With Arizona State's basketball season opening Friday night against the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, the stage has been set for a Sun Devils team spurred and motivated by unusually optimistic expectations.
Senior Jeff Pendergraph and sophomore James Harden both return from last season's 21-13 campaign, which once again gives the Sun Devils two of the best players in the Pac-10 at their disposal.
Other veterans looking to make a mark on the 2008-2009 season include junior Eric Boateng and sophomore Rihards Kuksiks.
Boateng and Kuksiks both gradually improved over the course of their first seasons in maroon and gold, and are now respectable role players for Herb Sendek's club.
Lost on this laundry list of quality players is true freshman Johnny Coy, who told us back in October that "it's pretty much a dream come true to meet a coach like Coach Sendek and to be a part of this program."
Despite being 6'7" tall, Coy is a natural shooting guard. His size and length allow him to be versatile around the perimeter, and defensively allows him to give a little space to smaller opponents.
Tonight, we will find out the initial results of fall practice. Will any new players break into a significant role? These answers may be inconclusive based on the quality of our opponent (Mississippi Valley State) but ASU should know better than to underestimate a bad team.
Until the Sun Devils prove otherwise, they are expected to be competitive with every team they face this season. This is such a new phenomenon to ASU fans that it is difficult to even believe.
Get out tonight and wear gold.