Although it feels like reality show, changes to ASU men’s basketball lineup very real

Although it has seen many changes in the offseason, the Arizona State men’s basketball team was happy to learn Kimani Lawrence decided to return for a repeat senior season. The NCAA granted the seniors the opportunity to come back because of the pandemic. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – Arizona State men’s basketball will have a different look come November.

It has been a whirlwind few weeks since the Sun Devils’ season ended in March. With all the talent that had or is set to leave in the coming months, coach Bobby Hurley admits he felt at times as if he was on an island.

“(I’m) very motivated and very happy with some of the things that have happened,” Hurley said. “But, it did feel like ‘Survivor’ or something where I was going to be the last guy on the island at one point.”

In total, Hurley has seen freshmen Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley enter the NBA draft with seniors Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge likely to follow. The transfer portal had a major effect on the Sun Devils, who saw guards Jaelen House, Holland Woods and Taeshon Cherry, along with forward Chris Osten search for opportunities outside of Tempe.

Hurley and the Sun Devils were prepared for this level of movement.

“We knew this year there was going to be change, especially with the new one-year transfer being implemented,” Hurley said. “You’re seeing it nationally, not only at Arizona State. (I) just wanted to have honest conversations with our players to really see who truly wanted to move forward in the program and which guys wanted to explore their options.”

The transfer portal did give the Sun Devils four new guards: Jay Heath from Boston College, MAC Player of the Year Marreon Jackson from Toledo, A.J. Bramah from Robert Morris and D.J. Horne from Illinois State. All four led their teams in scoring last season.

In the cases of Bramah and Jackson, not only do they bring an immediate scoring threat to the Sun Devils, but also players who can rebound well. Bramah collected 10.3 rebounds per game to go with his 21.3 points, and Jackson averaged 6.1 rebounds while scoring 18.1 points.

ASU struggled to rebound the basketball last season, finishing 311th in the country. Finding experienced players with the ability to rebound the basketball was a priority for Hurley.

“You look at our team at the moment and guys in the program, I think we’ll be geared more to be able to rebound better and have better size on the floor,” Hurley said. “Multiple positions have experience on the floor. People looked at our team last year and said we’re bringing back Remy and Verge, but we had a lot of inexperienced players in the program. This year, we’ll have a number of guys that have played years in college basketball and have that experience.

Another priority for the Sun Devils was to find players who want to win and win now. In this group of transfer guards, Hurley believes he’s found just that.

“Winning was a big ingredient and I think across the board with A.J. Bramah and Marreon Jackson and D.J. Horne and Jay Heath,” Hurley said. “Those guys really talked about wanting to be in a winning situation and two of those guys only have one more year and want to be successful and have a chance to try and win championships and play in the NCAA Tournament.”

In the frontcourt, the Sun Devils landed Enoch Boakye, a 6-foot-10, 240 pound center out of high school in Canada. Boakye will give the Sun Devils a presence on the interior the team lacked a season ago.

“He was the first to commit and he was an important part of getting some momentum in recruiting,” Hurley said. “He’s someone who is a physical specimen that can really rebound and defend the basket. He’s 6-10, 240 pounds, so having someone that has that size is going to be important.”

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The Sun Devils’ frontcourt will see two returnees from last season in Jalen Graham and Kimani Lawrence, who announced he will take advantage of his extra year of eligibility and play a fifth season in Tempe.

In Lawrence, the Sun Devils return someone who took a massive step forward in the second half of last season, averaging 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the final nine games of the season.

Lawrence’s finish to the season is something that along with leadership Hurley believes will only elevate his squad.

“The way he played the last 10 or 12 games can springboard what he’ll do in this bonus season,” Hurley said. “(Lawrence is) a guy who can provide leadership and understands the system and the expectations and has been around me a number of years. I think that announcement was huge.”

With how unpredictable this offseason has been, Hurley put up a whiteboard in his house to keep track of his roster, coaching staff, and potential recruits and how they would fit into the team. Even though it appears Hurley has built most of his roster and staff, there are still some moving pieces, Hurley says. Therefore, the whiteboard won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“You never truly feel comfortable or like everything’s fine,” Hurley said. “The whiteboard is not going anywhere. It’s still staying in my house and I’m going to keep staring at it. There’s still a few things in flux with the roster and I’m not saying it’s completely done, but it’s very close to being completed.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Connor Morman expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. He is reporting for Cronkite Sports this spring.

Alina Nelson uh-LEE-nuh nEHl-suhn
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Alina Nelson is a sports journalist and photographer who expects to graduate in August 2021. Nelson, who has seven years of photography experience, is working for Cronkite Sports this spring.