Pac-10 preview: Arizona State University

This is the ninth of a 10-part series previewing the Pac-10 teams

After so long on top of the world, Arizona kind of fell off the map last year.

An 18-14 record isn’t bad at all, but the Sun Devils were 9-9 in conference play and finished fifth in the Pac-10 – their lowest in years. They fell early in the Pac-10 Tournament, and went away quietly. Fans and media called it “a down year,” and it was no wonder with decorated guard and leading scorer Dymond Simon out for the season with a knee injury.

But now she’s back. Coach Charli Turner Thorne can’t contain her excitement.

“I’m speechless in terms of how wonderful it is to have Dymond Simon back on the court,” she said. “Dymond instills confidence in everybody around her. She’s so skilled and she’s so savy, and more than that, she works so hard.”

Check out Simon’s stats and honors and you’ll see why: the woman’s a beast. She averaged 13.8 points per game in 2008-2009.

Two other seniors round out the class of 2011: forward Becca Tobin (9.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and guard Tenaya Watson (8 ppg, 3 rpg). The rest of the returners stick together by class in point totals, with the exception of sophomore Janae Fulcher:

Junior Kali Bennett: 5.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg
Sophomore Janae Fulcher: 4.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg
Junior Alex Earl: 4.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg
Junior Kimberly Brandon: 4 ppg, 3.3 rpg
Sophomore Deja Mann: 2.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg
Sophomore Joy Burke: 2 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Sophomore Haley Parsons: .4 ppg

It’s kind of unusual to see the divisions that clear-cut, but Turner Thorne has systems. And she said they’re progressing.

“We have a number of young players in our program that we’re bringing along,” she said. “The returners have matured more than I can really express. It’s exciting.”

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the newcomers, myself.

Olivia Major – a junior guard transfer from Central Arizona College – averaged 20.4 ppg last year. Markisha Patterson, who signed at the same time as Mann and Burke in 2009, had to sit out last year with an injury, but she’s ready to go this year. She is known for her tough defensive play.

Also coming aboard are two freshmen: Australian guard/forward Olivia Simmons, who comes from a basketball family, and Adrianne Thomas a guard from Fontana, Calif.

Turner Thorne said she was hesitant about new NCAA rules allowing teams to begin practices earlier, but she’s come to embrace it. She said the Sun Devils have used the extra time to get a jump on the season.

“We’re etting to know each other, coming together as a team, getting into game shape,” she said.

Turner Thorne, entering her 15th year at ASU, is optimistic about the season.

“This team has a great feel to them – we’re just having fun together,” she said.

The Sun Devils begin their season this Sunday, as they take on Fort Lewis in an exhibition game.