It’s been over 200 days since a shot was made at Wells Fargo Arena — 200 days for the Sun Devils that have included a trip to Europe, a few key signings from transfers and recruits alike, and, more recently, a major bombshell dropped on the world of college hoops.
A long offseason has finally come to an end. It’s time to play basketball.
“It’s taken us a while to really put ourselves in a position where we’re truly looking forward to a season,” third-year head coach Bobby Hurley said. “Having seniors that are focused and invested in starting the season, my whole mind is really focused on them, and just making this the best possible year we can make it.”
At the season’s first ASU basketball media availability on Thursday, Hurley didn’t shy away from the negative whirlwind of news that has shrouded the sport over the last few days.
In his opening comments, Hurley opened by largely expressing his love for the game amidst a “dark period.”
“It was a very tough day for college basketball,” he said. Obviously, there’s a lot of people that are impacted by what’s already happened. It’s tough. You feel for a lot of people, there are a lot of victims here in this whole process. It’s a sport that’s been good to me my whole life, I love college basketball with my heart.”
On a far more positive note, for seniors Kodi Justice, Shannon Evans and Tra Holder, it’s time to kick off their last season as Sun Devils — one they expect to have a major impact on the ASU basketball program.
With improved depth all around and such a strong core of senior leaders, it’s not too far-fetched to think this iteration of ASU men’s hoops has what it takes to fight for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2014.
But like most players at the beginning of a new campaign, these seniors are much more focused on the here and now.
“We talk about leadership and the impact of winning,” Hurley said. “Those experiences of possibly playing in the NCAA Tournament … they’re really focused on wanting to accomplish that.”
“We’ll worry about October first,” added Justice.
As the only player on the ASU roster who’s been to a NCAA Tournament — back when he was a freshman at Buffalo with Hurley before the two both made the move to Tempe — Evans echoed his fellow seniors’ sentiments.
“Obviously, we all want to get there, that’s our goal,” Evans said. “For now, we’ve just to focus on one day at a time, the first practice tomorrow and things like that. It’s exciting, the NCAA Tournament’s like the best thing in the world, it’s like being a little kid on Christmas.”
Both Evans and Hurley, having taken part in the Bulls’ 2015 NCAA Tournament run, said this upcoming edition of ASU basketball shows many similarities to that Buffalo team.
“What I can compare it to is my second year at Buffalo,” Hurley said. “I felt like I had that type of team that I felt compete against high-majors or really anyone on our schedule. I’ve got a feeling that’s the kind of team I have right now.”
The biggest difference for the Sun Devils this season is undoubtedly depth.
For a team where five players shared nearly all of the minutes down the stretch of the 2016-17, ASU will have as many as ten capable players with the additions of key freshmen like Remy Martin and Romello White.
“We talk a lot about balance,” Hurley said. “Having the lack of depth we had last year, we were very one-dimensional with what we could do and how we could attack our opponent. Just being more confident in the ten guys we have in knowing we’re a deeper.”
With that said, while this team will be deep, it will also be young, as the majority of the ASU roster is comprised of players in their first or second year with the team.
Enter Hurley’s trio of seniors, who will be undoubtedly called upon in leadership roles this season.
“Every practice we have has to be at a very high level,” Hurley said. “Competing with each other, challenging each other, and setting a great example for all the young players in the program and that’s what Tra, Shannon, and Kodi have done pretty effectively.”
Each of the seniors noted the bond they’ve developed heading into this year, not to mention how more connected they grew with each other and the rest of the team on the recent trip to Europe.
“In Europe, we did a lot of things together,” Evans said. “Our team bonding is great right now, the chemistry is great right now, I feel like this is going to be a great team and this program is in the right direction.”
Most importantly, though, the major point of emphasis for the members of the senior class is to go out strong.
“We’re like brothers, three musketeers,” Holder said. “We’ve got a group chat, we’re always talking to each other. We want to do it big this year, leave a legacy and do something this school’s never had done before. That’s the goal. If it doesn’t, we know we’re gonna give our all and make the school proud.”