The goal is simple for the Arizona State men's basketball team - NCAA tournament berth or bust.
The Sun Devils have not made the NCAA tournament since 2009, but head coach Herb Sendek is focused on the present.
"As one of our core values says ‘Now is the only time. The path is the goal.' We're totally immersed in this segment of our season which is preseason practice," Sendek said. "Our focus has to be to improve as much as we can during that time period, and like all teams on Oct. 3 we aspire to be in the tournament. We aspire to have a great season. That's one of the beauties of college basketball. There's always a new beginning."
The Sun Devils open their season up against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Nov. 8. It is the earliest start to a season in team history. The nonconference schedule includes games against UNLV, Marquette, Creighton, SDSU and DePaul.
"I love the earlier start. Because it allows for a gradual progression into the season," Sendek said. "The weight of the nonconference schedule is very important. In some cases, it seems to me it may even be more important than the composite of your entire schedule. We want a schedule, so that if we are on that proverbial bubble, the committee looks favorably at us."
Point guard Jahii Carson is nursing a "stress reaction" on his right leg, but he said it will not hinder him.
"It's just constant pressure on my right leg that just keeps pounding and pounding whenever I jump and run. Now, I've been out for two weeks so now my legs are completely fresh," Carson said. "I've rested up, I've had a couple of days of rehab, so Monday I'll be fully back to strength at practice. The Maroon and Gold game is going to be the first time I'll be five-on-five."
Carson is coming off a summer in which he attended the Adidas Nations Camp. ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla was one of the coaches at the camp, and he said he was impressed with Carson.
"They really weren't skill camps, they were just more, playing against people and seeing where you measured up against competition," Carson said. "They gave me a chance to see where I measured up and that's good heading into the season."
The Sun Devils' key addition in the offseason was Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall. Sendek believes the 6-foot-4, 215-pound wing will provide a valuable veteran presence.
"I think Jermaine is going to play a very significant role. He's one of the most experienced players, one of the most proven players. He's a fearless competitor," Sendek said. "I'm really excited about the addition of Jermaine to our team."
"[Jermaine] does a lot of things well. He shoots the ball well, he has mid-range that [he shoots] particularly well, he can finish in the paint, he can post up, and he's good on defense. I can't pick one thing out that I see him do better than the other," Carson said.
Shooting guard Evan Gordon transferred to Indiana University in the off season, but forward Jonathan Gilling said he thinks the team is deep enough to replace him.
"I really think that we have a lot of shooters that can take his place. A lot of the games he didn't really hit that many shots. He had games where he scored a lot of points, but he also had many games when he didn't step up," Gilling said.
Center Jordan Bachynski, who was a focal point in the team's offense last season, played with Team Canada over the summer. Bachynski said that his off season play has made him better.
"It was a lot of fun, and it really helped expand my game from being completely back to the basket. I got a little bit more comfortable working on the outside with dribble hand off and 15-foot jump shots. It definitely helped develop my game, and I just feel like anytime that I get coaching or play, that's when I really improve," Bachynski said. "Summer with college basketball is really tough because you're mostly on your own. Coaches aren't allowed to coach you, and it was just really invaluable to be able to get that coaching all summer."
Ultimately, Carson believes that this team's experience will allow them to be successful.
"I think our team is more of a veteran team. Jon Gilling's been here, [Bachynski's] more of a bigger threat, Eric Jacobsen is more of a bigger threat and I think our whole team just understands what we need to do and need to accomplish to be one of the top teams in the country."