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Trip to China beneficial to ASU on and off the court

TEMPE, Ariz. — The competition may not have been great, but what the Sun Devils gained on their trip to China proved to be more valuable than the Xs and Os of figuring out how to best put the ball in the basket, according to head coach Herb Sendek.

“Our guys, I thought, really bonded as we would’ve hoped. You don’t have a cell phone attached to your fingers the whole time,” he said. “I was really proud of our guys because not one time did I hear even the slightest murmur. Nobody whined. Nobody complained. They really went into it with an open mind.”

Aside from the numerous bus rides, lengthy traffic delays and unique food choices, Sendek said he and his team experienced what he called the “timelessness” of China: One moment they were visiting the Great Wall, the next, they were ascending in an elevator to the 101st floor of the second tallest building in the world.

“It’s this convergence of ancient and futuristic,” Sendek explained Tuesday during an informal gathering with reporters at the Weatherup Center. “You find yourself in the Forbidden City where emperors lived hundreds and hundreds of years ago, and then the next minute you’re in Shanghai looking out at the horizon and seeing skyscrapers as far as you can see, almost feeling like Mr. Jetson.”

The 10-day trip included three games, including one against a university team and two against Chinese Basketball Association teams.

The Sun Devils won all three games with very little resistance.

“More than anything, I think, it was good for our new players,” Sendek said. “It was good for us to see our new players. In particular, I was really impressed with our freshman class.”

The freshmen class includes 6-foot-5 guard/forward Egor Koulechov, 6-foot-2 guard Chance Murray and 6-foot-2 guard Calaen Robinson out of Tempe Corona del Sol High School.

“I thought those guys, for their first intercollegiate experience, really showed well,” Sendek said. “I was tremendously encouraged by what I saw from those three young men.”

Counting those three, there are eight fresh faces on this year’s team, making the trip to the Far East and the 10 extra practice days invaluable for a club looking to end a four-year drought in the NCAA Tournament.

“They have personality. They’re gentlemen. That came through loud and clear,” said Sendek, who is going into his eighth season at ASU. “(I) got a lot of really positive comments about our players: The way they conduct themselves, the way they communicate. When you’re with somebody that much every day, there’s nowhere to hide; your real self comes out and our guys were just beautiful.”

Now how that translates on the court is a question that will begin to be answered with the season opener November 8 against University of Maryland Baltimore County.