TEMPE, Ariz. The gushable moment of Arizona State's season for coach Herb Sendek came early in the second half of a 10-point victory over Oregon State here two weeks ago. Freshman Jonathan Gilling passed up an open shot from 3-point range to give hot teammate Chanse Creekmur an even better look at an open three, which Creekmur knocked down from the right baseline to increase a two-point lead to five.
"The play of the year," said Sendek, which also tells you what kind of year it has been.
The unselfishness of the play is what excited Sendek.
That Gilling was willing should have come as no surprise.
It is his game.
While Gilling was one of the tallest players on his youth and club teams in Denmark, he also spent a lot of time playing on the perimeter. He is forever grateful, and so are the Sun Devils, whose decision to award him a scholarship sight unseen looks prescient.
Gilling, who has grown to 6-foot-7, still has the ball-handling skills, court awareness and basketball IQ that he learned while playing away from the basket, and the package has made him a nice fit and now a starter on an Arizona State (6-13, 2-5) team that will host the Washington schools in Pac-12 play this weekend.
"I think maybe it's a European thing, that taller players play more outside," Gilling said this week.
"Over here, they just take the tallest kid and put him under the basket, and then they don't learn to shoot free throws or anything outside. I think that everybody should develop as a point guard, or at least learn to dribble, instead of just putting them inside. When I was younger, I always played the point guard. It helped my court vision, I think."
It shows in Gilling's ball distribution, and he benefitted in other ways. Because Gilling learned his game from the outside in, his range extends to the 3-point line, which is about 16 inches shorter in the NCAA game that it is under FIBA international rules.
"That's kind of nice," Gilling said with a smile after making 5 of 6 threes in his second career start, against UCLA on Jan. 7.
Gilling has made 23 of 56 three-point attempts this season, 41 percent, part of the reason ASU leads the Pac-12 in "adjusted" field goal percentage, a metric that takes into account the extra point gained on a made three-pointer. ASU's adjusted percentage is 53.1.
"It's is definitely the reason why I can shoot," he said of playing on the perimeter for his Danish League club team, the Horsholm 79ers, in his home town of Rungsted Kyst, which is about 25 kilometers north of Copenhagen and is as much a basketball town as a soccer town.
Not that anyone should mistake Denmark for an international hoops hotbed. Gilling's club teammate, 7-foot center Anton Larsen, is a reserve at Old Dominion. Former Florida player Christian Drejer, a second-round draft pick of the New Jersey Nets, is perhaps the gold standard for Danish basketball, but give Gilling a few years and he might become the firstnext Great Dane.
Gilling has responded well to the extra opportunities the last three weeks, when playing time opened up following the suspensions of three players for the Los Angeles trip and the eventual dismissal of one, guard Keala King.
He had consecutive career highs of 12 and 17 points against USC and UCLA -- games his parents, both dentists, were able to watch from front-row seats behind the ASU bench, phone cams working overtime.
Gilling, 20, had another 12-point game against Colorado last week. Although teams are starting to play Gilling a little tighter after seeing his shooting accuracy, he is averaging 8.9 points, two rebounds and 2.5 assists a game while averaging 30 minutes in the last six games. He has made 15 of his 33 three-point attempts in that span and still is the only player in ASU's rotation who has more assists than turnovers.
"He has really made great progress. I am so excited about the promise of his future. He has a tremendous upside," Sendek said. "He has added a great to our offense not only with his shooting. He has the ability to make others better with his vision and his feel for the game. Even with his size and strength, he is actually more comfortable out on the perimeter. He has a great feel for the game."
Gilling did not know what to expect when signed at ASU on the strength of some game film sent by his club team coach, Milan Skobalj, who is an assistant coach on the Serbian National team. Gilling's one goal was to play 15 minutes a game he is doubling that now.
Not bad for a guy who has been playing organized basketball for only eight years and who was introduced to the sport when a friend to him to a local practice. The two went home and played one-on-one in the friend's back yard after that, and Gilling has not stopped since, although he had to juggle basketball with soccer and tennis, often practicing two sports a day.
"I just fell in love," he said.
Gilling has even more to offer. His favorites are mobile European big forwards Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets and former NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks. Gilling said he even has the fade-away mid-range jumper that has made Nowitzki almost unguardable.
"Yeah, but the coaches won't let me do that over here. Maybe in a couple of years, when I gain some more experience," he said. "Right now, I'm just trying to do what the coaches tell me to do."
Like hitting the open shot and the open man.
Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter