Bobby Hurley hedges just a bit when asked if Arizona State basketball has enough talent to be a postseason team in 2017-18.
The third-year ASU coach wants to say flat out “yes” – you can just tell – but knows with 50 percent of his roster making its Division I debut that it’s best to save any definitive proclamations for later.
“I’d like more time to see the whole group,” Hurley said Wednesday. “I have a lot of confidence we have a chance to be in that position.”
The Sun Devils are traveling to Rome and Barcelona on July 31-Aug. 8, a trip that allows them advance time to blend three newcomers – freshmen Remi Martin and Kimani Lawrence and junior college transfer De’Quon Lake – and three players who sat out last season – Romello White, Mickey Mitchell, Vitaliy Shibel – with four returners from a 15-18 team. They can hold as many as 10 practices before a tour that will include several games against pro competition.
Senior guards Tra Holder (16.2 ppg) and Shannon Evans (15.0) are two of the top five returning scorers in the Pac-12. Senior guard Kodi Justice also is a returning starter, and ASU now has a five-deep frontcourt that should create offensive and defensive balance that was missing in 2016-17.
The 6-8 White, 6-9 Shibel and 6-7 Mitchell practiced while redshirting, Mitchell joining after transferring at semester from Ohio State. Mitchell could be eligible to make his ASU debut at Kansas on Dec. 10 and at home against Vanderbilt on Dec. 17.
Lake is a 6-10 junior-college transfer while 6-8 Ramon Vila is going into his sophomore season. The eligible posts will be pushed in practice by 6-10 Carlton Bragg and 6-9 Zylan Cheatham, transfers from Kansas and San Diego State who will sit out 2017-18 along with guard Rob Edwards from Cleveland State.
Bragg and Edwards have two years of eligibility remaining, starting in 2018-19. Cheatham of Phoenix has one and maybe two if an NCAA appeal is successful.
Sun Devils’ roster has some size
ASU played much of 2016-17 with a four-guard lineup and graduated 6-8 forward Obi Oleka. So Hurley relishes the idea of having multiple big men with which to work.
“Romello has got a nose for the ball, he likes the rugged play inside,” Hurley said. “De’Quon Lake in a game I watched at Iowa Western was 17-for-20 from the field and was very impressive around the basket finishing. He and (White) are guys we can throw the ball into inside. There needs to be a little bit more balance.”
Shibel underwent major knee surgery in August 2016 then additional surgery this semester but is “progressing very well in his recovery,” Hurley said. “He’s going to add a different dimension because of his skill level and his shooting. He can step away and make shots from the perimeter.”
Mitchell has consistently been praised for his practice contributions and passing ability.
“He can be almost a point forward at times,” Hurley said. “Those guys will change us in a positive way. Overall we weren’t that big last year so we couldn’t take away court and with some lineups we’ll be able to put out on the floor this year, we’ll address our defense in a more positive way.”
Guard play should remain a strength
The Sun Devils also can play small again too with the senior guards and Martin plus Lawrence and Mitchell.
Justice in particular and the guards in general should benefit from fewer rebounding and post support responsibilities, which in turn Hurley believes will improve ASU’s perimeter defense and energy level for pressuring.
“With (White) and De’Quon and Mickey, I can get a few more assists,” Evans said. “It’ll open up the lane for me, Tra and Kodi because they’ve got to respect our post presence now and we’ll get open shots as well.
“We’re still going to put that pressure on ourselves to do a lot more defensively but also to make shots and be creative for others. We just want to keep doing more and more.”
ASU had a three-year postseason run from 2013-15 under former coach Herb Sendek with an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014. Hurley’s 2014-15 Buffalo team, which included Evans, reached the tournament before he made the move to ASU.
“I thought we had enough last year (for an NCAA appearance) but we came up a little short, but now we added more,” Evans said. “I truly do feel like we can get it done.”
ASU basketball 2017-18 roster
Shannon Evans, 6-1 guard, senior
Tra Holder, 6-1 guard, senior
Kodi Justice, 6-5 guard, senior
De’Quon Lake, 6-10 junior
Kimani Lawrence, 6-5 forward, freshman
Remi Martin, 6-0 guard, freshman
Vitaliy Shibel, 6-9 forward, redshirt freshman
Ramon Vila, 6-8 forward, sophomore
Romello White, 6-8 forward, redshirt freshman
Eligible in December
Mickey Mitchell, 6-7 sophomore
Redshirting in 2017-18 as transfers
Carlton Bragg, 6-10 forward, redshirt sophomore
Zylan Cheatham, 6-9 forward, redshirt junior
Rob Edwards, 6-4 guard, redshirt sophomore
ASU’s non-conference schedule
Nov. 10 – Idaho State
Nov. 14 – San Diego State
x-Nov. 17 – Northern Arizona
x-Nov. 19 – UC Irvine
x-Nov. 23-24 – Kansas State, Xavier or George Washington in Las Vegas.
Dec. 2 – San Francisco
y-Dec. 8 – St. John’s in Los Angeles
Dec. 10 – at Kansas
Dec. 17 – Vanderbilt
Dec. 19 – Longwood
Dec. 22 – Pacific
x-Continental Tire Invitational