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New-look Arizona State Sun Devils will rely on defense in 2014-15

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State men’s basketball team held its annual media day Thursday evening at the Weatherup Center as players and coaches answered a barrage of questions from several reporters and beat writers. One way or another, everyone was faced with the same question as to identify where the strength in this year’s team lies.

From true freshman Tra Holder to head coach Herb Sendek, every Sun Devil voiced confidence in the same aspect of their team.

Defense.

“I feel like our defensive momentum will carry on into the offensive side. We have a lot of passion, and we have big hearts. We play with a chip on our shoulder and we don’t want to be proven wrong,” said senior Shaquielle McKissic who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in April.

The grateful McKissic expressed how happy he was about being able to return to the team for one final season.

“It feels good, and I think I deserved it for everything I’ve done lately. It feels good that something finally goes right for me,” said McKissic.

Senior forward Jonathan Gilling has no problem taking on a role as a leader, and bringing this group of mostly new faces together.

“I think they’re all in,” Gilling said about everyone on being on the same page. “As returners we have to show them what coach means by playing together.”

And when a basketball fan hears about playing together, one team in particular comes to mind:

The San Antonio Spurs.

“We try to play like them. They play really well together and they understand the team concept. If we can do that, we can be really good,” Gilling said.

Sendek acknowledged that while nobody on his roster is likely to be on anyone’s NBA draft board, he likes his roster from top to bottom, citing depth at every position.

“We have a number of guys who are good players, who I think will play well together. It will allow us to come at teams with more depth than we’ve had in the past,” Sendek said. “One thing that really stands out is that they’re a high-energy team. I love this team’s motor. They come ready to work. There’s a good spirit in the gym, there’s a good “pop” in the gym.”

Sendek also spoke proudly and confidently about his team’s potential on the defensive side of the ball, but didn’t shy away from admitting it will be a lot tougher than last year.

“The one glaring difference is we don’t have the basket protection that Jordan [Bachynski] gave us last year,” he said. “We’re going to have to make up for the fact that we don’t have the all-time leading shot-blocker erasing mistakes for us like he did time and time again.”

Gilling expresses this year’s defensive mindset while playing without Bachynski is perfecting the fundamentals.

“We have good athletes, aggressive players. If we stay out of foul trouble, and get down the fundamentals, we’ll be a good defense that will cause a high number of deflections,” Gilling said.

Teaching the fundamentals alongside Sendek will be new assistant coach Barret Peery, who is coming off his most successful season at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, reaching the national title game

“I think our staff is just a group of superstars and true gentlemen,” Sendek said. “Coach Peery is a core, good person who you would want your son to play for.”