ASU women’s basketball enters the 2020-21 season with a few things to balance.
For one, COVID-19 is surging across the country and has already caused problems across the women’s college basketball landscape. Question marks remain as to whether the season could be performed safely.
And on the court, the Sun Devils will look to replace five key seniors that accounted for the majority of its minutes and production from last season’s team that finished its COVID-shortened season at 20-11.
The seven new players that ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne has brought in over the offseason will be forced into action early. Six of those new players are freshmen.
“It’s probably the youngest team I’ve coached, but we’re really talented,” Turner Thorne said. “All of our freshmen are going to play. They are all as ready as we can get them.”
ASU's offseason has been condensed and altered due to the NCAA's health guidelines. This has limited the amount of time the Sun Devils have on the court to gel as they try to incorporate a new offensive system predicated on position-less basketball and movement.
“I’m very excited about the versatility of our offense. The fun thing about our new offense is that we can move people around,” Turner Thorne said. “We can put any five people on the court and they should know what to do within the offense.”
Considering ASU’s overhaul of its roster, the implementation of this system may be a challenge, especially with the surplus of youth.
The only senior on the roster is seldom-used forward Bre’yanna Sanders. ASU's youth is an adjustment for Turner Thorne, who has leaned heavily on her veterans in the past.
The upperclassmen on the team will need to take a step up in both leadership and on-court production this season.
“Charli always emphasizes that everybody has the ability to lead in some type of way," junior guard Jamie Loera said. "It is definitely on us upperclassmen to set the tone every day and just consistently have good days.”
“My role as a player has increased this year, but I’m really excited to help my teammates and have fun out there," Mbulito said on Pac-12 media day last week. "We’re ready to fight every game and outwork every team."
According to Mbulito, the team has already assumed the mantle as underdogs within the conference.
“We don’t have a number by our name, but we don’t care about that," Mbulito said.
Barring any COVID-related setbacks, the team will play a 22-game conference schedule starting in early December.
Last year, the team played 12 non-conference games before heading into conference play. However, there are only three games scheduled this year before that period, meaning the team will need to establish its identity quickly before entering the Pac-12 gauntlet.
“If there was ever a season where we could have used our full preseason (non-conference) schedule to prepare us for the Pac-12 (season), this was definitely it,” Turner Thorne said.
Even Turner Thorne doesn't have a great feel for her team yet, she said, pointing to the many players on the team who hadn't played organized basketball in nearly half a year before returning for practices.
“It’s so hard to know how good we are," Turner Thorne said. "We haven’t had our normal training. We haven’t had our normal practices. We didn’t even have contact until the end of September.”
The Sun Devils begin a four-team non-conference tournament on Wednesday against Stephen F. Austin at Desert Financial Arena at 4 p.m. MST.