TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Luguentz Dort is a freshman in name and age only.
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he’s built like linebacker on the Arizona State football team, not some scrawny teenager disdainfully bumped out of the lane on a basketball court.
The Sun Devils’ 19-year-old guard is supremely confident and has already taken on a leadership role on a team filled with older players, like he’s been in Tempe all along,
Dort’s default is to play with aggression, attack at all times without concern, not look to the bench for coaches’ approval every time he makes a mistake.
“He doesn’t play like a freshman,” Arizona State junior guard Rob Edwards said. “And he’s certainly not built like one.”
Duke’s trio of NBA lottery picks garnered most of the freshman attention heading into the 2018-19 season, with players like North Carolina’s Nassir Little, Oregon’s Bol Bol and Indiana’s Romeo Langford also mentioned well ahead of Dort.
Through No. 20 Arizona State’s first eight games, Dort has proven he belongs in the elite freshmen spotlight and, possibly, on a much bigger stage beyond his college playing days.
Dort fired out of the gate in his first game, overcoming some early jitters to score 28 points against Cal State Fullerton, an Arizona State freshman debut record.
Able to initiate contact in the lane or shoot from the perimeter, he leads the Sun Devils (7-1) with 22 points per game on a team full of capable scorers, including 33 against Utah State, and is second on the Sun Devils with 6.3 rebounds as a guard.
When point guard Remy Martin went out with an injury — along with Edwards and forward Mickey Mitchell — Dort adeptly took over primary show-running duties. Known for his defensive aggressiveness before arriving in Tempe, Dort has lived up to those expectations, leading the Sun Devils with 16 steals and in frustrating opposing guard.
“As soon as he got here in our workouts, he got the players’ respect,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “We knew what we had. I kind of knew before he got here, but he validated that real quick.”
Dort’s parents were born in Haiti and moved to Montreal when they were 21. He’s been to Haiti once, though he doesn’t remember much, outside of being scared, because he was so young.
Dort hears from Haitians on social media and someday plans to visit his parents’ homeland.
“I want to go there so bad. I just need to find the time in the summer or whenever,” he said. “I’m proud to say I’m Haitian Canadian.”
Dort’s sport early on was soccer and he was good at it — first as a goalie, then as a midfielder — but he was the only kid among his friends playing it. They played basketball and convinced Dort to start playing with them.
Dort took to basketball quickly and later started getting the attention of American coaches while playing on the AAU circuit.
Wanting to broaden his game and his almost non-existent English-speaking skills, Dort made the difficult decision to play high school ball in the United States. Turned down by one team, he ended up at Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Florida, his sophomore year in high school.
It was not an easy transition.
“I was sad when I left home and couldn’t really speak English,” Dort said. “I was lonely at first.”
Dort’s transition to American life was made easier by a group of French speakers in Jacksonville and the next year he moved to Orlando, playing at Conrad Academy. Wanting to spend his senior season back in Canada, Dort returned home and played at the Athlete Institute in Ontario, where he garnered attention from major U.S. colleges like Oregon, Baylor, Indiana, Michigan State, Miami and Arizona State.
He chose the Sun Devils and Hurley. Dort liked the campus and the players, the direction of the Arizona State program and Hurley’s pitch to help him transform from shooting to point guard.
Dort’s best chances for playing professionally are as a point guard and who better to learn from than Hurley, a two-time national champion at Duke and former NBA point guard.
“He was one of the coaches who really put in my head that I could be a professional player one day,” Dort said. “He told me what I needed to do to get better and get ready for the next level. That’s something I really fell in love with.”
It’s worked out so far and Sun Devil fans have quickly fallen in love with the bruising-but-athletic freshman guard.