(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The Arizona State men’s basketball team has a roster full of players obtained from the junior-college ranks. For various reasons, they were not ready to play basketball at the Division I level coming out of high school.
Whether they carried baggage off the court or it was purely a talent issue, JUCO provided those players an opportunity to improve on those flaws for the chance to play at the next level.
That is not exactly the case for Savon Goodman, whose path has taken him from Philadelphia, to playing Division-I ball in Las Vegas, to JUCO in Iowa, and finally to Tempe.
After initially committing to Villanova early in his junior year, Goodman led Constitution High School to the PIAA Class A title and had a strong AAU circuit before his senior year. Interest from high-level teams across the country came around, and Goodman reopened his commitment, eventually signing to play for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in Las Vegas.
Ranked No. 72 by Rivals.com and having spent a summer winning the gold medal at the FIBA U-22 World Championships with Team USA, Goodman was confident in his abilities to come in and contribute right away. However, UNLV’s recruiting class also boasted Anthony Bennett, the eventual No. 1 overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft.
“I had to play behind (Bennett) and just learn from him,” Goodman said. “And at the time, I was so young, it was hard for me.”
Goodman would average just 9.1 minutes per game that season as UNLV limped into the NCAA Tournament, eventually being eliminated in the second round by California. Being a relatively young team, UNLV seemed to be on the ascent back to a mid-major powerhouse.
“I’ve been starting on varsity since I was a freshman,” Goodman said. “So I think it just took me a little bit of maturing and a little bit of growing up to do. I didn’t know how the next level would be.”
That realization wouldn’t come to Goodman right away, however, as that would be his lone season in Las Vegas.
On August 15, 2013, Savon Goodman was charged with burglary, grand larceny and conspiracy to commit burglary from a May 18 incident that involved over $1,000 worth of shoes, video games and cash. Those charges would eventually lead to Goodman being suspended for an entire season and, ultimately, his parting ways with the program.
“I’m in Vegas, a city that’s built for grown people, and I really couldn’t do anything,” Goodman said. “I really wasn’t into the school partying, but I just had to learn the hard way, and everything happens for a reason.”
Growing up in the urban areas of Philadelphia, Goodman was exposed to a tough style of living every single day, something he would try to avoid through basketball.
“There’s a lot of violence (in Philadelphia), so I would always use basketball as an escape.” Goodman said. “All the old heads that grew up on my block and my cousins and my uncles and my mom and dad, they always kept me in basketball, and then I had a sister that was older than me, always was a grade ahead of me, so when I was in school, she would look after me all the time.”
Without basketball, all Goodman was left with was himself, and he eventually landed at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. There, despite not actually playing for the team, Goodman was able to continue to practice as well as focus on getting his personal life in order.
“I’m a basketball player,” Goodman said. “I don’t want to be out there being a gangster. I’m a basketball player; I have a great opportunity to go to school for free, get a degree, take care of my mom one day and one day further my basketball career.”
After sitting out a season at Indian Hills, Goodman joined Indian Hills teammate Roosevelt Scott and committed to Arizona State over offers from Florida State, Memphis and Iowa. His coach at Indian Hills, Barret Peery, had also joined ASU head coach Herb Sendek’s staff shortly beforehand.
With as much as Goodman had gone through at that point, he desired a place where he felt like he could start with a clean slate, and Sendek and his staff turned out to be the right fit.
“My coaches was definitely a main factor,” Goodman said. “I’m seeing that, on my visit, the coaches I got are the same coaches that’s with me every day in practice, off the court, whether we’re at their house for a barbeque, whether we’re at a team event, our coaches are genuine.
“They all are sincere about who they are. They don’t change when you come on and visit nor do they act differently towards any other players. They treat everybody the same with the same genuineness.”
Not only were the coaches a factor, but the amount of players with whom Goodman could identify contributed to him becoming comfortable at ASU.
Due to the NCAA transfer rules, Goodman has been forced to sit out the first semester of this season. Despite that, his impact in practice has been felt by his teammates, most notably senior forward Shaquielle McKissic.
McKissic’s past troubles have been discussed at great length since his arrival in Tempe. After his own troubles with the law, including some time spent in jail, McKissic landed at ASU following a strong campaign at Edmonds Community College, and has become a face for the team.
“Me and Shaq are just tight because he understands me, I understand him,” Goodman said. “Out on the court, he pushes me, I push him, and that’s how we make each other better.”
Once Goodman joined the team, the similarities between the two began to reveal themselves both on and off the court.
“(Goodman) has a similar background as me,” McKissic said. “And anybody coming from that type of background has a lot of fight.”
That persona has come to be the Sun Devils’ calling card in this season of transition away from the “Big Three” from 2013 that consisted of Jordan Bachynski, Jermaine Marshall and Jahii Carson. This season has been a much more balanced effort with six different players leading ASU in scoring in their nine games this season, and 62.8 percent of ASU’s made field goals are assisted.
Where Goodman will make the biggest impact on the court isn’t on the offensive end but rather the glass. ASU is only outrebounding their opponent by four boards per game, and it’s against opponents that don’t exactly rival the talents waiting from them come conference season. That is something Goodman wants to change.
“If I sense fear that you’re not used to playing hard all the time or you’re not used to banging with someone, then I’m going to take full advantage of that,” Goodman said.
Throughout practices and the Maroon and Gold Scrimmage, Goodman’s physicality is evident. Despite his lone court time coming against his teammates, that doesn’t affect his mentality. This is a player who averaged a double-double in a Philadelphia high school, that mentality of toughness is to be expected.
“He’s a real big, physical guy, and a lot of people don’t like being touched by him,” McKissic said. “He feeds off of it, and he can sense it.”
Goodman is not only a player seeking contact, he is one that can punish those who collide with him. According to Goodman, he has added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame since arriving in Tempe, and his body fat hovers just around three to four percent. Clearly, he will provide a bruising presence that will supplement Herb Sendek’s relatively shallow frontcourt.
“He’s a man. I think he brings an element of toughness to our basketball team,” Sendek said. “We expect him to be an excellent defender, somebody who can really rebound.”
Considering that this is a team with three JUCO players (Roosevelt Scott, Gerry Blakes and Willie Atwood) seeing significant time, the learning curve is an obvious factor in how this team will fare. All things considered, the best way to learn about Pac-12 basketball is to experience it, but Goodman brings in something his fellow three transfers do not: Division I experience.
During Goodman’s freshman year, five of the nine teams in the Mountain West Conference made the NCAA Tournament, a memory he brings with him coming into Pac-12 play.
“I think I will bring tremendous leadership being a guy from JUCO and this is my second chance,” Goodman said. “So just using that and helping my teammates that come from JUCO that have never been at a Division I college, helping them learn how to get through and all the little things – how to eat right, how to manage your social life, how to develop your relationship with the people around you, your coaches, your family, how to keep your friends on the outside during the season, so just a lot of the little things that they might not take serious, but when the season starts, things around here gets kind of crazy.”
That presence will finally be felt on the court for ASU on December 16 as they travel to take on Marquette, a team the Sun Devils beat in Wells Fargo Arena last season after Jordan Bachynski’s block sealed the victory.
Now, ASU boasts seven new players who will be nine games into their learning curve. Not only that, but the team has yet to earn a win away from Tempe in three tries.
For Goodman, it will have been a 635-day gap since last taking the court in an NCAA Division I basketball game.
“Obviously, I’m going to have butterflies,” Goodman said. “But once I get in there, break a sweat, all that goes out the window. It’s like I’m in practice with just my brothers and my coaches.”
Philadelphia to Vegas to Ottumwa to Tempe. The trip has been anything but simple and conventional for Goodman.
That game will represent much more than basketball. It will represent the beginning of the next chapter of a journey that took a kid from Philly completely away from all the things that he identified himself with and how he eventually found his way back to what he valued most.
December 16 will begin that new chapter, and when he hits the court, the last 600-plus days may be put on the back burner for those mostly concerned with how the Sun Devils play with their new addition, but it is something that has forever changed Goodman for all the good and bad that came with the last couple of years.
“I think me going through that tough time in my life, it’s made me look at a lot of things differently, and know that it’s bigger than me,” Goodman said. “When I get in trouble or when I do something positive or negative that hurts me or affects me in a positive or a negative way, it affects my family the same way, and when I was a freshman, I didn’t really understand that until everything that happened with me went down.
“But now I’m 21, I’m grown, I understand that what I do and what I go out there and do is up to me. I’m responsible for my own actions, and I just want to be a good guy. Go out there, show my coaches I’m able to play on this level, and I just want to win basketball games.”
Goodman has three years of eligibility remaining. If anybody has shown how much can happen in that time period, it’s him.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com