LAS VEGAS – Arizona State University’s men’s basketball team, coming off a 23-13 year with an appearance in the 2023 NCAA tournament, knows the key to sustainable success is consistency.
While the Sun Devils work on the formula in preparation for the 2023-24 season, ASU can count on the familiar faces of Frankie Collins, Jamiya Neal and Alonzo Gaffney. The trio of returners allows coach Bobby Hurley to sustain last year’s momentum with the nine new players entering the program.
“It’s tough, but now we can reinforce that message every day. We have guys that understand how to get there,” Hurley said Wednesday at Pac-12 men’s basketball media day. “I think they know what it takes, and we’ve been trying to just make sure the other guys are on board and practicing and training the way we need to.”
Last season, ASU had a number of shining moments from its appearance in the NCAA tournament to wins against No. 20 Michigan and No. 8 Arizona in Tucson. Turning the page to this season, Hurley’s main focus of consistency is executed in practice through consistent days of high-level play and an emphasis on breaking bad habits.
With the influx of first-year players, the core returners play a large role in getting the new guys incorporated into the Sun Devil system.
“I think just understanding how coach Hurley operates and being that voice and taking that next step in the leadership role and helping everybody out there on the court,” Collins said. “Just getting them all on the same page and understanding what we’ve got going on.”
Hurley, Collins and Neal gave a lot of praise to their new teammates, specifically transfers Shawn Phillips Jr. from LSU and Kamari Lands from Louisville.
Phillips is a 7-footer who Hurley said has been outstanding in practices, making a major impact above the rim and shot-blocking. Collins credited Lands for his shot-making ability. Hurley said he thinks Lands will fill some of the offensive holes on the perimeter.
Aside from integrating new teammates, Hurley wants his returners to build off last year’s results and strive to be the best rebounding guards in the Pac-12. Hurley said their strength and athleticism are some of the factors that can help Neal and Collins make a strong impact in that area.
Neal and Collins – who averaged 2.8 and 4.1 rebounds per game last season, respectively – are entering their second season as teammates and will play a key part in the Sun Devil offense.
“Me and Frank are both willing passers, and we want to see each other do great,” Neal said. “We like playing with each other because we both like seeing each other do well.
“Our games complement each other because we both can shoot, we both like to get downhill, we both like to make the right plays, and we both guard. We both can guard one through three. I like the combo of me and Frank because we’re so similar.”
Coming into this season, ASU put a strong focus on building its non-conference schedule with neutral site games. The Sun Devils will meet Mississippi State, BYU and Northwestern in some of those neutral site games.
“When we get to Vegas and the season’s on the line at the Pac-12 tournament or the NCAA tournament, it all goes down on a neutral site,” Hurley said. “So we want to train and practice and try to excel in non-conference, playing those games against very good teams on a neutral site.”
The Sun Devils also have a scheduled rematch against the team that knocked them out of the NCAA tournament last year. TCU will make the trip to Phoenix and face off against ASU in the US LBM Coast-to-Coast Challenge on Dec. 16.
The Sun Devils may have a new look with nine new players coming in, but the team is ready to get rolling.
“We have guys who are hungry to show what they can do,” Neal said. “We have everybody stepping into a bigger role, and I think that’s what’s going to help us because we all have each other’s back because we’re all doing something we haven’t done before.”