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ASU planning for Empire Classic as it waits for Martin, Dziuba to get on court

Arizona State guard Remy Martin (1) yells after his team defeated California in an NCAA college basketball game in Berkeley, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Arizona State men’s basketball head coach Bobby Hurley confirmed reports that the Sun Devils are planning to play in the 2020 Empire Classic tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

On Thursday, he said the program’s attorneys are evaluating the contracts. The team is preparing to compete in the tournament that will take place Nov. 25-26.

If confirmed, ASU would replace Michigan, who was scheduled to play Villanova in the first round.

That type of competition is the exact reason Hurley wants the team to play in the tournament. Even without full team practices, the coach thinks his team is good enough to compete for the NCAA Tournament and wants to test them early.

“If I didn’t have the confidence that I have in what I’ve been watching over the last several weeks, I probably wouldn’t have signed on,” Hurley said.

“But the reality is, with the postponement of the season, those two weeks that a lot of these multi-team events are happening right over the holiday weekend and Thanksgiving. So you’re either going to be willing to go to these events, or you’re going to have a hard time scheduling the caliber games you’re looking for.”

The Sun Devils competed in the tournament last year, where they beat St. John’s 80-67 and then lost to Virginia 48-45.

This tournament is pretty much the only scheduling ASU has planned out.

Hurley said the non-conference portion of the scheduling is still a “blank canvas.”

Travel is still a worry due to the coronavirus.

The environment of the Mohegan Sun tournament is ideal because, after arrival, the team is in one location for multiple days and multiple games. Hurley compared it to the NBA bubble.

“It has a lot of elements of a bubble where there’s going to be limited access to our players. They’re going to be tested when they arrive. We’re going to be testing our guys before we leave,” Hurley said.

Non-conference scheduling period has greater issues to deal with. Hurley said they’re working out how to ensure travel is safe.

“Are we gonna require our non-conference opponents to show us a week, two weeks before, that they’ve been testing at the level that the Pac-12 requires and at the NCAA standards?” Hurley said.

The conference will pay attention to how leagues including the NFL and MLB manage COVID-19 outbreaks as they plan not just for non-conference play but also the Pac-12 season.

There may be larger buffers between games just in case some get delayed and must be re-scheduled.

There’s confidence that once they get to conference play, there will be more safety because of the testing requirements that have been agreed upon.

“All Pac-12 schools are going to be testing in same capacity, so I feel pretty confident that we’ll all be on the same page with regards to that once we hit league play,” Hurley said.

Which Sun Devils are missing?

ASU has had a pair of injuries and is still awaiting the arrival of two players to the court who are expected to play big roles.

Sophomore guard Caleb Christopher had surgery on his right thumb Tuesday. He injured it when he dove for a loose ball and landed on it awkwardly.

He has a six- to eight-week recovery time. Hurley said Thursday that he expects Christopher to get clearance to train again in 10 days. At that point, he would work on cardio and left-handed skill.

Senior forward Kimani Lawrence suffered a knee injury that Hurley expects will keep him out for three weeks.

With that timetable, Lawrence would be available for the first games of the season.

Hurley did not go into more detail about the problem.

ASU is still waiting for freshman forward Pavlo Dziuba to get to campus. The Ukranian has faced delays due to academic qualifications and visa requirements.

Dziuba is in good-standing grade-wise with a 3.0 GPA, Hurley said, but he missed one of the standardized tests that ASU requires.

Additionally, the coronavirus has made it tougher to acquire visas. He has had appointments with the embassy, and Hurley expects him to get the visa next week.

Hurley raved over video he has watched of Dziuba and expressed excitement to get him into the program. And there’s one other player who has yet to start training, one who Hurley does not need film of to be excited for.

Senior guard Remy Martin returned this week, but has yet to get onto the court as he goes through testing, Hurley said. The coach expects him to be on court next week.


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