To say the last six months have been a tumultuous time for Arizona State's two major athletic programs is quite an understatement.
The football team threw away a red carpet walk to the Pac-12 title game, fired their coach and engaged in an embarrassingly mismanaged search before striking gold with Todd Graham.
The men's basketball team found itself in even more dire straits. Jahii Carson, their top recruit, was deemed ineligible, ending his freshman year before it began. That was followed by multiple suspension to key players from head coach Herb Sendek, and ultimately the dismissal of leading scorer Keala King. These factors conspired to create a 10-21 season that turned Sendek's already hot seat to scorching.
Both programs have shown signs of improvement in various ways. The football team has taken to Graham's new regime very well, and the fans are once again feeling optimistic. Sendek has vowed to make changes, and with an influx of new players and the eligible Carson, the future is not entirely bleak.
However, both teams have to overcome one serious obstalce--the loss of leadership in the locker room.
For the football team, their two most impactful team leaders are now both wearing the jersey of the Denver Broncos--quarterback Brock Osweiler and cornerback Omar Bolden. From the moment he led the "jump huddle" in Tucson in the legendary double-overtime win, Osweiler's leadership ability has been his most heralded quality. Given his impressive skillset that made him the Broncos second round pick and heir to Peyton Manning, that is no small feat. After tearing his ACL last April, Bolden remained a significant presence on the team, mentoring his teammates and providing top-notch leadership and a positive presence.
Senior linebacker Brandon Magee, like Bolden sidelined for 2011 due to injury, has become the face of the team in the wake of Osweiler and Bolden's departures. No player has personified the "Speaking Victory" attitude of Graham better than Magee. His combination of playmaking ability and a positive presence recently led to his nomination for this year's Lott IMPACT Trophy. There is little doubt that he will inherit much of the leadership duties on the team, but on a roster of over 100 young men, he needs some help.
On defense, players like Will Sutton and Alden Darby have begun to emerge during the spring, but the situation on offense is less clear. A large part of this is due to the current three-man competition for the starting quarterback job, and whoever wins that battle will need to step up to become the leader of the offense. It's simply the nature, and duty, of the position.
On the hardwood, recently events have sadly raised the leadership issue.
Trent Lockett, the team's best player and unquestioned leader, announced in late March that he had secured his release from ASU to explore transfer options to be closer to his mother in Minnesota who was battling cancer. Over the weekend, he announced that he would play his senior season at Marquette. He is the third player to leave the team since the season ended in March.
The loss of the one-time All-Pac 10 performer obviously deals a major blow to the team, and makes Sendek's efforts to end a two-season skid that has seen 40 losses. With the loss of three players to transfer, and the influx of several new players, there is no clear cut leader currently on the roster.
Naturally, the focus would turn to Carson. One of the most skilled and dynamic high school guards in the nation, Carson brings a playmaking ability to the team not seen since James Harden. However, as has been seen many times, most recently by King, being a talented player but a poor teammate won't cut it for long.
To his credit, Carson has diligently worked over the past year during his ineligibility, and seems poised to make this team his own. Unlike football, a basketball team can lean on one player's strong leadership, and despite not yet playing a minute of NCAA basketball, Caron seems to be the best bet. Senior Carrick Felix made strides last season to finish second to Lockett in scoring and is another candidate to step up.
Successful athletic programs at the collegiate level are defined by their head coaches and their personalities. Arizona State has two men who are skilled at their craft, but each faces significant challenges in reversing the recent woes. The long road back to success can be made all the easier if they can find a few leaders on their rosters.
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