SAN FRANCISCO — Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley was taught the value of defense at a young age. It was one of the things his father, a high school coaching legend in New Jersey, had always stressed and the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
Hurley and the Sun Devils are looking to make a jump into the top tier of the Pac-12 after finishing ninth a year ago. Now in his fourth year, Hurley thinks he has the right athletes to play the style he likes.
The Sun Devils will be looking to improve on a 20-12 overall showing that included an 8-10 finish in conference.
ASU basketball might never be a giant, but it’s awake
They were picked sixth in the 2018-19 preseason coaches poll released earlier in the day. Oregon is the favorite with UCLA checking in at No. 2, although the Bruins have had some injuries in the last two weeks that might make that finish difficult.
“We’re going to be good defensively,” Hurley said. “We want to be able to get out in the open floor and run and that comes with the transition game and making things happen at the defensive end.”
Hurley talked about his team at the annual Pac-12 Media Day Thursday at the Pac-12 headquarters in San Francisco. He brought along senior power forward Zylan Cheatham and sophomore point guard Remy Martin.
Much of the reason for optimism surrounds point guard play and Hurley likes the two he has — Martin and freshman Luguentz Dort, a native of Montreal.
“The wars we have had with our point guards in practice have been epic,” Hurley said. “They’re competitive and they bring out the best in each other.”
The Sun Devils will have good size, something that has been lacking since Hurley arrived four years ago. The 6-foot-8 Cheatham, a Phoenix native, is eligible now after his transfer from San Diego State.
The Sun Devils also have 6-10 senior De’Quon Lake, 6-8 sophomore Romello White and 6-8 freshman Taeshon Cherry. Hurley also singled out 6-7 forward Kimani Lawrence as perhaps the most pleasant surprise.
There is depth at the guard position as well with 6-4 Rob Edwards, a transfer from Cleveland State, now eligible.
Cheatham said sitting out and having to watch last season has lit a fire under him. The same can be said for Edwards.
“People act like we weren’t there. We were there. We just weren’t playing in games,” Cheatham said, “It was our job to go out there and play hard and push the other guys so they would get better. We’re excited about being able to go out there now and show people what we can do.”
Another thing Hurley is stressing is finishing games and sustaining momentum, two things the Sun Devils struggled with at times last season. They started out the season 12-0 before losing their conference opener to rival Arizona 84-78. Then came a 90-81 overtime loss to Colorado, as ASU ended up dropping four of its first six conference games.
ASU’s 10 conference losses were by a combined 53 points, although none were by double digits.
“We didn’t do a good job of finishing games. We were in all of them,” Hurley said. “It’s a matter of making a few more plays down the stretch.”
The Sun Devils make their debut on Oct. 30 in an exhibition game against Arizona Christian at Wells Fargo Arena. The regular season starts a week later with a Nov. 6 showdown against Cal-State Fullerton, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season by winning the Big West tournament.
An upgraded non-conference schedule also include a Dec. 22 home game against Kansas.
“I just want to win,” Martin said. “I don’t care how many points I score. Its about putting my team in the best position to win. The other guys feel the same way.”