TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Bobby Hurley faced a critical juncture a year ago, a make-or-break season that would determine his future at Arizona State.
The Sun Devils responded by reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years, earning Hurley a two-year contract extension.
Arizona State's bid to make it two straight March runs will hinge on a core of players who understand Hurley's demanding style and a batch of newcomers who arrive in the desert with an edge.
“From a resource standpoint, we can’t just say I think we’ll take this guy and this guy and this guy,” Hurley said. “We have to be very strategic about what we’re doing and it may not be ideally the group that you envision that you want to put out on the floor, but we’re doing the best we can to get the players in the program that have something to prove.”
Arizona State lost several key players from last year's team, including brothers Desmon and Devan Cambridge, big man Warren Washington and DJ Horne.
The returning backcourt of Frankie Collins and Jamiya Neal could end up being one of the Pac-12's best, and Hurley is hoping talented 6-foot-9 forward Alonzo Gaffney can take the next step in his development.
The rest of the roster will primarily be made up of newcomers — nine in all.
The players Hurley brought in have high upsides with a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality, just like their coach.
Kamari Lands, a 6-8 forward, was a top recruit out of high school in Arizona who opted to play for Louisville last season. The Cardinals struggled and Lands had a limited impact as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points per game.
Shawn Phillips Jr, a 7-foot transfer from LSU, has impressed Arizona State's coaches during offseason workouts and should give the Sun Devils some heft inside with Washington gone. Arizona State also added former San Francisco forward Zane Meeks, Tulsa forward Bryant Selebangue and junior college transfer Malachi Davis.
Freshman Braelon Green should have an impact, arriving as one of the nation's top shooting guard recruits.
“What I like about our team, and with our newcomers, is we have a whole bunch of guys who have a lot to prove,” Neal said. “We have guys who are hungry to show what they can do. I think that will help us because, when they get out there, we have something to prove.”
COLLINS AND NEAL
Collins was often the most athletic player on the floor after transferring from Michigan last season, averaging 6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
Neal suffered a preseason leg injury last season and showed flashes of his potential while averaging 3.5 points per game.
Collins and Neal will have much bigger roles on this year's team, both on the floor and in the locker room with so many new players.
"They could be a devastating combination at both ends of the floor just with their creativity, their athleticism, and their ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor,” Hurley said.
Arizona State kicks off the season with what could be a tough game against Mississippi State in Chicago. The Sun Devils also have nonconference games against BYU, San Francisco, SMU and TCU.
The rest of the nonconference is filled with schools from smaller conferences, which should give the Sun Devils a chance to jell before the Pac-12 season starts.
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