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Originally published Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Carrick Felix leading Arizona State's basketball turnaround

Sun Devil earns his third Pac-12 player of the week award

Seattle Times college basketball reporter

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Carrick Felix keeps getting these text messages: "Congrats." "Way to go, dude." "Keep it going."

Another Monday, another Pac-12 player-of-the-week award.

"Half the time, I don't even know when I get the player-of-the-week award," Felix said Tuesday from the Arizona State campus. "I just kind of hear."

Felix is hearing a lot these days, and his ASU team has established itself as one that will be heard from. Just when you thought the program had checked out of relevance, here come the Sun Devils north to our state this week, 16-4 and 5-2 in the Pac-12.

ASU people argue this, but the Sun Devils are pretty much the equivalent of the guy who twitches in his casket, alerting his loved ones that he's not dead after all.

This was ASU last spring: The Sun Devils had just gone 10-21, atop a 12-19 season the year before. In January, coach Herb Sendek had booted scoring leader Keala King and suspended two others. Perhaps the best player, Trent Lockett, left the program to be nearer his ailing mother.

And then in August, two assistant coaches split; one, Lamont Smith, opting out for Washington.

Somewhere in that carnage, Sendek saw possibilities.

When I suggested on the Pac-12 conference call Tuesday that the situation appeared desperate, Sendek said, "Being here, I didn't necessarily draw the conclusion you just referred to. We had a good nucleus returning, we had some key players who sat out last year, and we felt we had a chance to turn things around."

But, Carrick Felix — who knew? A 6-foot-6 Phoenix-area product who averaged 10.5 points and four rebounds last year wasn't going to lead ASU out of this mess. Unless, of course, he could average 15.8 and 8.2, land in the Pac-12's top 10 in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals, goose his shooting percentage from .421 to .535 and generally play at an all-conference level.

"Knowing I was going into my senior year, I just wanted to take full advantage of all the tools, all the things I had around me," Felix said. "Every day was a constant grind, making sure I'm working on all my weaknesses and touching up on all my strengths."

He had kindred spirits around him. Point guard Jahii Carson brought a dynamic floor game and 7-2 center Jordan Bachynski developed into a force in the middle. Felix changed his own game from one beyond the three-point arc to a dual threat to include driving.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Felix. "We knew we were going to be under the radar, we knew nobody was going to have faith in us. But we had each other, and if we became closer as a team, we knew the sky is the limit."

Sendek veered away from his zone orientation, decided to play man defense and speed the game up. Last weekend, the Sun Devils won a 98-93 overtime game with USC and throttled UCLA by 18.

ASU also has taken down Colorado, and will need more quality wins to equalize a nonconference schedule that was light on substance. Meanwhile, the famously taciturn Sendek is preaching living in the moment.

"The next game will start 0-0," he said, referring to a meeting with Washington State on Thursday night.

As for Felix, the player-of-the-week award is a notoriously random thing. But he's making it a habit, having won it three times this season. Oregon, which cracked The Associated Press top 10 this week, hasn't had an honoree yet, and Arizona has had just one.

And what's more ...

• Utah will retire the late coach Rick Majerus' "sweater" Saturday when it plays host to Colorado. Better square out a large space.

• Top three scorers in the league are California's Allen Crabbe (19.9), Washington's C.J. Wilcox (19.0) and WSU's Brock Motum (18.9). Right now, none of the three are on an NCAA-tournament path.

• Oregon, 7-0 in league, embarks on another Bay Area trip, which it hasn't swept in 36 years.

BruinsNation.com, a UCLA fan website, unearthed some provocative numbers that show the Bruins under Ben Howland performing much better on weeknight games (80.6 percent wins before this season) than on weekends (54.2). Said Howland, "When we have two or more days to prepare for a game, we have a better advantage to be ready."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com


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