Bobby Hurley last spoke to the media in April. We chronicled then the remarkable amount of change that had coursed through the Sun Devil program from the end of the 2020-21 season up until Hurley’s update.
As it turns out, the shuffle of program pieces would continue well into the summer. Hurley’s meeting with the media on Monday comes at a time where the dust is beginning to settle.
“To have a more normal summer, and to work with the team and also be on the road recruiting throughout the month of July, I thought was very productive for our group,” Hurley said.
“I think the leadership was pretty strong and some guys are doing some nice things. I like how the team is built.”
The Sun Devils no longer have glaring holes in their roster or staff, and now have roughly three months to get nine new players and two new assistant coaches up to speed before their first game on Nov. 9 against Portland.
On Bagley’s Return
Only three players who saw extended rotation minutes are back with the team for the upcoming season. But for much of the summer, it appeared that just forwards Jalen Graham and Kimani Lawrence would be the sole returners.
That changed when Marcus Bagley announced his withdrawal from the NBA Draft and his return to the team. It was news worth celebrating, as Bagley was first-round material when healthy last season.
Hurley didn’t put in the full-court press on Bagley to coerce him into coming back. But he never lost contact with his young forward as he went through the draft evaluation process.
“As much as he is thinking about the next level, he wants the true experience of playing at Desert Financial with a big crowd and under somewhat of a normal environment,” Hurley said. “I think we’ve surrounded him with a team that is going to put him in a better position to experience those things.”
On Summer Developments
The Sun Devil program is in a far better place cohesively than it was at this time one year ago simply due to the fact the team has been able to see each other in person and practice together throughout the summer.
In these summer scrimmages, playing styles are sifted through, leaders shine through, and relationships between teammates are forged in the fires of competition where nobody is watching.
Hurley has been impressed with his team’s synergy, and highlighted two players who have been exceptional during the scrimmages. First was Luther Muhammad, who sat out last season after transferring from Ohio State.
“I think has been a real standout,” Hurley said. “Just in terms of his leadership and how he competes day in and day out, it reminds me a lot of (former Sun Devil) Zylan Cheatham.”
Next was a promising update on the aforementioned development of Graham into a two-way threat.
“Jalen Graham had as good of a scrimmage as I’ve seen from him,” said Hurley. “I don’t know how he fit his head through my door in my house after the game, he was on cloud nine.”
On the Lineup’s Growth Spurt
Arizona State was saturated with talented guards last season, perhaps oversaturated, as the team lacked the ability to score stops and end possessions with defensive rebounds.
In response, Hurley made adding height and length to his roster a priority this offseason.
On top of the return of Lawrence (6’8”), Graham (6’9”), and Bagley (6’8”), Hurley brought in five-star recruit Enoch Boakye (6’10”) and former Ohio State forward Alonzo Gaffney (6’9”) to address the defensive issues the team faced.
“Because we are bigger I think we’re a little more interchangeable,” Hurley said. “We could be pretty unique with some lineups that we can put on the floor. There is a lot of roster versatility and we are way deeper than we were before.”
On Last Season’s Frustrations
The Sun Devils entered last season with as much hype as the program has received. Remy Martin was returning to the team and he would be joined by Josh Christopher and Bagley, two of the highest-rated recruits in program history.
In the end, injuries hurt the team in more ways than one, as the unit could never find a comfortable style of play with so many moving parts. Christopher missed extended time, Bagley missed a month at two separate points.
It was the toughest season in Hurley’s tenure at Arizona State, and he took it personally.
“You could look at last year and say, ‘Wow, these guys had all this hype and they failed,’” Hurley said. “I take that very personal.”
Determined to make a change, Hurley dedicated himself further than he ever had before as a coach.
“It’s probably as hard as I have worked on the phones and recruiting since I’ve been here,” Hurley said. “But it’s been a breath of fresh air, just being in the gym with these guys all month and it’s been real positive.”
On the Potential of a Sold-Out Desert Financial Arena Once Again
A lot of factors outside of the Sun Devil basketball program’s control will determine whether this happens. But as of now, the goal is still to pack the home arena out this winter. The potential for Hurley, a coach who feeds off frenetic energy, to coach in front of a full house again had him exceptionally excited.
“It’s a huge advantage, especially the last couple of years the way our fans have turned out,” Hurley said. “Excited to get back to that environment, hoping that we can do some damage early in the season.”