TEMPE — Gearing up for the team’s first regular-season game Friday against Idaho State, Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley said there is a notable level of enthusiasm among his players to start the season.
Following an unusual summer, in which the team took a nine-day trip to Europe — winning three games against teams from Italy, France and Spain and a double-overtime victory in an exhibition game against Northern State University in October — Hurley said that the mix of talented veterans and new players has looked like a quality group in their brief time together.
With three senior leaders in guards Kodi Justice, Shannon Evans II and Tra Holder, and a number of young contributors in guard Remy Martin, forward Romello White and more, Hurley said he has never felt better about a team’s potential on the offensive end since he came to ASU in 2015, and that he is “optimistic” that the roster has a chance to play late into the Pac-12 tournament, and even a chance at a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“I do feel like we have a team that, when all the guys are healthy and eligible, that we have a lot of different ways that we can attack our opponent, and I didn’t always feel that way last year,” he said.
His focus is particularly geared toward defense and using the team’s young big men to protect the paint.
In preventing penetration, and blocking or altering shots, ASU can lower opponents’ field goal percentage, but Evans said the coaching staff’s second emphasis is boxing out and ending the defensive possession after the first miss.
“Rebounding. We emphasize that every day,” he said.
Preparing for his fourth opening night as a Sun Devil, Justice said he still expects to be anxious to start the season, but that in his last year, the biggest goal is to maximize the last year of his fellow seniors, who have given so much to the program, and hope to make one last run at postseason success.
“Just being physical, going out there and rebounding the ball, playing hard, and just thinking that this is the beginning of the end for us three seniors,” he said.“So we’ve just got to go out there and have fun and not get too worked up. It’s basketball, that’s what we’ve got to worry about.”
Acknowledging that a long season and difficult practices could take a toll on players’ legs, Hurley said the team’s fitness is at a peak, as the staff has scaled back its training, and the players have had a chance to catch their breath before the season starts.
When it comes to Friday’s game, Hurley said the most intriguing development will be measuring the roster’s chemistry against an opponent in a game that finally affects the standings.
“I liked some of the things I saw as we progressed through the exhibitions. Just really excited to look at our team in its entirety,” he said. “That’s the one thing that we haven’t really seen yet. And just getting all the guys on the floor at one time.”
Tip-off against Idaho State is scheduled at 8 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
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