Christopher Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
As Arizona State muddled down the stretch to its second straight NCAA Tournament-free season, there were small signs that maybe (just maybe) the Sun Devils, in a reversal of the program’s stark two-year downward spiral, were trending upward. Sophomore center Jordan Bachynski saw his scoring and rebounding totals jump over the latter portion of conference play and the Sun Devils notched consecutive wins for the first time all season, including at home over in-state rival Arizona to knock the Wildcats off the at-large bubble cutline . The positive momentum dissipated quickly when three key contributors – sophomore guard Chanse Creekmur, power forward Kyle Cain, and leading scorer Trent Lockett – left the program for various reasons. Despite the personnel departures, there was reason to believe ASU could build upon Bachynski’s semi-improvement, work in six incoming players, unleash highly-touted prospect Jahii Carson at the point, and make some noise in an arguably top-heavy Pac-12. For coach Herb Sendek, who over the past two seasons has posted a lowly 22-40 record, anything less than an NIT appearance in 2012-13 is probably a firable outcome. Turning the Sun Devils around and saving his job after a quasi-exodus of scoring output and rotation minutes is an onerous proposition in and of itself. Sendek learned Thursday afternoon he will undergo his saving grace season without two familiar faces. Just a day after losing assistant Scott Pera to a similar position at Penn, Lamont Smith packed his bags and left to join Lorenzo Romar’s staff at Washington.
Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic spoke with Sendek after Smith made his announcement.
Honestly, the timing isn’t ideal, but I think it creates a great opportunity for us. […] It provides us with an opportunity to bring in two very talented members for our staff, so at the end of the day, I suspect it will be a win-win for everybody involved.
Putting a positive spin on these departures is a completely understandable approach: Sendek needs to show newly-promoted athletic director Steve Patterson he’s not going to simply buckle under the pressure of two poor seasons and a depleted coaching staff. The defections are tough to swallow, but Sendek clearly isn’t giving off any hints of displeasure or other negative reactions. Optimism aside, Sendek now finds himself in an extremely unfavorable position. On the eve of what is arguably a tenure-defining season, Sendek must produce respectable results out of a new-look roster with little in the way of sideline help to congeal the disparate parts. With two transfers, a pair of freshman and a now-eligible Carson expected to play significant minutes, Sendek has to find ways to work in the influx of new players and create a functional system around veteran mainstays like Bachynski and seniors Carrick Felix and Chris Colvin, all while providing signs of appreciable progression in an improved league.