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ASU men's basketball looks to rebound after COVID-19 season

The Sun Devils prep for a season with fewer COVID-19 restrictions after the losses of Remy Martin and Josh Christopher

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ASU's basketball players line up next to each other during the national anthem before the game against Cal State Fullerton at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

After a season disrupted by COVID-19, ASU men's basketball will look to build upon a 11-14 record and move on after losing guard Remy Martin to the University of Kansas and sophomore Josh Christopher to the Houston Rockets, the No. 24 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft.

In the 2020-21 season, ASU had issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic which ultimately caused the postponement of two matchups against the University of Oregon and University of Utah on Jan. 14 and Feb. 2. However, going into this season, head coach Bobby Hurley is feeling good about his squad. 

"I think we had a good offseason, I like the energy on the team," Hurley said at a press conference on Thursday. "There's still a ton to work on between now and our first game, so just excited for that process in the next few weeks."

This season, Hurley believes that the size of the team will change the way the Sun Devils are defensively. 

"I don't think you're gonna see a team that's trying to steal the ball like we were last year," Hurley said. "I think, hopefully, we'll be a little more traditional in terms of being able to generate stops, because I think we're going to be a little bigger, a little stronger, have better wingspan, more length."

One player who wants to improve his game going into this season is sophomore forward Marcus Bagley. Bagley, who withdrew from the 2021 NBA draft to return to the Sun Devils, hopes to maintain more of a leadership role on the team this season.

"Everybody works hard, everybody's on the same page and ... they all make my job that much easier," Bagley said. 

READ MORE: Marcus Bagley withdraws from NBA Draft, returns to ASU men's basketball

Bagley played in 12 games in the 2020-21 season before a February injury sidelined him. He averaged 29.1 minutes, 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. But the forward hopes to develop his game more this season. 

"I just felt like I could develop a lot more," Bagley said. "I don't think they've seen much of me last year ... I had a lot of injuries ... I got a lot more to show, and I'm excited to be back."

Hurley said it was "exciting to get the news that he was coming back" and believes Bagley is one of the Sun Devils' best athletes. 

"Everyone just views him as an offensive guy, and he's got great skills on the floor ... and we're gonna need him to score," Hurley said. "But he could rebound and be a very good positional defender for us," Hurley said.

Going into the season, Hurley is surrounded by an entirely new assistant coaching staff as he welcomed new assistant coach Joel Justus to the staff in May 2021 after seven seasons at the University of Kentucky.

Hurley also welcomed assistant coach Jermaine Kimbrough to the staff in the spring of 2021. Kimbrough spent the previous two seasons at Loyola University Chicago and three prior seasons at the University of Wyoming.

Hurley and the coaching staff welcomed five new freshmen to the Sun Devils roster: forwards Demari Williams, Jamiya Neal and Will Felton, guard Justin Rochelin, and center Enoch Boakye.

READ MORE: Devils Prospects: Military academy transfer hopes to bring talents to Hurley's team next fall

ASU will also be welcoming four transfers: sophomore guard Jay Heath from Boston College, graduate student guard Marreon Jackson from the University of Toledo, junior guard DJ Horne from Illinois State University, and former Ohio State University signee, junior forward Alonzo Gaffney.

Junior forward Jalen Graham, graduate student forward Kimani Lawrence and redshirt junior guard Luther Muhammad all are returning to the Sun Devils' roster. 

Lawrence, wanting another shot at a season post-knee surgery and with fewer COVID-19 restrictions, will be returning for his fifth year.

"We had some injuries and some guys didn't play because they were sick and stuff like that," Lawrence said. "You know, things didn't go where we wanted them to go, but I like the team that Hurley was putting together, and I like the assistant coaches he brought in, and it all worked out."

The Sun Devils will open their 2021-22 season on Nov. 9 against the University of Portland at 5 p.m. MST in Tempe. 

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