ASU basketball seniors: Different journeys, same goal
TEMPE, Ariz. — A lot can happen between an athlete’s freshman and senior season.
Preparation, mindset and play evolve over time as Arizona State men’s basketball knows well. The team has four senior guards — Shannon Evans II, Kodi Justice, Tra Holder and Austin Witherill — and each has taken a different path.
Their skills will be on display tonight as the 2-0 Sun Devils face Northern Arizona at Wells Fargo Arena. Holder and Evans are averaging 21 and 19.5 points, respectively, while Justice has added 8.5 per game.
Evans transferred to ASU from the University of Buffalo following his sophomore year. He had to sit out the 2015-16 season because of NCAA rules but was granted two years of eligibility.
For Evans, the wait was a long one, but it did not take long for the transfer to make his presence felt. In his first season with the Sun Devils, he averaged 15 points, 4.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
Holder, Justice and Witherill have been with the Sun Devils for their entire collegiate careers. Holder and Justice were part of the 2014-15 recruiting class, while Witherill was a walk-on. Throughout their freshman year, Holder and Justice routinely replaced each other in the starting lineup. However, Justice sustained a foot injury on Jan. 25, 2015, which kept him out the remainder of his freshman season.
Justice has bounced back nicely since his injury. Last season, he finished with career highs in points (9.2), rebounds (2.8), assists (2.4), steals (1.3) and blocks (0.6) per game.
Holder has also seen improvements his game. From his freshman year through his junior year, there has been an increase in Holder’s points per game (16.2), field goal percentage (43.3), free throw percentage (77.2), and three-point percentage (36.8).
Witherill has not seen as much playing time as the rest of the seniors during his time with the Sun Devils, but this season could be different, as there’s already been an increase in minutes for the Gilbert native.
Throughout their time together at ASU, the seniors have gone through many trials and tribulations, which has been a learning experience.
“You get to learn through hard times and good times with each other,” Justice said. “Especially with Tra and then now with having Shannon here for a year, and this will be our second (year together). We just get to learn about each other and learn what we don’t like on the court, and what we do like so we can figure out a way to win games.”
“I feel like we take things more serious now,” Evans said. “Coach (Bobby) Hurley gets on us as well, but we kind of police ourselves in a way. Like we know we got a big game coming up, the season’s here so guys are locking in and we’re focusing more.”
The way in which the seniors’ games have evolved is noticeable. They have all worked to become more complete players and have made sacrifices to benefit the team, Hurley said.
Evans is the only player among the seniors to spend his entire collegiate basketball career with Hurley, who was the head coach at Buffalo before being hired by Arizona State in 2015. The two have a special bond, Hurley said.
“Shannon (Evans II) is like a son to me,” Hurley said. “All the time we’ve spent together (and) everything we’ve been through over the last five years, so it’s an honor to be able to coach (the seniors) this year.”
Hurley has also given the seniors words of advice as they embark on their final season.
“Just play fearlessly,” Evans said. “I feel like a lot of guys in college basketball when they play, they got to look over their shoulder when they make a mistake. I don’t have that problem.”
“(If) I make a mistake, I’m going to hear about it for sure, but I don’t have to worry about ‘I’m coming out because I messed up.’ I mean, even though sometimes I do. It’s just that I know that he lets me play through mistakes. (That’s) probably the best thing.”
“(Coach Bobby) Hurley gives you the confidence to go out there and play your game,” Justice said. “He kind of just gives you the freedom and knowing that you have that freedom, he kind of just lets you play. It’s great for a player.”
The seniors have learned the value of hard work, and they, along with Hurley, are hoping that hard work will ultimately pay off this season.
“This is it for (the seniors) and we know that, so we just want to take every day and not take it for granted, and just have fun and play everyday at practice and in the games,” Evans said.
“I have a high level of trust for our seniors and what they mean to the program, and me personally, and how they’ve battled and persevered last year,” Hurley said. “They’ve all had very good individual careers. So just the focus those guys have on playing at a high level, and trying to push us to put us in a position as we go on this journey this year to have a chance to play in (the) postseason.
“I’m hoping to give them everything I can give them, and hopefully their teammates will understand that this is their last go-around, and they’re hungry to be successful this year. To be a winning program.”