When starting freshman guard Sam Cunliffe decided to transfer from Arizona State, it wasn’t the decision that surprised head coach Bobby Hurley and his staff, but when the decision was made did.
“The timing and the day it happened, it was not expected based on the way we won and the progress we made in that game,” Hurley said Thursday following practice. “But it doesn’t come as a complete surprise to our staff.”
The Sun Devils are coming off a huge 74-63 road victory over San Diego State. The win felt like it could potentially be the turning point in the early stages of the season. It still very well may be. However, ASU will have to find out if it is without one of its key young contributors in Cunliffe, who was averaging 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest in 10 appearances.
“The timing of it wasn’t great because we just had our best win of the season,” Hurley said. “It was a very difficult game on the road against a really good program, and to come up with a great road victory, you wanna try and build on that.”
After Cunliffe’s decision became public Monday, Hurley issued an official statement which simply read: “We wish Sam the best in the future.”
Official statement from #ASU coach Bobby Hurley on Sam Cunliffe’s decision to transfer:— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) December 13, 2016
"We wish Sam the best in the future."
He furthered his hopes regarding the Seattle product’s future endeavors on Thursday, saying, “I sincerely do wish Sam the best in finding his happiness playing basketball.”
As for the players, things have “been casual” around the lockerroom since the news, according to starting shooting guard Shannon Evans II.
“Things like that happen on every team,” said Evans, a former Buffalo transfer. “We wish Sam the best. He did great things for us, and he’ll keep doing great things in the future. But in basketball, you gotta turn the page quickly, and focus on the next game.”
The Sun Devils will have to do just that with their next games coming against a New Mexico State Aggies team riding a seven-game winning streak on Saturday, followed by a bout against a currently undefeated Creighton Bluejays squad.
“(New Mexico State is) on a seven-game winning streak, so they’re going to come in with a lot of intensity and a lot of pride,” Evans said. “We just gotta match that and go past that, and we’ll come out with a win.”
In the interim, Hurley said the leadership of veterans Evans, Tra Holder, Kodi Justice and Torian Graham will hold the team together, but also says he’s excited with what he saw from freshman center Jethro Tshisumpa in San Diego, noting the difference and impact he can make on a game when he’s playing well and staying out of foul trouble.
“You got a glimpse of his potential down the road,” Hurley said. “He changes our team if he plays that well.”
As for the future of the program and harboring top talent, Hurley isn’t overly concerned. He cited the improving play of Tshisumpa, and added his incoming group of players—which touts top prospects in Romello White and Kimani Lawrence—is reason to remain optimistic about the program’s future.
“There’s a lot of things to be excited about with Jethro’s progress in that class and knowing that Romello is practicing every day,” Hurley said. “We’ll continue to upgrade our team and build it.”
“It just makes us work harder to try and identify the right people that want to be here that appreciate the opportunity of being here, that don’t feel think it’s beneath them to be here, that want to be a part of winning championships,” he added. “And as a product of winning championships and contending and being in a winning program, then the individual glory comes there as a result of that.
“We’re hoping we can do a good job of finding those guys that wanna do it here.”
Still, the loss of Cunliffe should have an immediate impact on ASU. Nevertheless, Hurley is sincere in his hopes for Cunliffe going on and playing up to the level he knows he’s capable of reaching.
“I loved coaching him,” Hurley said. “I enjoyed having him in the program, I enjoyed getting to know his family. I think the potential is definitely there. Everything I’ve said about Sam I think can still be achieved for him individually, wherever he ends up.”
You can watch full video of both Hurley and Evans’ interview sessions below: