 102), and 6-foot-0 point guard Tra Holder (No. 104).


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