After an up-and-down season littered with COVID-19 stoppages, injuries, and an overall inability to live up to expectations, the Arizona State men’s basketball program will look to turn the page and get a fresh start this coming winter for the 2021-22 season.
The program will bring in nine newcomers after several players transferred, some graduated, and the rest declared for the NBA. The Sun Devils want to become a competitor in an stacked conference. To do so, a huge leap forward from returning forward Jalen Graham is a requirement.
As a 6-foot-9 sophomore, Graham struggled in the early games of the season with foul trouble. In January, he struggled with health issues of his own, missing three games with mononucleosis.
But injuries in the rotation opened the door for Graham to receive more playing time, and he seized the moment. After a 14-point breakout performance on Jan. 25 against Arizona, Graham reached double-digit scoring five more times. For the season, he averaged 8.1 points per game on 55% shooting.
Graham cut down on the early fouls and became an intimidating defensive presence, which culminated in a dominant performance against Washington State in February. Without his 12 rebounds and four blocks, the Sun Devils don’t win that game in overtime. He finished the season first on the team in blocks (1.6 per game) and second in rebounds (5.0 per game)
Both Graham and his coaching staff have plainly identified his 3-point shooting as his next target area. Incoming freshman Enoch Boakye will likely start immediately at the center spot, moving Graham to the four. That will provide Graham the freedom to stretch his range in the interest of spacing.
Graham models his game off Los Angeles Lakers superstar forward Anthony Davis, one of the NBA’s top stretch forwards. He’s shown flashes of Davis’ defense abilities. Now, if he can harness the ability to step out and hit jump shots, he’ll provide the Sun Devil offense with a dynamic they’ve sorely lacked in recent years.