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ASU men’s basketball has depth, star power for Hurley to work with

Arizona State Sun Devils guard Alonzo Verge Jr. (11) and Arizona State Sun Devils guard Remy Martin (1) wait for the ball during the college basketball game between the Rider Broncs and the Arizona State Sun Devils on November 17, 2019 at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Arizona State men’s basketball head coach Bobby Hurley is not shying away from the lofty expectations of some national writers.

NCAA’s Andy Katz ranked the Sun Devils at No. 14 in his September ranking. Stadium’s Jeff Goodman had them a spot higher, at No. 13. Jon Rothstein’s rankings mirrored Katz and 14, and ESPN’s Jeff Borzello had the team at No. 18.

If they do achieve an Associated Press top-25 preseason ranking, it would be just the second time ASU makes the list in the last 29 years.

“I’m not going to run from the fact that these people do see what we have,” Hurley said. “There’s expectations. I’m not going to downplay those. I believe that those people that have put us in that category, or whatever the rankings are, I think it’s justifiable going into the season.”

To emphasize: Hurley is confident enough to call top-15 rankings justifiable.

The star power and depth on the Sun Devils is something Hurley has not had over his five years leading the team.

“The fact that I’m this optimistic right now I think says a lot,” Hurley said. “From my standpoint, what I’m seeing, it’s given me every indication that it could be my most talented team, the team with the most potential.”

The minutes allocation could get tricky for the coaching staff, an ideal problem to have.

At guard, there are three players who hope to go to the NBA after this season. Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge Jr. initially declared for the 2020 draft before returning to school. They are joined in the backcourt by Josh Christopher, the highest-ranked prospect the men’s basketball team has ever had based on 247Sports’ rankings.

Behind them is Jaelen House, whose presence on the court last year boosted the Sun Devils in a similar way to what Martin did as a freshman.

Splitting time between those four will be tricky when three of them have legitimate starting talent.

It may or may not help that Hurley already sees a budding rivalry between Verge and Christopher. Martin has yet to work out with the team but is expected to join when full practices start this week.

“I really like the competitive dynamic,” Hurley said. “Those two guys have been on opposite teams in some of the floor work we’ve been doing, and I’ve noticed a little rivalry brewing there.”

With Christopher listed at 6-foot-5 and a 6-foot-8 wingspan, there’s potential to go with a three-guard lineup. But even then, there are players who would be relegated to the bench.

Kimani Lawrence and Taeshon Cherry are veterans at the forward positions who have earned playing time.

There are also two newcomers who Hurley spoke glowingly about.

Marcus Bagley, a four-star prospect ranked by 247Sports as the No. 31 player in the class, has impressed early in camp, particularly with his shooting.

“If Bagley is the No. 30 player, man, this is going to be a heck of a freshman crop. I’d love to see the other 28 guys,” Hurley said, excluding Christopher.

With his 6-foot-8 height and shooting ability, Bagley not only is a candidate to start — he may be a candidate to be one-and-done if he plays at this level once the coronavirus masks come off and real competition against other teams begin.

Then, there’s Ukranian forward Pavlo Dziuba, who is not yet in the United States due to visa delays and the requirement by ASU to take a standardized test that he had not completed on time.

Hurley has only seen film, but he was blown away. He outright stated that Dziuba will be part of the rotation.

“I’m super excited just watching his training videos,” Hurley said. “I can’t wait to get this guy in practice.”

The coach sounded confident that the center spot was covered too, even though Romello White surprised him this offseason by transferring to Ole Miss.

Sophomore big Jalen Graham has impressed with his improvements over the offseason. Hurley noted better footwork near the basket and an extended his range out to 17 feet. Graham is grabbing a notable number of offensive rebounds.

“He’s setting himself up for us not to miss a beat at that position — if not more than what we’ve gotten at that position in the past,” Hurley said.

All this, and we haven’t even referenced Holland Woods, a senior transfer at guard who has yet to decide if he’ll redshirt. Hurley said he has discussed with Woods and is allowing him to make the choice.

All this hype is unusual for ASU. Preseason rankings are typically reserved for the team in Tucson.

But Hurley recognizes that this combination of depth and star power is something he hasn’t had with past teams, which tended to be full of scrappy players with talent but relatively void of players who enter the season with their eyes on the next NBA Draft.

He said he needs the players to buy into the team over the individual. With the construction of the roster, he doesn’t expect a single player to dominate the box score every night.

Players will have to be willing to settle into a complementary role in some games.

Winning will help them gain attention more than posting big numbers in losses.

“The more we win, the more all of our individual players are going to get more credit. That’s where I’m pointing the credit,” Hurley said. “I’m already telling you that I got a lot of talent in the gym … I think that really, the ceiling is limitless for us this year.”


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