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Nardone: Bobby Hurley Bringing The Thunder to Arizona State

05 December 2015: Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley (left) gestures at official David Hall (right) during the first half of college basketball game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Az. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire)
Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire

The Arizona State Sun Devils aren’t exactly a historically great college basketball program.

In their 101 years of existence they have only been ranked for a total of 94 weeks in the AP Poll, been to the NCAA Tournament a whopping 14 times (only five times in the last three decades), and it could be argued that the program transitioned much better from the BIAA to the WAC than the WAC to the then Pac-10.

That’s ancient history, though.

None of that matters, as few people care about such things. More importantly, potential top high school recruits aren’t sifting through the history of programs to find out if they were a solid program in 1987. Really, a program’s worth — at least in the eyes of many — comes down to two questions; Are they willing to spend money and who is the head coach?

Money is relative.

While some schools will spend millions upon millions of dollars on their sports programs, there are only so many new facilities that can be built to separate one school from the next. Sure, not having a brand spanking new indoor practice facility will hurt many schools, but having one doesn’t automatically mean success because so many programs have them as well.

It’s the other area where a college’s money is spent that can have the largest impact on potential success. You know, paying a head coach tons of loot to turnaround the program.

It’s why John Calipari is so valuable, Coach K is irreplaceable, and the schools that employ both are willing to back up the Brinks trucks for them. Honestly, too, both bring back more of a return on the schools’ investments anyway. It is a win-win for everyone.

Well, except for everyone in this picture not named Chris Mullin.

Well, except for everyone in this picture not named Chris Mullin.

Not all programs are in that sort of position to give name-brand coaches upwards of $5 million dollars per individual season, though.

Luckily for Arizona State, Bobby Hurley wasn’t coming with that sort of price tag. Despite being as a hot a coaching commodity as there was at the end of last season— largely because he was making so little with Buffalo—the Sun Devils were able to scoop up Hurley at a good rate of $1.2 million a year, with a 100k increase each season, and a 200k in his fifth.

That’s a lot of money. At least, generally speaking.

For a head coach who many think of as one of the next big head coaches in the sport, though, ASU can consider itself lucky. Well, lucky for now — as whatever success Hurley has with the program will only making him a hotter, more expensive coaching prospect down the road. Then again, ASU can simply use his success, which in-turn brings the school more money, to help keep him with the program.

Start creating that Bobby Hurley nest egg now, ASU.

Start creating that Bobby Hurley nest egg now, ASU.

As of right now, though, Bobby Hurley is already forcing a positive impact on the ASU basketball program.

Hurley, who is coming off his only two seasons as a head coach with Buffalo, was lucky enough to take over an Arizona State team with a solid roster.

Albeit not great, it is unlike other situations in college basketball.

Usually when there’s a power-school gig open, it’s because the previous coach was an abomination — which means the shelf was left naked and talentless. Despite ASU not being the greatest program in the world, former head coach Herb Sendek was good at his job. His ability to keep ASU better than average throughout most of his tenure, specifically towards the end (save for 2010-12), meant Hurley was afforded the luxury of not walking into a complete cluster-fudge. There would be talent for him to coach.

Starting the season 9-3, with the only bad loss being a seriously horrific one to start the season, it can be said that Hurley is riding Sendek’s coattails a bit here in the early goings of his head coaching career with ASU. That would be somewhat fair, as most of the players are Sendek’s guys, but it would also be ignoring how well Hurley has coached them.

Tra Holder’s production has nearly doubled this season. Through 12 games, and a clearly increased offensive role, Holder is averaging 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. More importantly, his efficiency numbers are way up, as he’s gone from shooting 32 percent from the floor in his freshman year to a 42 percent shooter this season. Most of the credit obviously goes to Holder for his improvement, but Hurley — at the very least — did not get in the way.

While that might not seem like praise, it is. I swear it.

Holder isn’t the only one who made huge jumps in production from last season. While Holder went from 7 to 13 points per game this season, Willie Atwood went from 3 to 10 points per game. His field goal percentages, like Holder’s, have massively improved during year-one of Hurley with ASU.

Atwood is shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three this season.

It is hard to know exactly how much credit Hurley gets for the jumps in production. While it would be easy to say it is directly because of him, underclassmen generally get better as they get years of experience under their belts regardless who the head coach is. That is why that “not getting in the way” thing was actual praise.

So, too, is acknowledging that Hurley already has two ESPN 100 recruits committed to play for the program next season. They will be joining a team which should, barring weird transfers or early professional declarations, have most of its scoring returning to capitalize on whatever momentum it builds this season.

Ugh… again. I am getting too ahead of myself.

I'm tellin ya, ASU. Start prepping now!

I’m tellin ya, ASU. Start prepping now!

Thing is, the Arizona State fan base should feel truly excited.

Hurley has all the promise in the world to be one of the coaches — along with the plethora of other really good, generally young coaches — to take over the mantle of legends like a Coach K whenever those legends retire. If ASU is lucky enough, like Coach K did for Duke and Jim Calhoun did for UConn, Hurley will stay with the program to see it through to greatness.

All of that, even the large feelings of hyperbole surrounding it, are real possibilities. So is the idea he’d bail, or fail, though, or countless other scenarios that result at Arizona State being the same sort of program it has forever been.

But that potential for greatness possibly exists, and it doesn’t for most programs or coaches in the country, so get amped.

Hell, slap the floor.

Hurley and Arizona State are (slowly… still years off) going to make a push to force the nation to watch the Sun Devils play basketball on the regular, and not only when they play Arizona — it’s worth noting they play on January, 3.

It is a new day… Yes it is.

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