Don't look now, but ASU is building its most talented men's basketball team in a decade

How head coach Bobby Hurley is investing in the future with a talented freshman class

Since 2007, ASU basketball has recruited five players who cracked ESPN’s top-100 high school recruit rankings. 

In 2017 alone, the Sun Devils have three such recruits. 

For the first time in recent memory, head coach Bobby Hurley and ASU are building a young, talented team that will set ASU up as a competitive Pac-12 team in the coming years.

ASU has not fielded an upper-tier basketball team since James Harden’s final year with the program, when the team qualified for the Round of 32 at the NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament. 

Since Harden’s departure from the team, ASU has made the Big Dance only once — in the 2013-14 season — where the Devils lost in the first round to Texas. 

Even last year, when ASU made some progress in conference play against USC, Washington, and Stanford, the team finished the season under .500 and was run out of the gym in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament against Oregon. 

Hurley looks to make a jump to the next level this season, and he seems to have found the players to do it with, bringing in top freshman recruits Kimani Lawrence and Remy Martin

It is hard to get worse at rebounding the basketball than ASU was last season, ranking 315 out of 351 eligible teams in rebounds per game at 32.6 and losing its leading rebounder, Obinna Oleka, to graduation. But the reinforcements are coming. 

Lawrence, who was the 57th-highest ranked recruit by ESPN in the freshman class, provides size and versatility at the forward position that will help reinforce ASU’s perimeter defense and give Hurley another scoring weapon with an emerging jump shot

Lawrence is joined by junior transfer De’Quon Lake, who averaged 13.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in his two years at Iowa Western Community College, as well as redshirt freshman Romello White, sophomore Ohio State transfer Mickey Mitchell and redshirt freshman Vitaliy Shibel, who are eligible to play this season. 

These four new big men hope to offer rebounding and interior defense that ASU sorely missed last year.

“Between (White and Shibel), Lawrence, Lake and Mickey Mitchell, the Sun Devils are in a much better position in the frontcourt and won't need to be so dependent on small ball, which obviously hurt both the interior defense and rebounding situation last season,” Molly Geary, an associate producer for Sports Illustrated who covers college basketball, wrote via email.

With ASU returning around 66 percent of its minutes from last season, freshman point guard Remy Martin looks to also impact the roster immediately and grow into a starting role with the departure of senior Tra Holder looming after this season. 

Martin, another ESPN top-100 freshman, has flashed scoring and defensive potential as well. Playing alongside touted top prospect and Duke freshman Marvin Bagley in high school, Martin recorded 12.4 points, 4.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and an impressive 2.0 steals per game.

“Lawrence, Martin and redshirt freshman Romello White could all have solid freshman seasons and potentially breakout sophomore years when they become a more focal point of the offense,” Geary said. 

Though inexperienced, ASU's new recruits have the team aimed in the right direction. While the growth Sun Devil fans are looking for may not come to fruition this season, the building blocks for improvement are in place. 

Not since James Harden wore maroon and gold has ASU had this much upside for its men’s basketball program. More than anything, ASU likely looks to disrupt order in the Pac-12 this year, where Arizona and USC are prohibitive favorites to dominate the conference. 

The journey back to national relevance for the Sun Devils starts now.  

Reach the columnist at or follow @jakeuzzi on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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