TEMPE, Ariz. – The schedule is ambitious, and so, too, is the new head coach.
Arizona State hired Bobby Hurley in April, and in the near-six months since the 44-year-old son of a coach has named his coaching staff, recruited on both the local and national level, landing three junior college-prospects and connected with the six scholarship players who remained from the previous regime.
Friday, they all come together for the first practice of the season.
“Been really impressed with the group,” Hurley said at Tuesday’s media day. “We’re just really excited. Very optimistic; love working with the group, great group of kids and just excited to get started.”
Upon his arrival at ASU after a successful two-year stint at Buffalo, Hurley immediately went to work: Rashon Burno, Levi Watkins and Brian Merritt make up his staff; forward Obinna Oleka and guards Maurice O’Field and Andre Spight signed in addition to transfers Shannon Evans and Torian Graham, both of whom must sit out this season but can practice with the current group, which includes returning starters Gerry Blakes, Savon Goodman, Tra Holder and Eric Jacobsen.
Evans played for Hurley at Buffalo.
Then there’s the schedule.
The Sun Devils will play at Kentucky plus travel to Creighton and UNLV. There’s a home game against Texas A&M as well as matchups against North Carolina State and either LSU or Marquette as part of the Legends Classic.
On the court, summer workouts focused on skill development, according to Hurley. The focus now, beginning Friday and through the weekend will be defense.
“We’re going to spend probably 25-percent of our reps this weekend will be trying to put our offense in; and more likely than not our offense should be behind our defense, as we would even head into the season,” he said. “It’s a lot for the guys to pick up. I don’t expect them—or want to do that at this point with our team and I’ve never done it in the past. It’s more about the development of our players and their skill levels at this time of year.
“This weekend… will be more focused on our defense and rebounding because those are the things that are very important to winning basketball games.”
Hurley replaced Herb Sendek, who was fired after an 18-16 season, his ninth on the Sun Devils sidelines which produced just two NCAA Tournament appearances.
“The transition has been smooth,” Goodman said.
Players have embraced the change, made easier by 1) Hurley’s resume and 2) the style of play.
Hurley won back-to-back national championships as a player at Duke and last season led Buffalo to a school record-matching 23 wins, its first Mid-American Conference title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
Hurley emphasizes a fast-paced style of offense.
“It’s definitely intense,” Blakes said. “He emphasizes details. He gets after us and makes sure we’re doing what it takes to do some of the things that he’s done in college.”
Under Hurley, Buffalo ranked 28th in the nation in scoring, averaging 75 points per game last season.
“I haven’t talked to the guys about playing games in the 50s,” Hurley said. “If I have to try and coach a game and win a game in the 50s, I’ll do that. But, we’re talking about playing more of a quicker tempo, which is going to get more possessions of offense for the guys. I think it’s what players like to do. They’ve been terrific with the transition. They’ve never resisted anything that we’re trying to teach these guys.
“These guys are in great physical condition. I think we can play the type of pace that I love to play, as long as we take care of the ball and learn to do that successfully.”
The pace is one reason—maybe the main reason—Jacobsen, who at 6-10 played at 260 pounds last season, dropped 20-25 pounds over the summer.
“I knew I had to lose some weight to keep up, for sure,” he said, smiling. “I feel definitely more agile, quicker. My vertical has gone up.”
Look for Jacobsen to spend more time outside the paint, facing the basket this season. He worked on his mid-range jumper, getting pointers from former Sun Devil Jeff Ayers.
Goodman, too, improved his shot, specifically from 15-18 feet.
At 11.2 points per game, Goodman is the top returning scorer for ASU.
“I just want to win,” he said, “so it doesn’t matter what my numbers come out or look like, I just want to win. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy.”
Winning consistently is the goal with Hurley at the helm.
Over the past 20 years, the Sun Devils have made the NCAA Tournament just three times; 2003, 2009 and 2014.
“Every day that you’re coming to practice he’s going to be pushing you because he knows exactly what it takes to get to that National Championship level and Final Four level,” Goodman said of Hurley. “It’s never a day that we can come in here and think about taking off because our coach knows what it takes for us if we want to be successful and have a possibility of winning a conference championship and making a big run in the tournament. We got to bring it every day.”