Scoring was a struggle for ASU men's basketball to start Pac-12 play last year. Then-junior point guard Remy Martin was scoring 22 points per game, but that equated to nearly half of the team’s 67.6 points per game through the team's first seven conference matchups. The Sun Devils went 3-4 in those games and needed more scoring help around Martin.
But entering the 2020-21 season, the Sun Devils believe that won't be an issue this year.
“We are a work in progress, there are plenty of points of emphasis we are working on, but one of those things is not the ball going in the basket,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “I feel very confident in our ability to do that.”
ASU boasts an offensively talented squad with multiple scoring options, headlined by Martin, who returned for his senior year, as did senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr., who picked up the scoring slack down the stretch last year.
Guard Josh Christopher and forward Marcus Bagley enter as the “most talented freshmen” that Martin claimed he’d ever played with. Holland Woods, a senior transfer guard from Portland State, scored 17.7 points per game last year. The team also has sophomore guard Jaelen House, who was more known for his defense a year ago but put up two 20-point games.
“On this team, it can be anybody’s night,” Christopher said. “So, just get the ball to the hot hand. It could be all of us, and as long as guys make the right plays, we can be pretty unstoppable.”
Hurley mentioned the offense has gotten the better of the defense in scrimmages due to sharp shooting and a lack of turnovers.
Bagley and Woods have been praised this fall for their outside shooting touch, Christopher for his well-rounded scoring prowess. Martin and Verge Jr. have further proven what they can accomplish at the college level. Martin is a preseason All-American and Verge Jr. is the reigning Pac-12 Sixth-Man of the Year.
But, starting this week, the veterans and newcomers will need to fit into one rotation.
“A lot of the guys are coming from being ‘the guy,'” Bagley said. “And now, we have a lot of scorers on the team, so people are definitely going to have to sacrifice. I think everyone is down to do that.”
Christopher said having so many talented offensive players will create opportunities for the Sun Devils to thrive in other areas, such as moving off the ball, utilizing screens and improving playmaking. Hurley added he saw the ball “popping” around the court in recent scrimmages.
With so many scoring options, there's a word that Hurley said is the key to unlocking the team's potential.
“Trust is an important word for me this year,” Hurley said. “Trust the guy you are playing with. That if you make the next pass, then he is going to make the right play as well.”
But, Hurley still has some questions about his team.
"Who is going to do what (graduated forward) Mickey Mitchell did for us last year?" Hurley said. "Who is diving out of bounds to keep the ball in play? Who is going to do the dirty work, the little things that go into winning? We have got to really value all these details.”
On Friday, Hurley said he wanted more from his players at practice, needing to see them fully committed to everything on the court, not just scoring.
He lectured them after the NBA Draft last week on the importance of winning, not just to the program, but for their careers.
“I try to remind them of examples of guys who get drafted,” Hurley said. “The premium is on winning. If you can be a part of something special on a winning program, your value is going to be higher.”
What they've learned on the court throughout the fall will be put to the test this week when they travel to Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut to play in the Empire Classic tournament. ASU will play Rhode Island after its originally scheduled matchup, Baylor, dropped out due to COVID-19 concerns.