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New coach, 3 players propelled Sun Devils into NCAAs

The play of point guard Derek Glasser (right) is one of the key reasons Arizona State went from eight wins three seasons ago to an NCAA Tournament berth this season ASU plays Temple in a first-round game on Friday.

The play of point guard Derek Glasser (right) is one of the key reasons Arizona State went from eight wins three seasons ago to an NCAA Tournament berth this season ASU plays Temple in a first-round game on Friday.

Derek Glasser’s father mentioned it a couple of times. Just casually.

“He calls it fate,” said Glasser, a junior guard on Arizona State’s men’s basketball team. “Everything fell into place, and it just managed to work.”

As ASU prepares for Friday’s NCAA Tournament first-round contest against Temple, it’s easy to forget the Sun Devils won just eight games three seasons ago. Do you remember those times? The night ASU lost to Arizona by 24? The stretch that produced 15 consecutive losses?

Coach Herb Sendek was in his first season. Glasser was just a freshman, learning harsh lessons on the fly. Jeff Pendergraph was a sophomore, wondering if he had been better off transferring.

James Harden was still a senior at Artesia High in southern California.

“To go from the misery of eight wins and never knowing if you’re going to get another win, and all of a sudden getting to play in the NCAA Tournament?” associate head coach Dedrique Taylor said. “It’s exciting. And I think people should really understand and grasp ahold of it, because this is not the only time we can do it.”

In four steps, here’s how it all unfolded:

1. Sendek’s hiring

Many things about Sendek stood out to Lisa Love, ASU’s vice president of athletics, but one especially caught her attention:

His ability to build a program’s foundation.

As an assistant coach, Sendek had helped Rick Pitino revive Kentucky basketball from the NCAA dungeon to the Final Four. He also had helped reverse five losing seasons during a 10-year stint as head coach at North Carolina State.

“I just admired the building blocks he put in place,” Love said of Sendek’s hiring three years ago. “It’s like a pyramid. You create a base and build up to the NCAA Tournament level. You hope it happens this quickly, but the reality is that it usually doesn’t.”

2. Pendergraph stays

On a spring day in 2006, Pendergraph read a disturbing news flash scroll across the bottom of the television. Rob Evans had been fired as ASU basketball coach.

Pendergraph’s first thought: Transfer. He formed a plan. He identified schools. He considered junior college so he wouldn’t have to sit out.

Then he met Sendek and decided to stay, suffering through the eight-win season, wondering if he ever would get to the NCAA Tournament.

“It was tough,” Pendergraph said. “All that losing, with a coaching change, I didn’t know how that was going to pan out. It was just all kinds of craziness.”

This season, Pendergraph averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds, shooting 66.5 percent from the floor, tops the nation.

3. Glasser drops in

Pendergraph stayed, but Kevin Kruger didn’t. He took advantage of a new NCAA rule that let players transfer without penalty if they had obtained their undergraduate degrees in four years.

In 2006, that left ASU without a point guard and with little time to find one.

Sendek called Scott Pera, then the team’s operations director, and asked about Glasser.

“Can he do it?” Sendek asked.

Pera needed a night to think about it.

He had two angles to play: what was best for Glasser, a guard he had coached, along with Harden, at Artesia High and what was best for ASU.

Glasser averaged 6.1 points last season, but today Sendek says the ASU guard is playing his “career-best basketball.” He was likely headed for Most Valuable Player honors at last week’s Pac-10 Tournament until the Sun Devils coughed up a lead to Southern California in the second half of the championship game.

4. Harden’s arrival

Harden brought instant credibility two years ago when he followed Pera, his former high school coach, and Glasser, his former high school teammate, to Tempe.

Last season he led ASU to 21 wins and the National Invitation Tournament.

He scored 17.8 points per game and became just the fifth freshman to lead the Pac-10 in steals. He considered turning pro but opted to stay.

With Harden back, the Sun Devils posted one of their better seasons in school history, winning 24 games and advancing to the Pac-10 Tournament final for the first time.

Harden, the Pac-10′s most outstanding player, averages 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

“James gives you all the advantages,” Glasser said. “You can beat anybody.”

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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