Basketball head coach Bobby Hurley wanted height and forwards who could shoot and got precisely what he wanted in his highly-ranked 2024 recruiting class.
The transfer portal has been a blessing and a curse for the Sun Devils. ASU has brought gifted players from across the country but has lost its fair share of talent to other schools. Last season, Hurley led a squad built through the portal to the NCAA Tournament and finished two spots higher than expected in the Pac-12.
Despite an impressive season, the Sun Devils lost 11 players to the portal, eligibility, and the NBA Draft. Hurley couldn’t look much worse as he lost four of his five starters, leaving junior guard Frankie Collins as one of only five returners.
Now, Hurley is stockpiling talent for seasons to come with his 2024 recruiting class. ASU currently boasts the 15th-best recruiting class in the nation with two sets of four and three-star prospects. The class is Hurley’s best since his 2020 group was ranked eighth in the country.
“I’m not sure if that’s just coming out of COVID and putting that behind us or the NCAA Tournament spotlight,” Hurley said. “We had better traction with some top prospects.”
Height was on the top of Hurley’s wishlist when he started recruiting as some of his best forwards, like graduate Alonzo Gaffney and senior Zane Meeks, won’t be Sun Devils next season. Gaffney has been crucial to ASU’s defensive unit with nine steals and four blocks, while Meeks contributes crucial minutes off the bench.
Their departure will create a void down low and force Hurley to turn to far less experienced big men like freshman Akil Watson and sophomore transfer Shawn Phillips Jr. It’s unclear whether either player will finish their college career at ASU, given the program’s revolving door of players in past seasons.
Hurley ensured his team would always have a size advantage by signing three forwards and a center. His frontcourt focus is partially due to ASU’s move to the Big 12, a conference known for rough play in the paint.
“The physicality of that league, the athleticism, and that is significant,” Hurley said. “So we got to make sure that we're prepared for it.”
ASU sought out height right away with three-star center Jaden Smith. The 6-foot-11-inch big man is a two-way player who can block shots and go coast to coast to make posterizing dunks. The Sun Devils have been outrebounded and outplayed in the paint so far this season and will one day count on Smith to compliment Phillips Jr. down low.
Smith, a Chicago, IL native, is an outlier in the class as the only high school recruit not from Arizona. Hurley flexed his local connections to sign three players from Arizona by focusing on loaded prep schools in the Valley. While he has to compete with the University of Arizona and Grand Canyon University for local talent, Hurley said he’s advantaged because the targeted schools are in his backyard.
Local four-star forward Amier Ali is ASU’s most coveted recruit. Ali hails from Canyon International Academy in Glendale and is Arizona's fourth-best recruit, according to 247 Sports. He sits at 6-foot-8-inches yet plays as an accurate shooter who uses his height to drain shots over shorter wings.
Besides Ali, Hurley landed four-star power forward Sammie Yeanay and three-star shooting guard Bo Aldridge. Yeanay is an offense-first big who has developed his post-play, while Aldridge can distribute the ball and make shots when no one’s open.
Rounding out the group is power forward Jeremiah Nyarko. The 6-foot-9-inch forward isn’t a high schooler, though, as he has already played at the University of San Diego. Nyarko appeared in 16 games as a Torero but only averaged 6.9 minutes per game and 1.4 points per game last season. Still, he’s a promising addition, thanks to his ability to score on all three levels.
While he’s built a talented class, Hurley has to recruit differently than other coaches. ASU has yet to harness the full potential of name, image, and likeness (NIL) efforts, while other schools have boosters who offer high-value packages to potential recruits. Hurley has to sell players on winning games, not making money.
“We have to identify kids and players that want to be here, that money isn’t their number one priority,” Hurley said. “We have to grow that and get better, just as Kenny Dillingham and Willie Bloomquist touched on. I’m in the same kind of boat. We have to do better.”
Those of his players back up Hurley’s recruiting efforts. Junior guard Jamiya Neal said he and his teammates take potential recruits around Tempe to sell them on playing basketball in the desert.
“We make sure to show him a good time, show him around campus, and really get to know him,” Neal said.
Former players have also helped Hurley sign new Sun Devils. Meeks was looking for a fresh start this offseason after playing at the University of San Francisco. Meeks said that Hurley tried to convince him to come to Tempe, but that phone calls with Desmond Cambridge Jr. and Warren Washington, along with Arizona's weather, sealed the deal.
Palm trees and warm winters may sell some recruits, but it’ll take more to land higher-ranked players. Hurley believes future NIL efforts may help sign players who are almost untouchable now and earn higher recruiting rankings.
“It depends on what type of caliber recruit you’re talking about in high school ranks,” Hurley said. “It’s very significant. I mean, I think about the top-tier McDonald's All-American type of guys. Then it depends on where you stand after that.”
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.