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Sun Devils Fight for National Spotlight

Arizona State Sun Devils

Since Lute Olson started at the University of Arizona, the Arizona State Sun Devils have always been outshone on the basketball court by their regional rivals.   The team has only gone as far as the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament, and that was in 1995.  The tenure of current coach Herb Sendek has had a number of ups and downs, but this year’s team and the coming recruiting class show the promise for a long-struggling program.  

 

This year’s team is headlined by star point guard Jahii Carson, a sophomore out of Mesa (AZ) High School.  Carson came to Arizona State in 2011, but was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA.  That season the Sun Devils finished with a 10-21 record, the team’s worst record since Sendek’s first season with the team. 

 

The wait turned out to be worthwhile when Carson debuted in 2012, as the team had an eleven win improvement from the year before, and Carson was named as a Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year, averaging 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game.  This year, after an off-season of hard work he has looked even better, averaging nearly 20 points per game and identified as a Wooden Award contender by SI.com.  Carson is just the type of homegrown prospect that the Sun Devils look to steal from Arizona, and his emergence bodes well for the team’s prospects.

 

While Carson’s season puts him as a prospect for the NBA Draft next year, if he does stay he will be joined by an intriguing recruiting class.  That class is headlined by 6’8 power forward Connor MacDougall (Corona del Sol/Arizona).  MacDougall looks to be a force in the paint with developing skills at both ends of the court.  He’s ranked in the top 100 prospects by Rivals.com and is another player from Arizona that Sendek could build his team around.

 

Kodi Justice is comes from Mesa, Arizona, the same state as current star Carson, and could be relied on for key minutes if Carson leaves.  He also could project as a shooting guard in college, having spent some time at the position with his AAU team.  Justice said in an interview earlier this year that he has been watching Carson closely, modeling his game off him and looking forward to teaming with him next season.

 

Tra Holder is the one big-name recruit for Arizona State this year coming from out of state (Brentwood High School/California).  Holder appears to be a more natural fit to the starting point guard position if Carson should leave, but if Carson stays he will have a good roll model next season.  During his junior season at Brentwood, Holder averaged 22.9 points and 5.4 assists per game, and is considered to be an impressive commitment for Sendek’s staff.  

 

During Sendek’s previous stop at North Carolina State he also struggled to catch his stride early on, not making the NCAA tournament until his sixth season. After back-to-back losing finishes in 2011 and 2012, it looks like the Sun Devils will have a tournament team in 2014.  If the 2014 recruiting class works out, it could portend a stiff rivalry in years to come with Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats team.