In his third season at Arizona State, the 46-year-old coach has guided the No. 3-ranked Sun Devils to a 12-0 record — their best start in school history — and to the top of the Pac-12 before conference play opens.
Bobby Hurley is having a moment.
It took a little longer than he would have liked, but the former Duke point guard who helped the Blue Devils to back-to-back national championships in 1991 and ’92 is once again at the epicenter of college basketball.
OK, maybe that’s an overstatement.
But in his third season at Arizona State, the 46-year-old, silver-haired coach has guided the No. 3-ranked Sun Devils to a 12-0 record — their best start in school history — and to the top of the Pac-12 before conference play, which begins Friday.
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“Everything has happened really fast,” said Hurley, who led ASU to a pair of 15-victory seasons during his first two years. “It feels like time has just flown by and the season’s flying by. Just a lot is happening. I kind of talked about us going from zero to 100. We weren’t a program that many people were talking about.”
That’s an understatement.
Despite being the only Pac-12 team returning two of its top five scorers, Arizona State was picked sixth in the league’s preseason media poll and the Sun Devils didn’t garner a single vote in the The Associated Press preseason poll.
“I’m pleased with the development and where guys like Tra Holder and Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice have come from,” Hurley said. “What they’ve been through the past two years, to struggle and fight through that and the determination that those guys have to be winners and to turn our program around has been the most impressive thing to me. They’ve had great individual seasons all three of them statistically, but they are valuing winning as the top priority.”
Holder, a 6-foot-1 senior guard from Los Angeles, is averaging a team-best 21.3 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 46.4 percent from the floor, 45.1 percent on three-pointers and 83.1 percent at the line.
Evans, a 6-1 senior guard who played his first two years at Buffalo under Hurley, is averaging 17.8 points and 4.7 assists.
Justice, a 6-5 senior guard, has increased his scoring average from 9.2 points per game to 13.6. The fourth guard is freshman Remy Martin, who averages 10.2 points and 3.0 assists off the bench.
Following a 102-86 comeback victory over then-No. 15 Xavier on Nov. 24 in which Holder scored a career-high 40 points, Hurley and his staff talked about the Sun Devils’ prospects over a postgame meal.
“I just said, ‘Hey man, this is going to be like Guard U here,’ ” Hurley recalled. “We’re just going to have a lot of guards out there and we’re going to attack. And then our sports administrator Dave Cohen moved forward from there and put it on a shirt.”
Guard U has become a motto and rally cry for an ASU team averaging 91.8 points and winning by 20.1 points.
Holder, Evans, Justice and Martin have point-guard skills. They attack the basket and each shoots at least 38 percent on three-pointers and 70 percent on free throws.
But if you ask Arizona coach Sean Miller, the most underrated Sun Devil is freshman forward Romello White, who averages 14.9 points and 8.6 rebounds.
“He gives them a big body around the basket both on offense and defense that maybe they haven’t had in Bobby’s first two years,” Miller said. “He compliments their arsenal of playmakers and guards.”
Most years, the matchup between ASU and Arizona has been nothing more than an in-state rivalry game in a series dominated by the Wildcats.
But their Pac-12 opener Saturday in McKale Center in Tucson likely will have implications on the league’s regular-season title chase considering No. 17 Arizona (10-3) looks to have regained form after early season setbacks.
The Wildcats began the season the subjects of an FBI investigation that led to criminal indictments against assistant Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson, who is on leave. Arizona suffered a three-game losing streak, but now has won seven consecutive games.
Arizona might be the most complete team in the Pac-12, thanks to an imposing front line comprised of 7-foot-1 freshman forward Deandre Ayton (19.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks) and 7-foot Dusan Ristic (9.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) and guards Allonzo Trier (21.2 points) and Rawle Alkins (16.0 points).
“They present challenges that we rarely see in terms of their size and their ability to score in the paint,” Hurley said.
After knocking off then-No. 2 Kansas at famed Allen Fieldhouse, Hurley said he believes the Sun Devils are battle-tested and ready to snap their seven-game losing streak in McKale Center.
“We’re working on putting together a plan that makes sense for us to give ourselves an opportunity in a very tough environment,” Hurley said. “I love my team that they’re up for the challenge. I’ve felt like we’ve answered the bell every time so far this year and I wouldn’t expect anything less from our group than to attack and be fearless out there on Saturday.”
|Percy Allen’s Pac-12 power rankings|
|Conference play begins Friday.|
|1. Arizona State (12-0)||Led by guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice, the Sun Devils are one of three unbeaten teams in NCAA Division I and off to their best start in school history. Their No. 3 ranking in The Associated Press poll ties its highest in program history, set in 1963 and matched in 1981||At No. 17 Arizona|
|2. Arizona (10-3)||The Wildcats’ 14-foot front line comprised of 7-foot-1 freshman forward Deandre Ayton and 7-foot senior center Dusan Ristic is a huge problem for opposing teams. After a three-game losing streak, Arizona has won seven consecutive games before a big matchup Saturday against ASU.||Against No. 3 ASU|
|3. UCLA (9-3)||A turbulent offseason began with a trip to China where three freshmen were arrested on shoplifting charges. Cody Riley and Jalen Hill are suspended for the season and LiAngelo Ball left the team. The short-handed Bruins are still dangerous thanks to junior guard Aaron Holiday (17.6 points, 5.6 assist).||Against WSU and UW|
|4. Oregon (10-3)||The Ducks lost their top five scorers from the team that advanced to the Final Four last season. Sophomore point guard Payton Pritchard is the only returner with any real experience, which explains a few hiccups in nonconference defeats.||Against Utah and Colorado|
|5. USC (9-4)||Coach Andy Enfield says FBI investigation into corruption charges has not affected the program even though junior guard De’Anthony Melton has been ruled ineligible for the season and assistant Tony Bland is on leave. Trojans are 3-3 against top-100 RPI teams.||Against WSU and UW|
|6. Washington (10-3)||Washington and ASU have the biggest nonconference victories in the Pac-12 as both won at then-No. 2 Kansas. The Huskies already have more victories with their first-year head coach, Mike Hopkins, than last season when they finished 9-22.||At USC and UCLA|
|7. Utah (8-3)||The Utes are dealing with the medical issues that could keep leading scorer David Collette (hip), starting forward Gabe Bealer (knee), freshman Donnie Tillman (knee), the team’s second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, and Chris Seeley (gall bladder surgery) on the sideline this week.||At Oregon and Oregon State|
|8. Colorado (8-4)||Get to know McKinley Wright. The 6-foot freshman point guard from North Robbinsdale, Minn., has been a godsend for the Buffaloes. He leads CU in points (17.0), assists (4.7), steals (1.3), blocks (0.8) and minutes (32.8). And he’s second on the team with a 5.2 rebounding average.||At Oregon State and Oregon|
|9. Oregon State (8-4)||The Beavers started the season 2-3 before a six-game winning streak, then suffered an upset 79-78 defeat at Kent State in the nonconference finale. Sophomore forward Tres Tinkle, who played just six games last season due to a wrist injury, has returned and leads the Beavers in scoring (18.2 points), rebounding (7.2) and steals (1.5).||Colorado and Utah|
|10. Washington State (8-4)||Started 6-0, including victories over then-No. 21 Saint Mary’s and San Diego State to claim the Wooden Legacy tournament, but the Cougars are 2-4 in their past six games. Junior forward Robert Franks is an emerging star who averages 18.1 points and shooting 43.3 percent on three-pointers.||At UCLA and USC|
|11. California (6-7)||After the Golden Bears appeared to have regained their footing following a 3-6 start to win three consecutive games, they suffered a crushing 106-81 defeat at Portland State in their nonconference finale.||At Stanford|
|12. Stanford (6-7)||The Cardinal was expected to take a step forward with its second-year coach, Jerod Haase, who led Stanford to a 14-17 record last season. However, several players have missed nonconference games due to injuries. Stanford had just seven healthy players during a 76-68 defeat against Long Beach State.||Against California|