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ASU basketball ‘in heaven’ but not content with No. 20 ranking

Arizona State men's basketball coach Bobby Hurley is optimistic about the 2017-18 season because the team's depth is much improved. (Photo by Josh Clark/Cronkite News)

TEMPE, Ariz. — For the first time since 2009, Arizona State men’s basketball is a top-25 team.

The Sun Devils aren’t satisfied.

“We’ve just got to stick with it,” senior guard Shannon Evans said. “There’s still things we’ve got to work on defensively. … There’s so much work to be done right now and I feel like we’re not content, we’re not celebrating right now because we want to celebrate in March.”

After starting off 6-0 with wins over Kansas State and No. 15 Xavier, the team entered the week ranked 20th in the nation. For coach Bobby Hurley, the ranking is a “reflection on just what a great stretch” the team had.

“Getting a chance to enjoy watching Tra Holder and Kodi Justice and Shannon Evans play the way they played and win a (Las Vegas Invitational) championship, that’s what we came here (to do), to begin that process of trying to be a relevant program, a team that can compete at the highest level to win championships,” Hurley said.

For the Sun Devils, this is a welcome experience, especially Holder, who has been “through a lot my four years here.” For the seniors, a ranking like this shows that “all the hard work that we put in together is finally paying off,” he said.

“Me and Kody (Justice) are in heaven right now,” Holder said. “Where we’ve been, from the beginning. … We have a group message, me, Shannon (Evans)… the whole team, we said we’re going to repeat the process. We’re 0-0 now, it’s a new month coming up in December so we’re trying to repeat it again.”

With this fresh success, it’s slowly built a new atmosphere around the program and around the school that Hurley can’t avoid it even when he’s off the clock.

“I love just being able to walk around town you know,” Hurley said. “I got my workout this morning and people weren’t avoiding me. They were wanting to say ‘hi’ and ‘great job’ and ‘we love watching your team play.’”

This is the first time since 2009 that ASU is ranked ahead of its rivals down south, the Arizona Wildcats, who are unranked at the moment. Even with that, Hurley, Holder and Evans all said that they know they can’t count out the Wildcats.

“It feels great (being ranked above Arizona) but much respect to Arizona’s program,” Holder said. “They’re going to do big things. They have a rich culture over there so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re back in there soon.

“At the end of the day, we know those guys down south are really good and we have a lot of respect for them and it’s going to be fun when we match off,” Evans said.

Hurley believes that “Arizona is gonna be fine, believe me. They have talent, they have a great coach, they have a great program and they’re going to figure things out and they’re going to have a lot to say about what happens in the Pac-12 this year.”

Excitement is prevalent. Evans said he received a call from former ASU and Houston Rockets guard James Harden about how the team is performing.

The players said they know not to get too caught up in the attention.

“We still got a lot of work to do,” Evans said. “It’s only November. I feel like ‘Guys, we know what the prize is at the end of the road, we want to be ranked in March, so we got to keep working.’ ”

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