Under 24-year head coach Charli Turner Thorne, Arizona State went 20-11, and 10-8 in Pac-12 play in 2019-20.
The Sun Devils had signature wins over top-five opponents such as Oregon and Oregon State, and they were on their way to their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament before the season was cut short.
House of Sparky reporter Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas caught up with the ASU head coach to discuss what’s she been up while inside, initial reactions to the abrupt season ending, and the program’s newest recruits.
Editor’s Note: Q and A has been edited for length.
Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas: First off, how are things going for you during all of this? What are you and your family doing to pass time?
Charli Turner Thorne: Good! You can still connect with people. We’re still connecting with players, still recruiting. It’s just a lot of Zoom, FaceTime and phone calls. I’m in my home office, so it’s a busy day. It’s been good.
All of my boys are in school, so they’re doing online school and getting workouts in. My husband has been doing every single improvement that you can think of, so that’s awesome. It’s been cool because we have dinner every single night, so we’ll usually do poker night. We’ve been doing Pictionary, Scrabble. We actually did Mario Kart brothers. I was tragic, but it was fun. We’re not happy we’re in this situation, but there’s been some cool things that have come out of it.
MJT: You guys had a tough loss in the Pac-12 tournament and were preparing for the tournament and then got the news it was over. What were your initial reactions?
CTT: We really didn’t have a point guard for that last game, but we weren’t too worried about it. I mean we weren’t happy with how we played but at the same time, we got home and got extra rest. We got three extra days off and then got back in the gym and got our mojo back. We were excited.
Everyone feels especially bad for the five seniors. I was on an airplane, landing into Houston to meet with a recruit and I got a text from a high school coach and he said ‘Charli I’m sorry. Especially for your seniors.’ That’s how I found out, through a text. Before we took off, they had just canceled the men’s tournament. We knew they were inches away from canceling everything.
MJT: How has the team been coming together during this tough time? Are you still able to connect with them?
CTT: Absolutely. That’s been really important, connect with them and help them through this, for the seniors too. We got three that want to go pro and two that have some ideas of what they want to do.
We’ve been helping them with that. With the returners, we still have four in town actually, but they’re doing really well. Obviously we wanted to play in the NCAA tournament, but we went into our downtime. This would be a time where we wouldn’t be doing a whole lot anyway. It would be their time to put the ball down and finish out school. Obviously it would’ve been nice to have a banquet and celebrate everyone.
I just keep telling them, ‘This is going to define your life a lot. It’s a really unique time.’ We’ve had our zoom meetings. We’ve actually been able to do it with our incoming freshmen. We got our team together earlier than we ever would. Usually we wouldn’t get together until June or July, so we’re getting a jump on things.
MJT: What did you tell your seniors when the news was made? This is obviously so tough for them.
CTT: Yeah, tough especially for Ja’Tavia Tapley because she never got to play in the NCAA tournament. It’s just a really special thing. The other four had played in it for three years, but that doesn’t make it easier, because usually your last one is the best one. We were going to be good and healthy and ready to go.
You don’t have words for it. I think that everyone thought it was an overreaction when it happened, but clearly it was an under-reaction. We really understand that now. We realize basketball is not an essential need, but yet we see how much the country misses sports. We see them putting a HORSE challenge on ESPN because people miss sports. There is a big void. You have to look at the bigger picture. Our players have been taught to keep things in perspective. There’s nothing to say, but let’s stay home, stick together and figure this out.
MJT: When all this is over, what are you looking forward to most?
CTT: I’ve been going outside. It’s gorgeous here. I work and do my morning workout, but I’ve been walking around the neighborhood like no other. We’re very blessed and fortunate because a lot of people around the country do not have our weather. We’re all practicing social distancing, but in Arizona we’re able to walk outside and ride bikes. But I’m really looking forward to getting back in the gym with the players and working on some things.
We call this the “improvement season”. When we get back together in the fall, it’s all about the team, so this is your window to get better individually. They’re all doing some things now to help themselves, but obviously we’d like to be more involved in that as coaches. We’re going to see how things play out and I’m hopeful.
MJT: You guys have already signed a couple of big recruits, so what excites you the most for next season?
CTT: I’m really excited for next season. We’re going to have all the pieces. It’s going to be a younger team, but I’m not worried about that. I’m actually excited for that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss my seniors. They were amazing, but we’ve got the energy and excitement of six new players and stay tuned because we might not be done.