It’s not easy being the new kids on campus. For Arizona State freshmen basketball stars Taeshon Cherry and Luguentz Dort, this sentiment holds true in more ways than one.
Coming out of high school, the two five-star recruits had their names in the spotlight as they stepped upon campus in Tempe. Both players were expected to make immediate impacts and be pivotal players within the ASU rotation.
That task seemed easy for Dort. He earned Pac-12 and NCAA Player of the Week honors a couple weeks ago, and in his opening night debut, he set a freshman record by scoring 28 points.
“As soon as he got here in our workouts, he got the players respect,” said head coach Bobby Hurley of Dort. “We knew what we had. I kind of knew before he got here, but he validated that real quick.”
However, for Cherry, the dawn of his first Division I college basketball season wasn’t as smooth of a transition as his five-star counterpart. After fighting through a slightly torn meniscus and recovering from the pre-season injury, Cherry fought to find his way in the early part of the season.
Through four games, the highly-touted freshman was averaging less than four points while shooting just 2-of-11 from three-point range.
The first two weeks of the college basketball season culminated for Cherry with a thud during ASU’s first game against Mississippi State in the MGM Resorts Main Event in Las Vegas, where Cherry was 0-for-5 from the field and did not score in 12 minutes of action.
That same night, Dort had 17 points and helped lead the Devils to victory down the stretch against the Bulldogs. It was a tale of two freshmen in regards to how they were playing. But with some early season adversity, Cherry continued to receive reminders and praise from Dort.
“He’s very confident in himself and I think that pushed me over the edge with my confidence,” Cherry said of Dort. “He said, ‘Look, you are going to miss shots. Everybody misses shots. You just got to shoot the next one.’”
Following the MSU game, Cherry went back to T-Mobile Arena and kept shooting. It was a late-night hoop session, and the results of the work paid off. Cherry hit a breakthrough in the championship game of the tournament against Utah State. He scored 15 points and threw down an emphatic dunk that helped seal an 87-82 win.
Since then, he has tallied double-figures in every game, including 19 points when ASU returned home the following Wednesday to take on Nebraska Omaha.
Dort also went off for 33 points in the championship game against Utah State in Vegas. The two prominent recruits had officially taken flight, and it was not without the uplifting of one another.
“Taeshon has been my roommate since this summer and he got hurt, and everything kind of went down for him,” Dort said. “When he got back, we were just talking in the room and talking about how good we are, and how we can impact this team. The last couple of games, Taeshon has been really great.
“Even in practice, I have seen Taeshon being more comfortable with shooting the ball or getting to the rim. I am really happy for him.”
Away from the national college basketball stage, the two young Sun Devils are basketball junkies. They eat, sleep and breathe the game. Dort and Cherry have NBA League Pass in their freshmen dorm, and they constantly watch NBA games on a nightly basis.
Cherry’s favorite NBA star is Kevin Durant, and although many ASU fans like to think of Dort as similar to alumni James Harden, the young phenom may be more reminiscent of one of his favorite players who also wears the number 0 on the floor - Russell Westbrook.
“He loves Russell Westbrook,” said Cherry of Dort. “That’s his favorite guy.”
With discussions already surrounding Dort’s NBA potential, the journey for the two freshmen has only just begun.
There is pressure that lies on the shoulders of both players. There are expectations and certain aspirations. Dort and Cherry are two of the five-star center pieces to Hurley’s most notable recruiting class to date.
Both players had different starts to to their seasons, but as the year plays out, their support system will only pay benefits.
“He’s (Dort) going through the same thing I am going through as a freshman,” Cherry said. “He’s a year older than me so he is like a big brother to me. It’s like he’s teaching me steps along the way. He’s taking me under his wing because he is doing so well, and I wasn’t really doing well.
“He told me, ‘Just get back in your groove.’ He watched me in high school and told me to come here. He said, ‘I know what you can do. Everybody knows what you can do. Just prove it to them.’”