Savon the Savior: Goodman’s Breakout is Arizona State’s Good Fortune

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 12th, 2015

During Arizona State’s mini-resurgence, fans and media members alike have been quick to credit new coach Bobby Hurley for injecting energy and passion into his team’s play. All of that credit may very well be deserved, but it is actually one of the players Hurley inherited who has been the most influential in the Sun Devils’ surprising success. Savon Goodman may be the most athletic player in the country that only diehard basketball fans know about, but that may not last much longer. The 6’6″, 220-pound junior leads the team in scoring (13.4 PPG) and rebounding (8.3 RPG) and has been at his best against good opponents like NC State (21 points and 16 rebounds) and Creighton (23 points and seven rebounds). Goodman’s best attributes (size, physicality, energy) fit perfectly with the team identity that Hurley is trying to forge and his breakout has meant that a Sun Devils’ team that was hastily written off after a season-opening loss to Sacramento State is now back the fringes of the national conversation heading into today’s nationally-televised showdown with Kentucky.

Savon Goodman's Intensity Is What Makes Him So Good

Savon Goodman’s Intensity Is What Makes Him So Good

What makes Goodman’s emergence as a borderline star particularly inspiring is that his road to success has been a long and circuitous one. It’s not as if Goodman was an unheralded recruit who has made the most of his limited abilities. The Philadelphia native first turned heads during the summer of 2010 thanks to a string of dominant performances on the AAU and camp circuit and by November he was considered a five-star prospect and was committed to Villanova. But things were complicated behind the scenes as rumors swirled about his academic standing and whether the Wildcats were really all that interested in him after all. Although the rumors were never confirmed, they received a dose of credibility when Goodman switched high schools for his senior season and de-committed from the Wildcats in August of 2011. Still, Goodman dominated his senior season of high school, leading his new team to the PIAA state and Philadelphia Public League titles and committed to UNLV as questions about whether he would qualify eventually faded away.

Las Vegas was supposed to be the first step on Goodman’s path to hardcourt stardom but things didn’t go according to plan on or off the court. UNLV added a loaded recruiting class that included future #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett to a roster that was already stacked with playing time. Buried behind Bennett and Bryce Dejean-Jones, Goodman played just 9.1 minutes per game as a freshman and thus had plenty of time to get into trouble off the court. Goodman recently admitted that he wasn’t prepared to play a supporting role and even less ready for what the combination of Las Vegas and free time would do to his decision-making process. Goodman learned his lesson the hard way as in August of 2013, the rising sophomore was charged with burglary, grand larceny and conspiracy to commit burglary over what amounted to $1,000 worth of merchandise. He was suspended for the season and ultimately chose to leave the program entirely. Running out of options, Goodman landed at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa where he wasn’t allowed to play in games, but he was allowed to practice and perhaps more importantly, he was able to screw his head on much tighter.

“I’m a basketball player,” Goodman told a reporter from the Walter Cronkite Sports Network after committing to Arizona State. “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, and take care of my mom one day and one day further my basketball career.” Despite all of his off-the-court issues, his talent was too much to ignore and suitors never stopped courting him. Goodman eventually chose Arizona State in large part because of his relationship with then-coach Herb Sendek and the fact that Sendek hired his coach at Indian Hills to the staff as well. Goodman’s start-and-stop college career meant that he had less than 30 games of collegiate experience but when he became eligible to return in the middle of last season, the talent was apparent.

In his second game back, Goodman torched Lehigh for 24 points and 12 rebounds and followed that up with 22 points and 11 rebounds against Detroit. His play was more inconsistent once conference play started but the ability was never in question as he went for 19 points and 13 rebounds in February against Washington and three days later he went for 20 points and 12 rebounds against UCLA. Just when it looked like Goodman was getting comfortable, the Sun Devils fired Sendek with whom Goodman had a personal relationship with. Luckily for Goodman and for the Sun Devils, Hurley’s hard-nosed approach to the game and tenants on toughness and physicality were something the kid from a rough part of Philadelphia had been practicing on the basketball court all of his life. Before the season started, Goodman told The Arizona Republic that we would see “a different Savon this year.”

Hurley’s Physical Brand of Basketball Makes Him The Perfect Coach for Goodman. (Tom Tingle/AZ Central)

He was wrong, however, we haven’t seen a different Savon, we have just seen a much better version of last season’s Savon. Aside from his impressive athleticism, the best part about Goodman’s game is that he understands his limitations as a player. He worked hard to improve his shooting in the offseason but he still knows his bread is buttered at the rim, where he is taking 70 percent of his shots (and making 75 percent of them) according to And he remains one of the best, if not the best, pound-for-pound rebounder in the entire country. Rather than try to play like LeBron James, Goodman watches and studies Warriors’ forward Draymond Green, a comparison that is as apt as it is surprising in its self-awareness. The junior still has a long way to go before he can earn comparisons to Green however. His jump-shooting looks improved (up to 43.5% from 38% last season) but he is a black hole with the ball (his assist rate is 6.1 for his career and his turnover rate is above 20.0) and his free-throw shooting is still a disaster area. But considering how many players with similar backgrounds never had the opportunity to fulfill on their promise, it is a testament to Goodman’s resiliency and dedication.

It is also a huge boon for Hurley and the Sun Devils who picked to finish 8th in the conference in the preseason poll. In many ways, the Sun Devils have adapted to the style of their best player. The team is impossible to keep off the boards at either end of the floor and the defense has taken a giant step forward this season. So feel free to keep heaping the credit on Hurley but any good coach would tell you that he is only as good as his players and luckily for Hurley, Goodman picked a great time to get good.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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