Arizona State leaning on Frankie Collins, Jamiya Neal to form dynamic backcourt

Oct 11, 2023, 12:45 PM

Frankie Collins, Arizona State...

Frankie Collins #10 of the Arizona State Sun Devils dunks the ball against Chuck O'Bannon Jr. #5 of the TCU Horned Frogs during the second half in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Ball Arena on March 17, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley gained experience but also results last season: He showed it’s possible to navigate roster churning, using months instead of years to build an NCAA Tournament squad.

The Sun Devils did it with defense, ranking 35th in KenPom adjusted defensive ratings, a pretty decent sign it’s possible to teach complex concepts that require in-the-moment chemistry on a short timeline.

So the lone three players who return for 2023-24 team have some importance in parlaying that success onto a roster that’s again filled with new faces and inexperienced ones at that.

“We have a very inexperienced team, so (it’s important to be) just getting them all on the same page and understanding what we’ve got going on,” said guard Jamiya Neal at Pac-12 men’s basketball media day Wednesday.

Neal, point guard Frankie Collins and big Alonzo Gaffney return with the responsibility of carrying over any momentum they can from last year.

ASU added talent from power conference schools in the portal looking for bigger roles. There’s a hunger there, Collins and Neal said, though that comes with the obvious wonder if many new pieces can team-build in time to earn a tournament bid.

The backcourt at least has continuity.

Collins, a junior, averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 assists per game as the starting point guard.

Neal struggled to find the court due to injuries but got thrust into the rotation when then-backup point guard Austin Nunez was hurt down the stretch of the regular season and into the postseason.

“They played together last year,” Hurley said of his backcourt duo. “They were two of the better guards in the league late in the season. They could be a devastating combination at both ends of the floor just with their creativity, their athleticism, and their ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor.”

The 6-foot-6 Neal, who operated as a play initiator at the tail end of 2022-23, now slides into a shooting guard role alongside Collins.

Neal flashed maturity in his game and the ability to shot-create when necessary late last year. He put together two double-digit performances against a talented Arizona team and also dropped 16 ponits to go with three steals, four rebounds and two assists in a First Four win against Nevada.

“Me and Frank are both willing passers, and we want to see each other do great,” Neal said. “Our games complement each other because we both can shoot, we both like to get downhill, we both like to make the right plays and we both guard. We both can guard 1 through 3. I like the combo of me and Frank because we’re so similar.”

The duo isn’t fronting on their cohesiveness despite often missing each other in lineups last year.

They played in a pro-am over the summer to get more reps in.

Time will tell if they can take steps forward in their young careers — and if the Sun Devils have enough talent around them.

Which Arizona State basketball newcomers are standing out?

Hurley said 7-foot center Shawn Phillips has made noise as a rim-roller and shot-blocker with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He appeared sparingly in 20 games for LSU last year.

Guard Adam Miller brings the most experience with 62 starts between LSU and Illinois over the past two seasons. He averaged 11.5 points on 34% shooting for LSU last season.

Louisville transfer Kamari Lands started six of 32 games for the Cardinals in 2022-23 and averaged 5.9 points on just 33% shooting.

“Shawn Phillips, Kamari Lands, (LSU transfer) Adam Miller, I would say all three of those (stand out),” Collins said. “One with Shawn Phillips, he’s 7-foot with almost a 40-inch vertical. He can really get up there. He plays hard. He blocks shots. Crazy wing span.

“With Kamari Lands, his shot-making ability has been up there ever since we started, since he stepped foot on campus.”

And as Neal pointed out, all of the new players are motivated. Even the returnees down to Gaffney, who was a bench player last year, have the opportunity to spread their wings.

“We have a whole bunch of guys who have a lot to prove,” Neal said. “Everybody’s stepping into a bigger real, and I think that’s what’s going to help us because we all have each others’ backs because we’re all doing something we haven’t had before.”

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