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ASU Basketball: Back to Guard U?

Changing of the guard

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State basketball’s renaissance under coach Bobby Hurley has taken many forms in his five years in Tempe, as the program has slowly transitioned from Pac-12 bottom-dweller to perennial Tournament contender with Hurley at the helm. The on-the-court product has undergone dramatic improvement in the past half-decade, with the team’s play continuing to more closely mirror Hurley’s preferred style as he works to integrate recruiting classes that best execute his overarching goals.

Possibly the purest implementation of Hurley’s vision was achieved two seasons ago, when the Sun Devils peaked at number three in the country on the backs of star senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans. The group relied heavily on the play of its backcourt, with three of the team’s top four scorers measuring in at 6’3 or under, including then freshman Remy Martin.

Now, Martin serves as one of the few holdovers on a team that appears to be similarly guard-reliant. With the improvement of senior redshirt guard Rob Edwards, along with the addition of junior college standout Alonzo Verge Jr., Hurley is quick to spot the similarities and possible advantages of this season’s ASU squad.

“It just looks a lot like two years ago at times on the floor,” Hurley said at Wednesday’s availability. “I think that’s a real positive with the versatility, that we could play different lineup combinations.”

Hurley will have a better sense of the possible lineup combinations in the coming weeks as the team prepares for their trip abroad to Shanghai, China to play the Colorado Buffs on November 8. Even the earliest of practices though have revealed the talent of ASU’s crop of guards, as the trio of Martin, Edwards and Verge each possess a unique skillset that will force some interesting lineup construction from Hurley. Possibly most importantly to Hurley though is all three profile as at least above-average athletes, and thus capable of setting the tone defensively for the Sun Devils.

“I love, over the long-haul though, just how our athleticism, our speed, our quickness in the backcourt and on the perimeter and how that could really cause problems for teams as we go on,” Hurley raved. “I’m not saying it’s going to happen in China, but we certainly believe that that could be one of our strengths to try and force tempo and create pace because we have guys that can pick up 90 feet and guard.”

Hurley has also been quick to commend the passing ability of his team, noting that the influx of guards lends itself to an especially unselfish brand of basketball. As Hurley works to instill good passing habits in his players, he has already observed an advanced feel among the Sun Devils.

“It’s probably as good as I’ve seen it since I’ve been here, just with the willingness to pass and move the basketball,” Hurley said. “High assist totals … they’re making the extra pass. And when we penetrate and hit the lane, if there are guys (defensively) rotating, they’ve been good at hitting the paint and finding where their open teammate is.”

While the team adopts a more pass-happy mentality, junior forward Romello White has stood out as a surprisingly deft facilitator. The 6’8 White has been a key contributor for ASU in his first two years on campus, averaging at least eight points and five rebounds both seasons. Yet with only 24 total assists to his name across his two seasons as a Sun Devil, few would expect White to offer much in terms of passing ability.

Both Hurley and Martin though have been quick to correct this misconception. Hurley commented on the strides White has made this offseason, noting the layers that the likely starter has added to his offensive arsenal, while Martin called White one of the best teammates he’s ever had. Martin even went as far as to establish some lofty goals for the forward.

“I told (White), I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up there in the assists leaders for the Pac-12,” Martin recalled. “Just because when you pass it to (White), he just makes the right read for the team … His ability to pass, and willingness to pass, is amazing.”

With the season opener inching closer, anticipation within the team continues to build for their international travel. With a host of unique opportunities, including a trip to Shanghai Disneyland, on the horizon, one player in particular is ready to get the season underway.

“Man, I’m ready to go,” Martin said. “I’ve been ready to go for a long time, and I’ve just been working as hard as I can. I believe that we’re ready and even if we weren’t, I’d still be like, ‘let’s go. I’m ready.’”