Bobby Hurley Chats With Fans At Virtual "Coffee with Coach"

Sun Devil men's basketball coach Bobby Hurley did not mince words on his excitement for his team this season in a zoom call with donors last week (Friday, Oct. 23). But he didn't ignore the fact that the pandemic has changed everything that college basketball coaches do thing across the country.


"Welcome to my 1,000,000th zoom call since March 12, 2020," Hurley deadpanned. "It's been a rough year, overall. I think my job got changed dramatically when everything started happening, and I just had to navigate through a very difficult time again, [and] the guys were so disconnected for four months. I've had to adjust how I work with the group, how I train based on not having a typical offseason, not having the summer months to build a foundation for our team."


The Sun Devil basketball team began training on July 20, the day that the NCAA allowed teams to begin. Hurley said his team was working in groups of two or three and all players practiced with masks on, which is obviously uncomfortable in a sport with so much running and his players "didn't always appreciate that."


During the past two weeks, rapid testing has become available to the team and having test results available within 15 minutes has allowed players to not wear masks during practice.


"[We] continue to preach all the other safety protocols [such as] social distancing, hygiene, [and] avoiding large [social] groups when they're away from our facilities," Hurley said. "That [way] we avoid bringing the virus into our program. I think that is going to be as big a challenge as it's going to be to beat Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona. Positive cases potentially could put you in a two-week quarantine and during the season, so these are things that [Pac-12] coaches were talking about last night on a zoom call. How are we going to deal and handle certain scenarios? You've seen it already in a lot of major sports. There's a lot more things to think about this year than in prior seasons. It's been exciting getting the guys on the court and trying different combinations."


Hurley broke down all of the players in his rotation, which includes seniors Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge Jr., Portland State transfer Holland Woods, five-star recruit Josh Christopher, four-star recruit Marcus Bagley, and 2019 four-star recruit Jalen Graham.


REMY MARTIN

"Remy was training in Vegas," Hurley said. "He had a situation that he felt very comfortable with, he's put on about 10 pounds, and [he's] gotten stronger, and you'll see that when he's out on the floor."


Hurley sees Martin as the key to providing sparks to the team throughout each game that the crowd won't be able to provide due to Pac-12 COVID-19 protocols currently not allowing any fans in the arena.


"Remy feeds off the energy of the crowd," Hurley acknowledged. "But at the same time, like when he's out on the court, he brings an enormous amount of energy and life to what he's doing. I think we have multiple guys that are like that. We don't have guys that are kind of like zombies or robots out there. Remy, Christopher, Verge, House, all these guys, bring a certain charisma [and] personality to how they play."


Hurley believes Martin will do special things this season with the Sun Devils in the national spotlight.


"Remy Martin has a chance to do some special things and being an All-America candidate with us being a nationally ranked team [because] we'll be talked about a lot more frequently," Hurley said.


Sun Devil basketball donor Eldon Diamond is "sticking with" Martin as his favorite player.


"[He's] the go-to guy, the senior," Diamond said. "He's going to be in the rafters one day. He can have a great life, even away from basketball. Some alumni could hire him in their business to be a spokesman."


Donor Greg Bernstein had similar praise of Martin, calling him his favorite player.


"I'm just really glad he decided to come back," Bernstein said. "He just brings a level of energy to the court that I think there's few other players that bring that level of energy and I'm just very excited to watch."


ALONZO VERGE JR. 

Verge is another guard that Hurley has lots of praise for. Everyone in the program is happy to see the senior guard, who pulled out of the NBA draft along with Remy Martin, come back to the program for one more year.


"Alonzo Verge was probably the best sixth man in the country last year, certainly was sixth man of the year in the Pac-12, and someone else is going to have to win that award this year because he's in great shape [to start]," Hurley said. "Verge has really established himself in practice as someone that is going to be very difficult to keep off the court and out of the starting lineup, so I feel really good about where he's at."


JOSH CHRISTOPHER

Christopher comes in as the highest rated recruit in program history, according to 247sports. The five-star recruit was ranked 11th in the ESPN 100 for the Class of 2020. Hurley quickly compared Christopher to his 2018 five-star recruit, who now plays for the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, Luguentz Dort.


"Christopher kind of reminds me physically of [Lu] Dort, but just a way different, more diversified offensive player," Hurley said. "It's within him to want to defend and compete at that end of the floor."


Hurley and his staff's recruitment of the highly coveted guard out of Carson, CA, didn't come easy.


"It was again like Lu Dort," Hurley said. "It was a multi-year recruitment. It was a lot of phone calls. It was a lot of stress. Coach Burno was fantastic in that process. He really built a strong bond with Josh and his family."


A key to the Sun Devils' landing of Christopher was already having his older brother, Caleb, in the Sun Devil program and giving Josh a look at how Hurley runs it.


"He was at our practices, he was at a shoot around, he was in the locker room, in pregame talks," Hurley said. "He was in the locker room after we came back from down 22 against Arizona, and he saw that celebration and what that felt like. He had numerous unofficial visits where he got a glimpse to see how we operate. I think that there was a trust in what we were doing. He saw the enthusiasm in the building and the electricity in Desert Financial [Arena] and he wanted to be a part of that."


Hurley compared the suspense of Christopher's decision to when the Sun Devils waited to find out if they would be competing in the 2018 NCAA tournament.


"I do remember how I felt that weekend and it was comparable to how I felt three years ago, from when we lost a Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament," Hurley said. "Until when they announced that that we made the NCAA tournament, the level of stress and anxiety that I had waiting, wondering, and wanting it so bad for our seniors, Kodi, Tra, and Shannon, waiting for Josh to tell me what the heck he was doing was so intense and stressful." 


"I'm just watching all day, I remember that Monday, just looking all day on social media waiting for his announcement and seeing all the hype and the build-up and people commenting and saying, 'it's done, he's going to Michigan.' When it finally went our way, it was crazy."


Christopher has a massive following on social media, with 764K followers on Instagram and 66K followers on Twitter. Hurley believes he shows none of that fame on the practice court.


"For a guy that has a big Instagram and Twitter following and has been on all these videos, he's a very grounded guy, very humble, very coachable," Hurley said. "He's been worth every minute that we that we fought to bring him here."


HOLLAND WOODS

Last week, the NCAA announced that they would grant an extra year of eligibility to fall and winter athletes. After getting the waiver to play this season, this ruling allows Portland State transfer Holland Woods to play two seasons with the Sun Devils. Hurley is ecstatic of the possibility of having the Portland State standout for the 2021-22 season as well.


"As Remy, [Alonzo], and most likely Josh would move on [to the NBA], [Holland would] be a guy that would stay in the program," Hurley said. "He averaged 18 points per game last year at Portland State -- he had a game where [he scored] 28 [points] against Indiana in a non-conference game -- so he's been an impact guy as well." 


"We've had conversations [for him to] just get used to Remy having the ball a little more, Verge having the ball a little more, and learning to play without it because Holland [controlled the ball all the time] at Portland State. He was being double teamed on ball screens. He was the number one guy on every scouting report when they would play, so it's been a transition for him in a different type of role, but he's really been good about embracing that."


MARCUS BAGLEY

Marcus Bagley is the second key high-profile recruit that the Sun Devils landed in the 2020 class. Bagley is a four-star recruit ranked 33rd in the ESPN 100. Bagley's older brother, Marvin, plays for the NBA's Sacramento Kings. Hurley may have had more praise for Bagley than any other player he mentioned on Friday.


"Marcus Bagley has been another guy that, as excited as we were about him being a top 30 player, just has exceeded my expectations," Hurley said. "He's [like] Kodi Justice. [He's close to being] the best shooter that I've coached here, and that's a lot for me to say that. Kodi was such a great player and Marcus hasn't played a game yet. Every time he releases, it looks like it should go in and it does quite frequently, and then he's a superior athlete. He's probably the best athlete on the team, in terms of going to the offensive board [and] throwing lobs."


JALEN GRAHAM

"Jalen Graham was the best player in the gym [Thursday]," Hurley said. "He was on the other team and his team won a majority of the live segments in practice. There's a lot of things to be excited about new within our team right now."


The true sophomore looks to have a much bigger role this season, potentially as a starter, after mainly playing to give starting forward Romello White some rest. White has since transferred to Ole Miss, and Graham will look to fill that void that White leaves as the 2019 Pac-12 leader in rebounds.


"I touched on Jalen Graham's practice [Thursday], but across the board he has kind of erased what I thought would be our major issue of losing Romello White and losing Mickey Mitchell," Hurley said. "I think [Mitchell] brought a level of toughness to our frontcourt." 


"Those two guys were very physical, tough players, but Graham, even though he's not like Romello White, his superior footwork, his quick twitch, his ability to catch it above the rim and dunk, he plays off the talent that the backcourt has, he's been the beneficiary in our practices, and he's a guy at the center position that six nine that could that could keep up with these guards."


Averaging 10.9 minutes per game in 2019, Graham will look to take on a much bigger role and improve from his 3.2 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game last season.


KIMANI LAWRENCE

Senior forward Kimani Lawrence has missed most of preseason training, out for the past month from a minor procedure on his knee. Hurley expects his senior to be back to full practice in the near future.


"He's doing some work on the side court now, we anticipate get him back in [the next] 10 days to two weeks," Hurley said. "From there, he's a veteran. I would assume that he would potentially be ready [for] our opener on November 25."


JAELEN HOUSE

"Jalen House looks pretty good," Hurley said. "He's doing what he does: bringing a lot of energy, being a pest on defense, annoying the other guard, and being really vocal in our practices."


The true sophomore and four-star recruit will look to be a key component off the bench and build on his role last season.


PAVLO DZIUBA

During the zoom call, Hurley mentioned that Ukranian four-star forward Pavlo Dziuba has arrived in Tempe. Dziuba had issues with his visa, needed to pass an English proficiency exam for admittance into ASU, and then had to find a way to get over to the U.S. with the COVID-19 travel restrictions.


"We're thrilled about that [and] it's been a long journey for Pavlo," Hurley said. "He got on a plane, is in quarantine now, and we're hoping to get him back next week. I saw him briefly [when] he was going to get a COVID test, I walked by him in the parking lot and he's a massive guy. He will be the biggest guy with the most girth that we have on our roster, he's a legitimate 235 [pounds]." 


"He thinks if there was a dunk contest, he would he would beat Bagley or Christopher so that's how good of an athlete he is. It's not lacking confidence either to make that kind of statement. You've see seen videos of Christopher and Bagley dunking the basketball."


TAESHON CHERRY

Junior forward Taeshon Cherry was a guy that was widely expected to have an immediate impact on the Sun Devils, after Hurley was able to flip his commitment from USC. Cherry was ranked No. 44 in the ESPN 100 class of 2018 recruiting rankings and has not been the scoring asset that he was expected to be.


Cherry averaged 5.9 ppg. on .390 percent shooting during his freshman season and 4.6 ppg. on .352 shooting, largely due to his multiple battles with injuries. Hurley remains optimistic of Cherry's abilities.


"I think Taeshon will fly under the radar with all the other guys that everyone's talking about," Hurley said. "Some of my conversations with him were about, 'hey, you're going to have guys out here that can make plays, you just got to be ready to catch and finish, get yourself behind the line, get your feet set, and [go through] your pre shot preparation.'"


"I think a lot of it with him was consistency of his technique," Hurley said. "We've been working hard with him on his shot, without going into a lot of medical details, he had missed some time [with injuries]. There's been a lot of us that have missed time because of things beyond our control in the world right now. He was a casualty of missing a lot of time."


Despite Cherry's struggles offensively in his first two seasons, Hurley pointed to his attributes on the defensive end.


"He's working extremely hard and I like what I'm seeing out of him I think he figured something out for us defensively," Hurley said. "At the end of the Arizona game, he blocked Josh Green to end the game. At the end of the Oregon game, he had another key defensive play, and he was really important in those areas. It's not only about him scoring the ball or hitting the threes, it's going to be [about how] he's probably our best off the ball defender. Just being in good position, taking the charge, getting loose ball, and just being a glue guy on defense for us [is going to be his role]."


Donor Eldon Diamond also is optimistic about what Cherry can do this season.


"The guy I pulled for the most is Taeshon Cherry," Diamond said. "He came in with a lot of hype had some setbacks, but I still think there's a lot of raw talent that could come out [from him]."


2020-21 EXPECTATIONS

Hurley remains disappointed that the Sun Devils, at least for now, will be unable to have a crowd at their home games, but he knows that his Pac-12 foes have the same playing field.


"It's going to be equal for both teams," Hurley said. "And certainly, we've had a great crowd support, great home court advantage the last couple years and certainly better than [almost] every Pac 12 opponent. It's disappointing at the moment that [crowds] won't be available, but Coach Altman last night from Oregon said, 'with this virus, everything changes weekly, or seems like it's changed.' Who knows what it's going to be like Jan. 1, maybe there's some new technology we're not we're not aware of right now, that's going to enable larger crowds as we advance through the remainder of the season?"


Hurley was very excited when the Pac-12 gave teams permission to schedule non-conference games, but he quickly learned that his plans were a little unrealistic.


"We had some grand ideas when the Pac-12 gave us the go ahead to play non-conference games," Hurley said. "It started with, 'everyone else: hey, we're going to bring all these teams out to Arizona. Who wouldn't want to come out to Arizona? Beautiful weather, easy to travel here.' But we realized pretty quickly that it was a fun concept to consider, but we couldn't get SEC teams, ACC teams, Big East teams, or even a big 12 team to come out here."


The Sun Devils were slated to compete in a tournament in Hawaii, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic. That led the program to attempt to put together their own tournament.


"We had St. Mary's, we had San Diego State, and ourselves," Hurley said. "We just needed one more team from another major conference. We were going to stay local and do that, [but it] fell apart because we couldn't find anyone else to come out here."


Hurley realized his team would have to hit the road, but there were still viable options to play elite competition in their non-conference schedule.


"We were able to work to get into a new event up in Connecticut, which the contracts are signed for, [and it] was our best option," Hurley said. "We were looking at some options in Orlando, where they're holding holiday tournaments over Thanksgiving in a bubble-type environment, like the NBA did. The one that made the most sense for us was an event with Boston College, No. 1 Baylor, and No. 3 Villanova."


ESPN announced over the weekend that they were canceling all of the Orlando-bubble tournaments due to lack of rapid testing. The Sun Devils were fortunate enough to escape that fiasco by committing to this tournament, which will now have even more of a spotlight as the nation's top teams that were slated to play in Orlando must find new competition.


Who will the Sun Devils play in the first round in this tournament? It is likely that ESPN will set up the bracket to intend for Baylor and Villanova to meet in the championship, so the Sun Devils are likely to face Baylor or Villanova while Boston College matches up with the team the Sun Devils don't face.


"I would assume TV wants to put Baylor and Villanova opposite each other and see if they get to the final," Hurley said. "I think we'll have a lot to say about that when we get there, but it's an exciting event, playing against potentially two top five teams to start the season. It will be the day before Thanksgiving and on Thanksgiving Day. I've been told by the promoter of the event that they've secured the ESPN main network to carry both of those games. [It's] another chance for our program to have the spotlight on it and play a nationally ranked opponent right away."


Why would the Sun Devils go up against two of the top five teams in the nation? Hurley is more than confident in his 2020-21 Sun Devils, a team that may be remembered for the ages.


"I felt confident about doing that because of just watching the team train and practice over the last six weeks [even] without having certain key guys on the floor like Kimani, Remy, and Pavlo," Hurley said. "Multiple guys that I would consider to be rotational players were not in practice, yet the team, in my eyes, felt like it was going to be prepared to do that."


Aside from the attention that the Sun Devils are receiving nationally, as they expect to be ranked in the preseason top 25 of the Associated Press poll for just the second time in the past 29 years, Hurley remains focused on the Pac-12.


"Oregon, until you knock them off, has to be considered one of the favorites to win the league," Hurley said. "They have key players returning, they have an assortment of guys that they brought in who were sitting out or that no one really knows a whole lot about that kind of fit the mold of Zylan Cheatham and Rob Edwards when they sat out." 


"They always bring in top tier recruits. They have a center that really didn't even play last year, very much he was injured a lot. [N'Faly] Dante was a top-10 player coming out of high school and he had some injuries. I'm hearing he's healthy and they're very excited about him, so they have a lot of size. They've been there every year."


The UCLA Bruins finished 11-3 in their final 14 games of the 2019 season after a rough start. Second-year head coach Mick Cronin looks to keep the Bruins headed in the right direction after his tenure with the Cincinnati Bearcats, who he led to nine NCAA tournament appearances. Hurley knows that Cronin's Bruins are also a top threat to take home the Pac-12 title along with Arizona, USC, and Stanford.


"UCLA has most of their team returning," Hurley said. "I would imagine Arizona has [returning] players, USC has the number one recruit in the country. Actually, the Pac-12 has three of the top 10 high school recruits, which is really exciting for our league overall. I think Stanford is a team that will surprise some people. They started off very well last year in conference play and didn't finish strong, but they have most of their team back and they've added a top 10 player in the country as well. As long as the season does go and everything takes place that we could be looking at six or more teams, possibly from the Pac-12 going to the NCAA Tournament."


Donor Eldon Diamond, along with Hurley, is hoping to have fans back into Desert Financial Arena at some capacity before the season ends.


"As we have what I think is our best team in 30 years, it would be quite a shame if we only can watch from television, but I think I'm really looking forward to ASU taking center stage and being able to sit at the 'Big Boy' table now," Diamond said.


Diamond has big expectations for the Sun Devils this season.


"Knowing we're guard oriented, I am going to say I would be disappointed if we didn't make it to the Sweet 16, but I think this team is definitely capable of an elite eight [appearance]," Diamond said. "I'm going to say we get to the Final Four because of all the guard leadership."


Donor Greg Bernstein agrees.


"It'll be interesting to see how they play," Bernstein said. "They're going to play a lot smaller this year than they have in years past, so I think it all depends on how they kind of deal with that type of basketball. But if they mesh well together, I think the sky's the limit. It's really depends on how they play to their strengths."


Bernstein's bold prediction is more than attainable for the Sun Devils.


"I think the Sun Devils are going to win the Pac-12 regular season, at least," Bernstein said. "I think the Sun Devils set themselves up nicely for a [deep] run in the tournament."


Full article: https://thesundevils.com/news/2020/10/30/mens-basketball-coach-hurley-chat-with-fans-at-virtual-coffee-with-coach.aspx


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