Short, forceful guards are the backbone of the undersized ASU men’s basketball team. If the Sun Devils want to win, their guards must play beyond their height on a team that hasn't found its identity yet.
The Sun Devils are by far the shortest team in the Pac-12. ASU’s guards are only 6 feet, 2 inches tall on average. Junior guard Jordan Williams is the Sun Devils’ shortest player at just 5-feet-10 inches, making him the third shortest player in the entire Pac-12. Down low, ASU’s forwards are also shorter than others, as only one player is taller than 6-feet-9-inches.
ASU will have to battle through David and Goliath games in which its guards are disadvantaged on both ends of the court. Junior guard Frankie Collins will be counted on as Hurley’s most crucial point man and floor general.
Collins is only 6-feet-1-inch, and makes the most of his small stature to push the ball into the paint. He distributed the ball well last season by tallying 151 assists, but needs to step up to meet Hurley’s demands.
"Frankie's got to show great vocal leadership. He and I have to be connected," Hurley said. "He has to be unbreakable. You know at the point guard position, man, you got to be the heart and soul of the team, you got to fight."
Unlike most short guards, Collins rarely attempted three-pointers last season and earned 127 hard-fought trips to the free-throw line. However, he shot just 40% from the floor and an abysmal 62% from the free-throw line.
Now Hurley is counting on Collins to knock down more shots after his sluggish season.
"So he's got to trust that and shoot it with confidence," Hurley said. "So hopefully that'll be the next step for him just proving that you know, he could step in and make those kinds of shots from distance."
Graduate guard Jose Perez will support Collins. The 6-foot-5-inch guard is an anomaly on the roster as ASU’s tallest point player. Perez averaged 18.9 points per game last season for the Manhattan College Jaspers and will be counted on to score if Collins struggles offensively again.
Junior guard Malachi Davis is another point man ASU is counting on to make an immediate impact. Davis only weighs 175 pounds despite being 6-feet-4-inches tall. He made the most of his frame by scoring at all three levels in JUCO, but is yet to face NCAA defenders.
By far, ASU’s most uncertain new guard is redshirt junior Adam Miller, a transfer from LSU. The 6-foot-3-inch guard has tremendous upside when hot but was inconsistent last year and only shot 33.6% from the floor. Miller’s role is still in limbo as he needs an NCAA waiver as a two-time transfer to play this season.
While he’s certainly got the talent on the roster, Hurley needs to figure out how it’ll come together on the court. His players seem to believe that defense will produce results despite their undersized roster.
"I think that we've been preaching that to the guys here, we play defense," junior shooting guard Jamiya Neal said. "That's our calling card, even if you're not putting it in or we’re not scoring, we're gonna get stops. A stop is gonna lead to offense."
A trend last season was that the Sun Devils’ defense kept them alive when their offense fell short. ASU successfully limited its opponents to a worse field goal percentage while earning more blocks and steals per game. On the other end, the Sun Devils were hit-or-miss offensively and only shot 42% from the field, the third-lowest shooting percentage in the Pac-12.
Despite their small size, the Sun Devils believe their blend of newcomers and improved returners will thrive. Considering last season’s ending, Collins was disappointed to fall short in the NCAA Tournament, but thinks the team has the right pieces to win this season.
"I think we can't top what we did defensively last year," Collins said. "I think we have the length, that athletic ability, and that speed. I think we have everything we need to be great defensively."
ASU’s defense was its bread and butter out of necessity to support its fledgling offense. Now Hurley believes he has enough offensive talent to be more than a one-trick team.
"I like our balance," Hurley said. "I think we got a number of guys that could really help us win. I like our potential on defense with our activity, our athleticism and length. So there are some positives on both offensively and defensively."
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Sadie Buggle and Grace Copperthite.