Pac-12 preview: Arizona State University

This is the fourth in a 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

by Daniel Uribe

In a season where many women’s basketball teams in the newly-reconfigured Pac-12 Conference will face challenges and deal with new situations, easily one of the most intriguing squads is Arizona State.

The Sun Devils are dealing with the departure of their head coach, Charli Turner Thorne, who left for a nine-month sabbatical; a new interim head Coach in Joseph Anders; and the loss of three seniors who contributed 50 percent of their offense.

Turner Thorne’s announcement came after the end of last season. Her leave, she said, would begin July 1. Anders, who was associate head coach at the time, stepped into the role of interim head coach.

Last season the Sun Devils had returned to the NCAA tournament after a one-year leave, losing in the first round. They finished 20-11 and were third in the Pac-10 with an 11-7 conference play record.

In her May 3 press conference, Turner Thorne said she was not “burned out,” and would continue her professional development. She is currently serving as WBCA president and helped spearhead a leadership training program for coaches in which she participated last month. She said she was looking for balance in her life again.

“Over the last few years, as seasons ended – this job has changed a lot,” she said. “I really feel like, when you step back I noticed that I was kind of losing my balance. I wasn’t as centered. I used to be able to have the family and coaching thing.”

During the WNBA season, Turner Thorne also served as the color commentator for the Phoenix Mercury for FOX Sports Arizona.

Anders has worked alongside Turner Thorne for 10 years, and prior to that, he was the head coach at Sacramento State. Meg Sanders will continue in her role as the associate head coach, and they are joined by new assistant coaches: Amy Wright, who comes off a three-year stint at Cleveland State, and Chris Menning, who served for six years as a National Evaluator and Event Coordinator for U.S. Junior Nationals (USJN) and Blue Star Basketball.

One of the areas of concern with Turner Thorne’s absence will be recruiting. Most of the 2011 class honored their letters of intent. However, the Sun Devils did lose Kiki Alofaituli, a 6-foot-1 forward (Hoopgurlz number 26) who elected to transfer to USC. They also lost 2012, three-star-rated guard Simone Westbrook, who re-opened her recruitment in June and chose Arizona.

While Arizona State has an incoming class of three freshman and one junior college transfer, the 2012 class includes only one commit: three-star rated wing Arnecia Hawkins. The lack of recruits is notable because the Sun Devils have four seniors on their roster this season.

Among those seniors is forward Kimberly Brandon, the top returning scorer at 9.5 ppg, and last year’s leading rebounder at 6.5 rpg. Because Arizona State lost three out of their four top scorers last year – Dymond Simon at 13.2 ppg, Becca Tobin at 9.5 ppg (and 5.8 rpg), and Tenaya Watson at 7.5 ppg – several other players will be asked to up their production on the offensive end if the team is top finish in the top half of the Pac-12.

Three of those players are juniors. Forward/center Janae Fulcher (5.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and guard Deja Mann (4.0 ppg) and senior forward/center Kali Bennett (3.9 ppg). Outside of Brandon and the three departed seniors, Mann had the most starts last year with 14.

Other returning players include senior guards Alex Earl (3.0 ppg) and Olivia Major, sophomore guard Adrianne Thomas, junior center Joy Burke, and redshirt junior guard Haley Parsons.

Newcomers for the Sun Devils are Eliza Normen, a 6-foot guard who was name a WBCA High School All-American and was ranked number 28 by Hoopgurlz. Joining her are Jada Blackwell, a 6-foot-1 forward from Etiwanda, Calif., and two 5-foot-8 guards in Promise Amukamara, from Glendale, Ariz. and Micaela Pickens, a junior college transfer from Cypress College in Southern California.

The Sun Devils open their season at home versus UC Riverside on Nov. 11.

Daniel Uribe is a Los Angeles native and a freelance writer.