The Arizona State Sun Devils are hopeful Bobby Hurley will lead the men’s basketball program to heights it has never really reached.
Wednesday night they got an up-close look at the kind of team they would like to be in a 99-61 loss to the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. It was the second-largest margin of victory Arizona has ever had over ASU, and it was the fourth-worst margin of defeat the Sun Devils have ever suffered in Pac-10/12 play.
No doubt, it was not what ASU athletic director Ray Anderson wanted to see in the rivalry matchup.
“Essentially patience and understanding that we have a lot of work to do in building back a program — in fact, building a program in basketball that we can all be proud of,” he told Doug and Wolf as part of Newsmakers Week on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM when asked what the most difficult part of his job was Wednesday night.
“So it’s hard to watch our guys and any of our student-athletes lose to the University of Arizona, quite frankly, because if there’s one thing I’ve really realized in my two years here is that rivalry is real, and so watching us lose to the Wildcats down there in the fashion that we did, that was difficult.”
Save for a brief stretch where ASU went on a 13-2 run to take 20-19 lead with less than eight minutes remaining in the first half, nothing went right for the Sun Devils against the 12th-ranked Wildcats. Arizona State shot 32.3 percent from the field compared to Arizona’s 57.1 percent, and was outrebounded by a 50-26 margin.
While ASU was not necessarily expected to win the game — the Sun Devils entered the night a 12.5-point underdog — few expected things to go as badly as they did. Then again, perhaps they should have.
While the Sun Devils have been competitive in most games this season, they lacked the kind of size and skill necessarily to compete with a national power like Arizona. In time, though, that could change.
Included in next season’s freshman class are four-star players in small forward Sam Cunliffe and center Jethro Tshisumpa, while ESPN.com has the team earning a commitment from three-star power forward Vitaliy Shibel, too. The shortest player in that group is Cunliffe, who is 6-foot-6, while Tshisumpa comes in at 6-foot-10.
Arizona State is also in the running for 7-foot center Thon Maker, who is expected to make his decision in April. If the program continues to progress like this, games like Wednesday night’s should be the exception rather than the rule, and you can point to Hurley for the turnaround.
“Bobby Hurley represents, very frankly, what we were looking for in a new direction in this basketball program,” Anderson said. “Energy, pedigree, buzz, expectations of being hardcore and tough and tenacious, and so he’s brought that, to be sure.
“These young men are responding to Bobby in the way that I at least was hoping they would, and that is to recognize and respect that their head coach is someone who has been where they aspire to be, who has won championships — multiple — at the level that hopefully they aspire to play.”
While Wednesday’s loss dropped the Sun Devils to 4-10 in Pac-12 play and 14-13 overall, nothing that has transpired this season to dampen Anderson’s optimism over the first-year coach.
“Bobby Hurley, for me, is the right guy for this program to take us to where we’re trying to get,” he said. “And very frankly we want to be top-five, we want to be elite; we want to be a team that is looking to challenge and win consistently that desires to be really top notch, and I think Bobby Hurley gives us the greatest opportunity to make our way forward in that regard.”
While every program should aspire to reach those levels, the idea that Arizona State could actually do it may seem a bit out there given the school’s history on the hardwood. The Devils have reached the NCAA Tournament just 14 times, and have not made it to the Dance’s second weekend since 1995.
None of that is to say Arizona State can’t become a top-tier program, but no doubt their work is cut out for them. The question is, how does it happen?
It truly takes a village if Sun Devils.
“You’ve got to step and support them genuinely and emphatically,” Anderson said. “Which means you’ve got to come out and actually participate by coming to the arena and rooting and yelling consistently for our players.
“As an administration, we’ve got to support [Hurley] in terms of helping him with recruiting, eventually upgrading our game-day facility — Wells Fargo is, no question, a sub-par place to play elite basketball — so that’s on our radar, we’ve made no secret about that.”
Anderson added alumni and donors can help in all these areas and aid the school in creating the right kind of environment for successful athletics.
“And we don’t make any apologies for having lofty aspirations, but you know what? We believe they can be attained if you put it all together,” he said. “Every year there are teams who are top-five; there’s no reason why Arizona State and men’s basketball (can’t be).
“And frankly, our expectation is that in every single sport, our aspirations is we want to shoot for being top five at some point.”