The Arizona State Sun Devils will look like a very different team during coach Bobby Hurley’s second year in Tempe.
There’s a sizable difference: The 2015-16 roster boasted four players 6-foot-6 or taller (Eric Jacobsen, Willie Atwood, Obinna Oleka and Savon Goodman). The 2016-17 roster has seven listed players at that height or taller, however only five will play (Romello White was ruled academically ineligible, Vitaliy Shibel injured his knee).
What ASU has added in depth, it’s lost in experience. Atwood, Goodman and Jacobsen entered the campaign with a combined 181 Division I games played between them. This season, Oleka provides the only frontcourt experience, with one full season under his belt.
The others offer potential, but for now present youth. Let’s take a look at this year’s frontcourt.
The Returners (2015-16 stats represented below)
Obinna “Obi” Oleka (No. 5, 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, Senior) — 9.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 0.5 BPG
Oleka, a former transfer from Washington, D.C., will play an integral role in the post for the Sun Devils. His springy athleticism and ability to stretch the floor (shot 31.4 percent from three-point range last year) makes him a legitimate threat, offensively.
The question we’re still awaiting an answer for is how Oleka intends to be used. Hurley rolled out a small starting lineup featuring Oleka at the five position, and shifted to the four spot with one of ASU’s sturdier big men on the floor. His impact will be vital to what the Sun Devils accomplish this year.
Andre Adams (No. 12, 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, Redshirt Freshman) — N/A
Adams is still being eased along at practice amidst returning from an ACL injury in September, the second one he sustained in a two-year span.
He offers size in the key for ASU, and while progress on his recovery may take time, he may be able to contribute in a limited capacity moving forward.
Ramon Vila (No. 33, 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, Freshman - Barcelona, Spain)
Vila trekked all the way from Spain to join Hurley’s team, and he should manage to etch out a role off the bench during his first season in Tempe.
He is a true post player who can alternate between the center and power forward roles, possessing length to compete in the paint at both ends of the floor. Expect him to play valuable minutes this year.
Jethro Tshisumpa (No. 42, 6-foot-10, 260 pounds, Freshman - Democratic Republic of Congo)
Like Vila, Tshisumpa traveled from overseas to play for Hurley, and should see the floor, primarily in a center role.
Tshisumpa holds the best frame and size to inherit Jacobsen’s vacated five spot, however is still a raw prospect. He flashed his potential during ASU’s exhibition win against UC Santa Cruz last week, tallying four points, four rebounds, one block and one steal in 22 minutes.
Vitaliy Shibel (No. 13, 6-foot-9, 210 pounds, Freshman)
Shibel will sit out the 2016-17 season after suffering an injury.
Romello White (No. 23, 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, Freshman)
White will sit out the 2016-17 season after being ruled academically ineligible.
It will be interesting to see how Hurley tinkers with his rotations throughout the season. Assuming on-court reps will allow the younger big men to grow through experience, one could figure they will see regular time.
Concern over how the unit will hold against competition is fair. Until at least one player emerges as being capable to comfortably play with the starting unit, expect for these larger bodies to be eased into action.