Hurley parallels ASU length, athleticism with 'best' team

Hurley parallels ASU length, athleticism with ‘best’ team

In the third season of Bobby Hurley’s tenure, “Guard U” became words well associated with Arizona State basketball — a program that revealed in a rich senior backcourt.

Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice were Hurley’s only 30-plus minute players with a 2017-18 team that consistently relied on their free-flowing improvisation and a heavy barrage of 3-pointers to comfortably top the Pac-12 in points per game (83.5). Even four-star freshman point guard Remy Martinwho’d pace the conference in scoring in later seasons later, nearly averaged double figures off the bench.

The campaign boasted many firsts for Hurley: an NCAA Tournament berth, a winning record and AP Poll placement. The Sun Devils even rose as high as No. 3 in the national rankings.

But such markers just didn’t translate to postseason success, as they exited the Pac-12 Tournament and March Madness in the First Four, even before a lot of people started seriously paying attention to the NCAA Tournament.

It wasn’t until the following year when Hurley, without Holder, Evans and Justice, pocketed his first NCAA Tournament win — also in the First Four — and only conference semifinals appearance to date, largely due to the fact that forward Zylan Cheatham led perhaps Hurley’s most sizable roster to 40 rebounds per game — the school’s most in at least 17 seasons — with a conference-best 10.3 boards.

Now, fresh off two consecutive losing records, the eighth-year head coach liked his new collection of talent to that 2018-2019 group.

“Probably my best team (was) with Lu Dort and Zylan Cheatham, you know, those practices were wars and it was guys going at each other pretty hard and it really got us ready to play,” Hurley said during ASU’s first fall media availability last week. “I feel kind of in a similar way about this group just because of our athleticism, our length, our size around the basket and just some older guys that have played a lot of college basketball.”

Among those experienced newcomers is 7-foot senior warren washingtonwhose move from Nevada adds a reliable interior presence alongside 6-foot-10 sophomore Enoch Boakye and 6-foot-9 Alonzo Gaffney.

Thought Gaffney started 24 of 30 games played with Boakye showing ample promise as a reserveneither delivered an impact near equal to Washington’s overall production in Reno, where he averaged over 10 points and six rebounds per contest as a 46-game starter across the last two years.

Therefore, even amid the departures of forwards Kimani Lawrence (eligibility) and Jalen Graham (Arkansas), the addition of Washington gives Hurley an option to make Gaffney, given his build and perimeter shooting ability, a stretch four in bigger lineups that he suggested would more often headline 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Marcus Bagley as a primary wing .

Considering the Sun Devils gave up the most rebounds among Pac-12 teams a season ago, such a development could prove crucial in better neutralizing the conference’s significant length.

“I think I’m going to be able to get Marcus as a three, so when you have a guy like that — I remember back to his game against USC his freshman year, had 12 defensive rebounds — we got to be a better rebounding team so you get bigger even on your perimeter spots,” Hurley said.

The former four-star recruit joined ASU as the No. 29 recruit in the 2020 class, but he hasn’t added much to his resume since then. Despite averaging over 10 points and five rebounds per game, Bagley’s only started 14 games in two years amid injury troubles.

If Bagley is to put persistent health complications behind him, the perimeter talent and depth provided by the Cambridge brothers behind him has Hurley optimistic.

Long and rangy at 6-foot-4, senior Desmond Cambridge averaged 16.4 points per game across a four-year span — not including his redshirt year after transferring from Brown to Nevada — while Auburn senior transfer Devan Cambridge adds a dynamic at 6-foot-6 that Hurley’s consistently compared to Lawrence’s versatile skillset.

“[Devan’s] an elite athlete in the open court and the way we play, our style, I think it fits him,” Hurley said. “(He) does a little bit of everything.

“Des is going to provide more instant offense and we need to get better at that end of the floor. That was I think what held us back last year and so adding him and getting Marcus Bagley healthy will be key for us to address that. “

With bigger options at small forward, including versatile 6-foot-6 utility sophomore Jamiya Neal, competition for playing time may be increasingly intense among the Sun Devils’ smaller guards: Hurley returns leading scorer DJ Horne for his junior season, with sophomore transfer Frankie Collins expected to be a more crucial addition than his minimal role at Michigan otherwise indicated. Desmond Cambridge should also get a lot of minutes in two-guard lineups, particularly if Horne shifts to point guard when Collins is on the bench.

Seemingly ahead of four-star freshman Austin Nuñez on the depth chart based on two media viewings, Collins is expected to give Hurley the pass-first point guard he lacked in Marreon Jacksonwhose high volume and low shooting percentages factored into Hurley’s worst statistical offense that scored just 65.4 points per game — his next lowest average at ASU was 73.3.

“I think we’re extremely deep, especially on the perimeter,” Hurley said. “I’d be comfortable playing a number of guys at those spots and maybe that’s kind of a reactionary thing by me with all the injuries we’ve dealt with on the perimeter the last two years to say, ‘Hey look, if one guy goes down, it’s not going to derail what we’re doing,’ so we do have options.”

While senior guard luther muhammad was frequently a starter last season and averaged nearly 20 minutes per game, similar minutes may be tougher to come by if others play to expectations, particularly if Neal’s role expands and Devan Cambridge plays a lot at small forward.

Neal’s aggressiveness and upside as a 6-foot-6 scorer at all three levels have been apparent even among the Sun Devils’ more established scorers in the two practices opened to media so far, and his minutes may come at any one of the three backcourt positions as yet another marker of this team’s potential depth across the board.

“We really have two starting [centers], we got 10 guys who can go,” Desmond said. “That’s why I love it here. You cannot come in here any practice and think you can just fake your way through a workout because you will get embarrassed, you will get put to the side and every day you have to come in or your spot is in jeopardy.”

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