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ASU’s Hurley on Josh Christopher: ‘He’s been pretty special so far’

Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley looks on during the college basketball game between the Oregon State Beavers and the Arizona State Sun Devils on February 22, 2020 at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley analyzed his roster and the Sun Devils’ Pac-12 competition on Thursday.

Hurley, who has posted a 93-69 record in five seasons coaching the Sun Devils, has high hopes for his team this year.

Hurley, talking with the Maroon Monsoon’s Tim Healey on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Thursday, said this year’s team features a level of team speed and on-court explosiveness that few others he’s coached could match.

The former Duke standout said his goal heading into the team’s non-conference opener in late November is to get the roster to play cohesively so they can hit the ground running once the season starts.

“We’ve got a lot of firepower on the offensive end of the court and it’s a matter now of bringing it all together,” Hurley said. “Convincing people to play unselfishly; to share the ball; to just make each other better on that end of the floor.”

Hurley said the team’s elongated offseason because of the 2019-20 college basketball season’s cancellation on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for players and coaches alike.

“At this stage you wonder if you’re ever going to be ready for Nov. 25, because there’s just so many elements of getting a team ready as a coach,” Hurley said.

“There are so many things that you’re trying to throw at this group without a usual offseason. So we’re trying to work through a lot of those things right now.”

Hurley believes this year’s ASU roster has the right mixture of talented newcomers and wily veterans to succeed.

He’s confident that returnees, like seniors Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge Jr., have what it takes to lead a talent-laden core of freshmen in the year ahead.

“I think that this team is pretty unique,” Hurley said. “The last three years have been pretty good years, we’ve had some good success. Certainly we have a lot of talent.

“We’ve got a good mixture of experienced guys that have been very successful and we have an All-American candidate that’s played multiple years. And then we have a fusion of some exciting young players.”

Two of the newcomers that Hurley is alluding to are guard Josh Christopher and small forward Marcus Bagley, who headline the second-ranked recruiting class in the Pac-12, according to 247 Sports.

Hurley is confident that Christopher, who is the highest-ranked ASU recruit since James Harden, is a program-changing prospect.

The sixth-year ASU coach described the anxiousness he felt prior to landing the five-star guard as being similar to the way he felt when his team was on the NCAA Tournament bubble in 2017.

“We had started 12-0 [in 2017] and maybe didn’t play our best basketball in league play and had to struggle and wait for days to see if we were going to make the tournament,” Hurley said.

“So the relief that I felt was tremendous. It was such a long recruiting process with Josh. And we really wanted him to be a part of our family badly because we felt like it was a great fit.”

The early results from Christopher’s time in Tempe have been quite promising, according to Hurley, with the five-star recruit dazzling staff and teammates alike already.

“Josh has been pretty special already. He has a great maturity about what he’s doing and how he’s practicing,” Hurley said. “[Josh] hasn’t missed a day and has been really, really good. So we’re super enthusiastic about that.”

Remy Martin’s return to Tempe

Hurley pointed to getting senior point guard Remy Martin back as a pivotal moment during the offseason.

He said that Martin, who declared for the NBA Draft but decided to return during the offseason, has unfinished business to take care of this season.

“I think Remy took a very mature approach to the whole process. Like he does when he’s with us, he threw himself into that process,” Hurley said.

“He wanted to explore it. He wanted the feedback. He kept himself extremely fit through a difficult time to even train.”

Hurley believes Martin didn’t get a fair shake from NBA scouts during the draft evaluation process, after finishing second in the conference in scoring, averaging 19.1 points per game.

“It wasn’t a typical year in the NBA Draft process and I don’t think that he got a fair shake to show all 30 of the NBA teams that he was ready to be drafted,” Hurley said.

“And so, he reflected on that. He knew that there were multiple things that he still wanted to accomplish at ASU and we discussed those things.”

Hurley said he expects Martin to build upon his late-game shooting prowess in the year ahead, improving up his passing and leadership capabilities.

“It’s always fantastic as a coach to have a guy that’s been through the caliber of games that he’s been through knowing that he has a proven track record of being a closer late in games,” he said.

“At the same time, it’s going to be a matter of taking some of these young guys under his wing a little bit and sharing his experiences and letting them know what this is going to be all about initially.”

Alonzo Verge’s role in the year ahead

Hurley covered the expectations for fellow senior Alonzo Verge Jr. heading into his senior season.

Verge’s days as a bench player are all but over, according to Hurley, a year after averaging 14.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 28 games and nine starts.

“I think he saw his last days coming off the bench,” Hurley said. “I think the best way that I can describe it is that he’s on a mission.

“It’s the best that I’ve seen him, and I thought great things of him last summer. Not only his scoring and his ability off the bounce. I think he’s in great shape.”

Hurley said one of his goals ahead of the season is to see Martin and Verge take on a more vocal leadership role in practices and games.

He’s been satisfied with the early results from the team’s preseason practices from both seniors.

“There are some wars in the gym,” Hurley said. “When you put the guys that we have in the three perimeter spots. They’re certainly preparing themselves for the start of the season.

“Because if you’re competing against a Josh Christopher or a Remy Martin or vice versa, that level of competition is going to get all of those guys ready to play.”

Holland Woods’ role and Marcus Bagley’s maturation

Hurley covered the team’s addition of Apollo High School alum and Portland State University transfer Holland Woods.

He said that Woods, who averaged the fifth-most points per game of any Big Sky Conference player (17.7), has been stellar in practice so far.

He expects Woods to thrive in Tempe now that he’s no longer expected to carry the load offensively.

“He’s just got a real maturity about his game. Again another guy that’s very experienced,” Hurley said. “A player at Portland State that was just getting blitzed in ball screens and facing double teams and was the number one guy on every scouting reports of all of his opponents to try to take away.

“And now he finds himself in a unique position here at Arizona State that he might not be looked upon that way and can fly a little bit more under the radar. But just has a real stabilizing presence about him and how he carries himself in practice.”

Hurley also discussed the way that freshman forward Marcus Bagley, the grandson of ASU great ‘Jumping’ Joe Louis Caldwell, has performed in practice.

He believes that Bagley, whose older brother Marvin played at Duke before getting drafted by the Sacramento Kings, has an excellent understanding of the demands needed to succeed at the collegiate level.

“For a freshman he’s unique in how he handles his business. How he works, how he trains, his diet and working on his body,” Hurley said. “He’s been a guy that’s either the last guy or the second-to-last guy to leave the gym after practice.

“He’s in there getting reps. Continuing to work on his game. He’s got that mindset and he comes from a tremendous basketball family. And he’s fallen right into that legacy.”

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