TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The current trend in college basketball centers on graduate transfers, veteran players who are eligible and can contribute immediately.
Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley is taking a more long-term approach as he tries to rebuild the Sun Devils’ program.
With a solid core led by three senior guards and some much-needed frontcourt help on the way, Hurley opted to sign three transfers who will have to sit out a season instead of finding graduate transfers who could play right away.
“We try to evaluate the needs of our team and how we can continue to build and take the next step this year,” Hurley said Wednesday. “We have all these guys who I think can help our frontcourt this season and then we have these three guys who can step in and have proven that they can be impact players.”
Arizona State made a splash three years ago with the high-profile hiring of Hurley, the fiery former Duke and NBA guard who had turned Buffalo into an NCAA Tournament team in two seasons.
Hurley has had a tougher go of turning around the Sun Devils, winning 15 games each of the past two seasons.
Some of it has been playing in the tough Pac-12, a conference filled with bigger, stronger players than the Mid-American Conference and no easy games on the schedule.
A lack of depth, particularly in the frontcourt, has been the bigger culprit.
Hurley pulled in solid recruiting classes each of his first two seasons, but the Sun Devils were long on perimeter players and short on length. They could score, get out in transition, hit 3-pointers, but when it came to playing defense and rebounding, the Sun Devils were often overmatched inside.
The lack of size — and a few injuries — forced Hurley to shift his roster around, forcing players into roles they weren’t accustomed to. With no real inside presence last season, Hurley often had 6-foot-5 guard Kodi Justice playing post defense against players that were often six or more inches taller and 40 pounds heavier.
Arizona State will get frontcourt help this season with two eligible transfers and a pair of returning players coming off redshirt seasons.
With no need for immediate help, Hurley decided to build for the future, adding three players who will not be eligible until the 2018-19 season: Carlton Bragg from Kansas, Zylan Cheatham from San Diego State and Rob Edwards from Cleveland State.
The three veteran players will not only set the foundation for Arizona State’s future after seniors Justice, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II graduate, but give the Sun Devils three veteran players who can help shape this year’s team.
“The one thing I can promise is our practices are going to be wars in there this year,” Hurley said. “I couldn’t really say that last season and the three guys we’re going to have sitting out and the other rotation guys added to those three, it’s going to create great competition in practice.”
Arizona State should be better this season than the previous two, thanks to the veteran leadership by the senior guards and the incoming help up front.
In addition to the three transfers, Hurley brought in De’Quon Lake, a 6-10 junior forward from Iowa Western Community College who will give the Sun Devils size inside.
Mickey Mitchell, a 6-7 mid-season transfer from Ohio State, is expected to be eligible sometime in December, perhaps by Arizona State’s game at Kansas on Dec. 10.
Ramon Villa, a 6-8 forward from Spain, returns this season after playing 33 games as a reserve last season. Arizona State also will add 6-8 Romello White, a player who loves to rebound, and 6-9 Vitaliy Shibel after both redshirted as freshmen last season.
Those players should help the Sun Devils shore up their frontcourt this season and the addition of the three transfers in 2018-19 should help solidify the foundation Hurley is setting in the desert.
“Coach Hurley has done a great job of building this program from where it was at to where it’s about to go,” said Evans, who averaged 15 points per game last season after sitting out 2015-16 as a transfer from Buffalo. “I feel like every year it’s getting better and better and better.”
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