Hurley adds big boost of excitement at Arizona State

October 28, 2015

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona State has seen blips of excitement for its men's basketball program, most recently with the signing of local star Jahii Carson and when James Harden wore a Sun Devils uniform.

The hiring of Bobby Hurley has caused a supernova - and for good reason.

The former Duke star has brought a buzz to Arizona State like few times in program history, igniting interest in the Sun Devils across the Valley of the Sun and beyond.

''I have noticed it,'' Hurley said of the attention. ''It's nice that people are excited about the program, but we've got to find a way to keep that going.''


Hurley brings with him a strong pedigree.

He won two national championships at Duke, was an All-American his senior season and played five seasons in the NBA.

Hurley's father, Bob Sr., is a legendary coach in his home state of New Jersey and Bobby coached under his brother Dan at Wagner and Rhode Island. Hurley had an immediate impact at Buffalo in his first head coaching job, leading the Bulls to their first conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance.

And it's not like he's taking over a program bereft of talent.

The Sun Devils went 18-16 and lost in the second round of the NIT last season, but have key components from that team back.

High-motor forward Savon Goodman returns after having some big games last season. Gerry Blakes, who had a knack for hitting big shots last season, also returns. So does Tra Holder, who had a strong first season at point guard and should only grow under Hurley's tutelage.

Center Eric Jacobsen can be a defensive force when he stays out of trouble and has a decent offensive game around the rim. Forward Willie Atwood is athletic with a good shooting touch and guard Kodi Justice should give Arizona State stability after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury.

Throw in a few solid transfer players and the Sun Devils could make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth in Hurley's first season.

''You want to gain traction,'' Hurley said. ''You want to create an expectation of winning at a high level as soon as possible and there are guys that have the urgency in the program that want to see that happen right now.''

A few more things to look for from Arizona State in its first season under Hurley:

TEMPO, TEMPO: The Sun Devils tried to play fast under previous coach Herb Sendek, but it was nothing compared to what Hurley's expecting. Hurley had success playing an up-tempo game at Buffalo and Arizona State's players had to adjust to the speed early in camp. The Sun Devils should be fast and fun, putting up plenty of points and, they hope, creating turnovers to set up scores in transition.

BLAKES' ROLE: Blakes had a strong first season in the desert, averaging 11.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. He's expected to take on a bigger role with the Sun Devils on and off the court this season as one of the team's senior leaders. Blakes had a difficult summer, losing his mother and sister to lupus three months apart, and will be playing in their memory this season.

JACOBSEN'S WEIGHT: Jacobsen was a physical force at both ends last season, a solid 6-foot-10 center who was hard to move around in the paint. Jacobsen changed his body over the summer, losing about 20 pounds so he could get up and down the court quicker in Hurley's up-tempo system. Doing so could get him some easy baskets in transition and give the Sun Devils another potent scoring threat after he averaged 8.3 points while playing mostly back to the basket a year ago.

THE NEWCOMERS: Arizona State has four returning starters, but will need contributions from some of its seven newcomers. Obinna Oleka, a 6-foot-7 forward, will add athleticism to Arizona State's front court. JUCO transfer Andre Spight can be a lights-out shooter and Maurice O'Field, another JUCO transfer, is a strong perimeter defender. Andre Adams, a 6-9 forward, could provide an added lift after he recovers from ACL surgery.