Even though it’s about a 20-minute trek to the top of Arizona State’s “A” Mountain, it isn’t easy. Likewise, easy has not been the ideal way to describe Bobby Hurley’s tenure at ASU.
One thing he’s learned: Winning takes time.
While Hurley has reached the top of “A” Mountain, he is still searching for the top of the Pac-12.
At Buffalo, Hurley found his way to the top in no time. With plenty of success, he started his coaching career with a bang. In his first season in 2014, the Bulls went 19-10, finishing first in the MAC. In 2015, Hurley earned them another first-place finish and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
His championship history at Duke and two stellar seasons at Buffalo gave him a winning reputation that buzzed through the streets of Tempe upon his hire in April of 2015.
During Hurley’s first season in 2015-16, Arizona State went 15-17 (5-13 Pac-12), finished 11th in conference play, and most importantly, was miles away from the NCAA tournament.
But winning takes time, and even Hurley’s former head coach, basketball genius Mike Krzyzewski, knows that.
Even Duke’s Legendary Mike Krzyzewski Once Struggled as a Coach
At just 33 years old, in 1980, Krzyzewski began coaching at Duke.
The three years leading up to Krzyzewski’s arrival in Durham, N.C., previous coach Bill Foster led the Blue Devils to three consecutive NCAA tournaments from 1977-80, which at the time, was the longest streak in program history.
When Krzyzewski took over the program at its best, winning was expected, but it didn’t come quickly. Actually, it took quite awhile.
In his first season in 1980-81, Duke finished 17-13, landing in the NIT quarterfinals. In 1981-82, Duke ended the season 10-17 and followed with another losing season at 11-17.
Three seasons of agony and turmoil for Duke and Krzyzewski boomeranged the Blue Devils into a dynasty.
Since Krzyzewski’s fourth season in 1984, Duke has recorded 32 NCAA tournament appearances, including 12 Final Four trips and five national championships.
When including five seasons at Army, Krzyzewski waited nine years to even make an NCAA Tournament. Hurley had the short delay of just two.
Hurley has proved that winning is possible in Buffalo, and he even beat Krzyzewski by seven years. How will he do it in Tempe?
Analyzing Hurley’s Recruiting Mastermind
Hurley’s top-20 recruiting class in 2016 that put the Sun Devils in the same category as powerhouse programs like Maryland, North Carolina, Syracuse, Indiana, etc., earned him some serious respect.
In the midst of ASU’s struggling 2015-16 season, it seemed looking forward to a promising 2016-17 season was a Sun Devil fan’s only answer.
With three ESPN 100 recruits and four players at least 6-foot-9 or taller in the 2016 class, 2016-17 seemed to be Arizona State’s year.
Then, these events occurred:
Aug. 19: three-star, 6-foot-9, 215-pound Vitaly Shibel tore his ACL and was ruled out for season.
Sept. 30: four-star, 6-foot-9, 220-pound Romello White became ruled academically ineligible for the 2016-17 season.
Dec. 12: ASU’s most talented recruit, four-star, 6-foot-6, 195-pound Sam Cunliffe requested to transfer from Arizona State.
The Sun Devils are 7-6, haven’t even started conference play, and what looked like their brightest recruiting class in recent history has been diminished to four-star Jethro Tshishumpa and unrated Ramon Vila.
So, just wait for next season. Right?
Well, the Sun Devils are far from done this season.
Is Arizona State NCAA Tournament Bound?
Taking a look at ASU’s season thus far, 7-6, speaks for more than just a game over .500. It’s a record that has reflected a strenuous schedule with more than a few reasonable losses and an RPI (Rating Percentage Index) of 131.
The Maroon and Gold have fallen four times to top-50 RPI teams like Davidson (47), Kentucky (5), Purdue (44) and Creighton (6), and twice to top-105 RPI opponents such as New Mexico State (79) and Nothern Iowa (102).
In 2015, the Sun Devils finished non-conference play 10-3 with impressive wins over Creighton and then-No. 18 Texas A&M. This year, Arizona State is without a statement win, but has taken care of seven mediocre teams with a combined RPI of 217.
The great news for the Sun Devils is conference strength.
In 2016, the Pac-12 placed a conference record seven teams into the NCAA tournament. Oregon State and USC, who both finished 9-9 in conference play, participated in the Big Dance.
Theoretically, with a tough non-conference schedule, but few or no quality wins, ASU would need to finish at least above .500 in conference play and snatch a few Pac-12 tournament wins to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Though the Sun Devils are still searching for an identity, they have 18 games left this regular season to prove if they are tournament ready.
But if they are not, there’s always next year. Right? Really?
2017-18 ASU Men’s Basketball: When Winning Becomes a Regularity
As of now, the Sun Devils return 10 of 12 players from this season’s roster, a highly-touted Ohio State transfer and another prized recruiting class in a trio of four-star recruits.
Way-too-early probable starters
PG: Tra Holder, SG: Shannon Evans, SG: Kimani Lawrence, F: Romello White C: Jethro Tshishumpa
Next season’s newcomers
Kimani Lawrence (6-foot-5, 180 pounds): four-star from Providence, R.I. He is the 53rd-best player in the 2017’s ESPN 100 class and passed up offers from Florida, Pittsburgh, USC and Texas.
Remy Martin (6-foot, 170): four-star from Chatsworth, Calif. Martin has earned an 80 scout grade and averages 8.4 assists per game for Sierra Canyon who ranks No. 1 in the nation on Maxpreps’ Xcellent 25.
Kenneth Wooten (6-foot-9, 200 pounds): four-star from Manteca, Calif. Wooten withdrew his commitment from Nevada and reclassified from 2016 to 2017. He passed up offers from Kansas, Oregon, California and USC.
Mickey Mitchell (6-foot-7, 220 pounds): former four-star from Plano, Texas. Signed with Ohio State in 2015 and played minimal minutes in 2016. Mitchell will enroll at Arizona State after the semester break and will become eligible in December of 2017 as a sophomore.
The Sun Devils will be stacked with new stars next season, including the added height of Romello White and Vitaliy Shibel from Hurley’s 2016 class.
Next season’s key returners
Arizona State returns assists leader Shannon Evans (4.6 per game), second-best scorer in Tra Holder (16.8 points per game) and 3-point shooting marksman Kodi Justice back for their senior years next season. This team will be driven by both upper and lowerclassmen with a talented base of senior leadership.
Bobby Hurley’s year to shine
After gaining a contract extension through 2021 at the end of last year’s season, given time to adjust to Pac-12 competition and bringing in two top-notch recruiting classes, Hurley and Arizona State are due for a fantastic 2017-18 season.
Success isn’t here yet, but it is coming. And soon, Hurley’s Sun Devils will have plenty to enjoy.