(Photo: Noah Findling/WCSN)
With their season opener against Chicago State under six weeks away, Arizona State and head coach Herb Sendek begin official practices today. The beginning of the Sun Devil basketball season also means the plethora of offseason questions slowly being answered.
The statistical and intangible losses of Jahii Carson, Jordan Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall have been well-documented. Concerns around the program followed the transfers of Caelen Robinson, Brandon Kearney and Egor Koulechov through ASU’s roster for a loop.
The roller coaster offseason continued when senior guard Shaquielle McKissic was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will be joined by fellow senior guard Bo Barnes who also is returning to Tempe despite being honored during senior night last season.
All that being said, the 2014-2015 season is around the corner, and there are several pressing questions clouding Sendek’s team.
Who will be the starting point guard?
Jahii Carson ran Sendek’s offense the last two seasons. He was the man, the self-proclaimed “#SQOD General” of the Sun Devils. Now, Carson has moved on to the Wollongong Hawks of the National Basketball League in Australia, and his former team is left with a big hole in the most critical of positions. Not only that, but Carson altered the way Sendek structured his offense. It’s not every day that a team is presented with an undersized, ultra-athletic guard who is more of a shooting guard than a true distributor of the ball. Carson was a unique talent, and unique talents can somewhat dictate the style of their role.
There isn’t exactly a Carson-like player on ASU this season, but several Sun Devils could potentially fill in the point guard slot. The main issue is that it seemed like nobody on the team knew exactly who that guy would be, as recently as last week’s media day.
Sendek commented that freshman Tra Holder is the only true point guard on the ASU roster, and the four-star California-native was adamant that the offensive approach in Tempe caters his style of play nicely. Nonetheless, Holder is still a freshman, so expect sophomore Chance Murray and junior transfer Gerry Blakes to get the majority of the ball-handling duties to begin the season. Despite neither being a true point guard, they have more experience in post-prep basketball, something that is critical in running a collegiate program’s offense.
How will the junior college transfers perform?
Blakes is joined by two other junior college transfers, junior forward Willie Atwood and junior guard Roosevelt Scott, who all look to make a splash in their first season in Tempe. Each player carries accolades from the JuCo ranks, most notably Atwood, who garnered third-team All-American honors following his final season at Connors State Community College in Oklahoma.
What these three players have the potential to provide for Sendek is an element of flexibility when it comes to potential lineups. Of course, this all is dependent on each of them adjusting to Pac-12 play rather quickly and smoothly, something McKissic struggled with last season until finding his stride during the latter-half of the conference season. Atwood, Scott and Blakes were well-documented scorers before coming to Tempe, and they can do so in a multitude of ways, but the most critical aspect to ASU’s success will stem from how quickly each one can find his groove as well as provide the diversity on defense that would allow for a type of controlled chaos on that end of the floor.
Shaq is back, but what does that mean?
A lot of hooplah occurred when the NCAA granted McKissic his extra year of eligibility, and the Seattle native has embraced Tempe as a second home. Most would consider McKissic the face of this year’s team, and many still hold the high expectations that first followed him to ASU.
To that point, he did average 22.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per contest during his final season at Edmonds Community College, but last season, McKissic only saw spurts of playing time and not much of the ball. At times he looked timid on offensive, but that likely was rooted in deferring to the Carson-Marshall-Bachynski trio that spearheaded the Sun Devil offense. He relegated to much more of a defensive role, something that his athleticism and work ethic could fulfill right away.
However, with 67 percent of ASU’s offense no longer on the roster, many, including myself expect McKissic to pick up the slack on offense. He, along with seniors Bo Barnes and Jonathan Gilling are hypothetically the most dependable and experienced options ASU has on the offensive end, and McKissic has shown the most potential to explode. Expect him to become a primary offensive weapon, and to see something in the range of 18 to 20 points per game from him.
All things considered, Sendek and ASU have the talent on the roster to sneak up on a few people in a weaker-than-assumed Pac-12, or they could fall flat toward the basement of the conference. Six new players, no clear point guard and multiple rotational players who have yet to taste Pac-12 basketball makes for one heck of a mysterious team, but the Sun Devils are embracing the unknown.
In many aspects, McKissic put this clouded ASU team’s expectations best in response to a fan’s tweet:
Simply put, “Stay tuned.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com