ASU men’s basketball is in a state of flux.
This offseason, the Sun Devils have had four scholarship players enter the NCAA transfer portal, three players complete their final year of eligibility and three players submit their names for the upcoming NBA draft. There's a chance that when the 2020-21 season begins, ASU will have a drastically changed roster.
“We’re working hard on our roster,” head coach Bobby Hurley said in a Zoom call this past April. “We’re working extremely hard, talking with a lot of recruits right now that are in the transfer portal and other recruits.”
The latest news regarding Sun Devil departures came on Monday, when AL.com’s Matt Zenitz reported that rising redshirt senior Romello White had entered his name into the transfer portal.
White, who has also declared for the NBA draft, started 29 games in his third season at ASU and played a key role in the team's frontcourt. After averaging 10.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest last season, White’s decision to leave Tempe, whether through the NBA Draft or the transfer portal, may seem like a peculiar one given the three-year starter's status within the program.
"(He) was a guy who I anticipated being back," Hurley said on Wednesday. "I was a little bit blindsided by his departure."
Jeff Goodman of Stadium reported that White preferred to transfer to a school close to Georgia, his home state. And toward the end of this past season, White’s grandmother passed away, a loss that deeply affected the Sun Devil forward.
“He’s so strong man,” ASU rising senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. said in March. “I don’t know how I would have dealt with that situation.”
And besides the off the court benefits of being closer to home, White would have a better chance at grabbing an expanded offensive role with a new team. At ASU, despite being a starter, White finished fourth on the team in field goal attempts per game. Despite primarily coming off the bench, Verge Jr. had 164 more field goal attempts on the season.
When push came to shove, ASU’s backcourt was the focal point of the offense.
“This University will continue to get great guards because it starts with the head coach who was a great guard,” ASU rising senior point guard Remy Martin said in November.
Besides, now as a graduate senior, White would be immediately eligible to play if he were to transfer to another school, presumably one in the southeast.
But White’s departure isn’t the only withdrawal from the program. Rising junior Elias Valtonen and rising seniors Andre Allen and Khalid Thomas also entered their names into the portal. This past season, all three players averaged no more than nine minutes per contest during Pac-12 play.
“Andre Allen, Khalid Thomas and Elias (Valtonen) have limited years left to play. (Transferring) was a good choice for them and we're fully supportive of it,” Hurley told reporters in April.
And with redshirt senior guard Rob Edwards and senior forward Mickey Mitchell no longer eligible to play, Hurley will have to replace three starters, and overall, six players from last season’s team; and that’s if Martin and Verge Jr. retain their names in the NBA Draft pool.
Martin, who led the Sun Devils in scoring and minutes this past season, if selected or signed by an NBA team would be a huge blow to ASU’s NCAA Tournament chances next season. And without Verge Jr., who finished second on the team in scoring despite starting just nine games, Hurley’s team would be without a major scoring threat on the perimeter.
Verge Jr. and Martin have the opportunity to come back to ASU if they withdraw from the NBA Draft by the tentative date of June 15. It is unclear if either Verge Jr. or Martin will be selected or signed as a free agent, as neither player is projected to be drafted.
But reinforcements are on their way. Last month, the Sun Devils landed their highest-rated recruit in program history with California native Joshua Christopher. The brother of ASU rising sophomore guard Caleb Christopher, Joshua has the combination of size, athleticism and skills that made him a McDonald's All-American this past season.
"Usually Easter is a very peaceful day for me and I can't say that I was at peace on Easter Sunday knowing that Josh Christopher was making that decision on Monday," Hurley said. "Like everybody, I sat on my phone and kept refreshing his name on Monday to see what news was out there."
The acquisitions of Joshua Christopher and four-star recruit Marcus Bagley supply Hurley’s team with two top 35 recruits in the nation, according to 247 Sports. Along with Ohio State transfer Luther Muhammad and Portland State transfer Holland Woods, the Sun Devils have built a solid foundation for the future, despite both likely having to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules.
With or without White, Verge Jr. and Martin, the Sun Devils still have many questions that still need to be answered. But luckily for Hurley and his staff, ASU still has months to shape their roster before the start of the college basketball season.
That is, if there is one.
“You’re in such uncharted territory,” Hurley said of the coronavirus in April. “I just hope to fast forward as quickly as we can to get back to normal life.”
2020 has proven to be a year of uncertainty. For ASU men’s basketball, that sentiment still holds plenty of truth.