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Overachieving Derek Glasser has taken Arizona St. to new heights

Derek Glasser had never been asked the question before, and it momentarily stumped the senior.

What might his career have been like had he walked on at USC, his plan before Arizona State offered him a scholarship late in the recruiting process?

"Wow, I never thought about that. ... I don't know. I really don't," Glasser said. "I know my career would have been a lot different. O.J. Mayo was going there and Daniel Hackett would have still been there my sophomore year. I also know that a lot of things fell into place for me at Arizona State. I don't know if that would have happened at USC."

Sometimes a player can make a program and sometimes a program can make a player. Glasser is a kid who landed at just the right school, with the perfect coach, running the right system and with teammates who complemented his skills. He almost certainly wouldn't be the career assists leader at USC or hold the record for most games played, marks he will soon claim at Arizona State. And it seems unlikely that he would have earned enough free-throw attempts at USC to own the best charity-stripe percentage in school history, as he has does for the Sun Devils.

Glasser wouldn't say his success was due to solely to happenstance, but he acknowledges that had he not landed Tempe he would likely have achieved far less.

"My career has exceeded my expectations," Glasser said. "When I got here I didn't know what to expect. In my mind, I knew I could be the point guard for this team. But every year I would hear how the next guy was going to come in and beat me out, like I was just in the spot until they could find someone better. But I just never worried about ... People who know basketball know what I can bring to a team. I've never been a flashy guy. I'm just the guy who holds it together."

No one can argue that Glasser has done that. After a freshman season during which the Sun Devils struggled in Herb Sendek's first year, the school has reeled off three consecutive 20-win seasons, including an NCAA tournament bid last season. That the Sun Devils are on the bubble this season is no small miracle given the talent they lost -- including James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to the NBA -- even when taking into account the weak Pac-10.

"I think people assumed it would be a rebuilding year, but we never saw it that way," Glasser said. "We had guys who knew it was their turn to step up."

How Glasser landed at Arizona State is one of those great college basketball stories.

In 2006, Sun Devil Kevin Kruger took advantage of a new NCAA rule and transferred to UNLV to play his final college season for his father, Lon. It left Arizona State without a point guard, and in desperation Sendek asked newly hired assistant coach Scott Pera if the point guard at Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif. (where Pera previously coached) was good enough to play in the Pac-10. Pera had to think about it, but he finally concluded that Glasser was savvy enough, and so Arizona State offered him a scholarship, "It was either him or nothing," Sendek would later say.

During Glasser's freshman year, which included a stretch of 15 consecutive losses, it looked as if Sendek would have been better off with nothing. "I can remember his freshman year, being at Xavier, and a few times I didn't know if we were going to get the ball up the court," Sendek said.

The problem wasn't only Glasser, it was also the lack of talent around him, something that became apparent after Harden arrived the following season. Suddenly, Glasser's composure and deference to teammates made him the ideal guard to partner with Harden. Sendek's love of the matchup zone also worked in Glasser's favor, as it masked his lack of quickness on defensive.

After Harden and Pendergraph departed following last season, Sendek implemented an offense featuring Glasser and center Eric Boateng. They were seniors and the logical centerpieces, but a third of the way into the season it became apparent that it wasn't working. After a disastrous 0-2 trip through Los Angeles in late December/early January, Sendek scrapped that offense for more motion, and he asked his point guard to help his teammates with the transition, even though it meant he would see the ball less.

"We started off the first 13 games setting as many ball screens for me as possible on every possession," Glasser said. "But we hit bottom at USC and coach knew we had to change. Now, it is about more space and the freedom to cut and move randomly. It was hard at first to adjust to not having the ball in my hands as much, but we went on a four-game winning streak because I think we took some teams by surprise. Guys started getting better at it and we just kept going."

Glasser would say he has had an inconsistent senior year. He scored 22 points and had five assists in a December loss at BYU, but in other games, like his 1-for-8 shooting performance in a loss at Cal last Saturday, he has struggled offensively. "I sucked," Glasser said of his play against the Bears. "As for the season, I have had my good games and my bad games, just like the team."

Arizona State (20-9, 10-6) plays USC and UCLA this week before heading to the Pac-10 tournament. The Sun Devils will likely need to win the conference tournament to return to the NCAAs, but even if they fall short Glasser's legacy is secure.

"When I got here, it was OK to lose," he said. "We would lose and guys would be fine with it. But my class and the guys who are juniors now, we changed that. Now, Arizona State feels like it should win every game. The program has completely changed."

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