The Hurley family might be basketball royalty in the state of New Jersey, but Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley has been trying to expand the kingdom out West. As his brother, Dan Hurley, is projected to do wonderful things with Rhode Island this season, the former Duke Blue Devils legend is looking to hit his sweet spot in the Pac-12.
“We’re trying to recruit to our style and how we want to play,” Hurley told FanRag’s Sande Charles. “We’re trying to work on the practice floor, and make our guys better on the floor.”
The recruiting aspect is already paying off, at least in theory.
According to 247Sports, the Sun Devils have a top-20 2016 recruiting class. It is certainly worth noting that it features three four-star talents, two of which are ranked as top-100 prospects, and is highlighted by 6’6″ jack-of-all-trades Sam Cunliffe — who has the potential to become Robin to Tra Holder’s Batman as he gets more experience.
This is good news for a team that has mixed expectations heading into the season. Coming off a fine, but somewhat unspectacular 2015-16, the primary reason to be an optimist in Tempe remains the long-term plan Hurley is crafting. Good recruiting classes will keep any program’s faithful happy to a point, but it isn’t a forever lasting feeling, as each specific university comes with an unspecified grace period before the winning actually has to start.
Holder is obviously the key ingredient to ASU’s 2016-17 success. As a sophomore, the point guard averaged slightly more than 14 points per game, but that was on a relatively inefficient 39 percent shooting from the floor. A growth in his game, primarily from a shooting aspect, is needed if the team wants to be better than last season.
“He’s [Holder] worked even harder on his game,” Hurley explained. “Shoring up his perimeter shot is something he’s focused on. He’s really making shots from deeper range right now, which is nice because he’s so effective getting to the rim, getting to the paint, and drawing defense.”
This would be an incredibly important developmental step not only for Holder, but for the entire Arizona State team. An already dynamic point guard now adding the ability to spread the floor with his shooting? Few, even high-major, Division I programs have that sort of talent handling the rock.
What has always made Hurley an intriguing basketball coach is not only his family, but his basketball roots that extend beyond New Jersey. Having been a member of one of the greatest Duke runs in the history of the prestigious program, Hurley brings with him a wealth of experience playing for a big-time program, and a knowledge acquired from playing under one of the sport’s greatest coaches.
“I hate to lose,” Hurley said. “We won a lot there [Duke]. We understood the blueprint of how to do that. We were coached by an all-time great in Coach K. I was able to see how he ran his program, what he valued, and I hope I brought some of those things with me.”
To be clear, the growth with Arizona State during the Hurley era shouldn’t be judged from year one, nor should it be actualized after a second season. The former Buffalo coach came to the Pac-12 at one of the toughest times, as seven teams from the conference made the NCAA Tournament last season, and nontraditional league powers are starting to recruit at a higher level than ever before.
At the same time, patience is a virtue few college basketball fan bases have. It is why the combination of an expected growth from a team that won 15 games last season to this one, coupled with the idea of what Hurley’s dominance on the recruiting trail can result in, should buy him more than enough time to figure things out before people start calling for his head on a stick.
Regardless, however one feels about how long a coach should be afforded the luxury of time to build a program, Hurley isn’t making excuses or looking for an out. His expectations for his team, no matter the season, are always high.
“They [players] see everyday what a competitor I am. Drill-to-drill, the expectations, and again, having everyone accountable to winning,” Hurley said. “Just about every drill we do there’s a winner and a loser. They get to see the results of that. Hopefully they internalize that.”