For years a steady drumbeat of inquiries from Arizona State Alumni, students, and Sun Devil fans alike has included:
1) When are we going to finally turn the corner?
2) When are we going to realize our true potential?
Seriously, why do we explode into the national spotlight like a rolling Monsoon Storm – then desiccate, drying up like the lower Salt River in the desert heat of August? These are legitimate questions for both our Football and Men’s Basketball programs since the formation of the Pac-10 if not longer.
Got a Flux Capacitor and a DeLorean?
First, let’s make a little pit stop at ASU’s first Rose Bowl. Coach Bo Schembechler’s Michigan Wolverines are taking on John Cooper’s Arizona State Sun Devils in front of 103,168 fans. One game earlier the powerful Sun Devils gave away the Territorial Cup to lowly Arizona under first-year head coach, Dick Tomey, 34–17.
The Michigan Wolverines dominated the first half of the 1987 Rose Bowl, but ASU quarterback, Jeff Van Raaphorst, led the Sun Devils on a powerful comeback. ASU upset Michigan 22-15.
Lose a bad one, win a huge one. Anyone recognize a pattern?
Ohio State University stole Sun Devil Coach John Cooper who had conquered Bo in ASU’s Rose Bowl victory. Arizona State then swipes Basketball Coach Bill Frieder from Michigan who was leading his team to a number 3 seed in the 1989 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Michigan Football Coach and University Athletic Director, Bo Schembechler terminated Bill Frieder on the spot because only a “Michigan Man could coach a Michigan team.”
Schembechler promoted Basketball assistant Steve Fischer to Head Coach. Fisher took Frieder’s Michigan team to wins over Xavier, South Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois, and Seton Hall to win the 1989 NCAA National Championship. He went on to a storied career between the Wolverines and the San Diego State Aztecs.
It was Steve Fischer who won the recruiting battle for a young Zylan Cheatham over his hometown Sun Devils. Zylan transferred to ASU in 2018 and had to sit out the year.
When Bill Frieder first arrived in Tempe in 1989, he posed for a picture outside of Sun Devil Stadium in front of the 1987 Rose Bowl Victory Plaque. He then mailed the photo directly to Bo Schembechler’s office in Ann Arbor as a way to rub in Sun Devil Football’s comeback football.
The following season Coach Frieder’s Sun Devils defeated Kansas at home and ended up beating Rutgers in the first game of the 1991 NCAA tournament. In the round of 32 Arizona State fell apart losing to No. 2 seed Arkansas. Arkansas went on to the elite 8 where they then lost to the same Kansas squad ASU had defeated.
In the same 1991 Tournament, Duke avenged an embarrassing loss to UNLV beating the Runnin’ Rebels 79-77 in the Final Four. Young Hurley’s Duke team was an 8-point underdog against UNLV. In that game, Bobby dished out 7 assists and hit some critical three-pointers en route to the upset victory. Then in the Final, young Hurley dished out 9 assists leading Duke to the 1991 National Championship with a 72-65 win over Kansas!!
Frieder’s third season at ASU was a rollercoaster. Coach Bill somehow landed the Devils in the NIT Tournament beating a “run & gun” Santa Barbara team before losing to Utah. Up and down, up and down, Coach Frieder’s tenure ended in an FBI Gambling Scandal! That time was a “Hedake” for Sun Devil fans. (Look for my synopsis of that point-shaving scandal later this week).
In 1996 Jake “The Snake” Plummer’s Arizona State Sun Devil football team under Coach Bruce Snyder worked through an incredible undefeated season. When Nebraska entered Sun Devil Stadium with a 26 game winning streak and back-to-back National Titles, ASU’s roster included the leadership of Pat Tillman, Keith Poole, Juan Roque, and Terry Battle.
In 1995 the Cornhuskers pasted the Sun Devils 77-28 in Lincoln. But on September 21, 1996, the field at Sun Devil Stadium was dedicated to former Coaching great, Frank Kush, a good omen. ASU “lived up to their potential” shutting out the No. 1 ranked Cornhuskers 19-0.
Later that season, ASU destroyed Arizona 56-14 in the Territorial Cup and entered the Rose Bowl with an 11-0 record. We should have and could have beaten the Buckeyes! The Sun Devils went adrift late, allowing Phoenix product Joe Germaine to throw the game-winning touchdown for Ohio State. Sun Devil’s lose 20-17. By the way, at the helm for Ohio State was former Arizona State University Football Coach John Cooper. Win a big game, lose a big game.
DieHard Sun Devil’s want programs with National recognition and respect, if not a series of championship runs. Last September, Herm’s Sun Devils ground out an upset of Michigan State only to follow it with a loss to San Diego State. In December, Hurley’s squad upset #1 Kansas on the hardwood only to turn around and lose by a point to Princeton. At the very least we want to consistently win two games or more in a row in Pac-12 Conference play, rather than win a good one, lose the next.
Tempe, Arizona often gets overlooked. I don’t know if it is the desert heat of the Valley of the Sun or the semi-annual droughts in athletics. But Arizona State University now has two big-name coaches in Bobby Hurley and Herm Edwards guiding the men’s basketball and football programs.
Are We Turning the Corner?
Took the dawgs for a run at the bank 😎🏦 pic.twitter.com/UkJneKJwAI
— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) February 10, 2019
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein.
Enter the Washington Huskies (10-0 Pac-12) who were rolling through the Conference of Champions. Arizona State, coming off an embarrassing loss to the Washington State Cougars, had to do something different. We had to turn the corner, change direction, focus and alter our method of attack.
Coach Hurley got called out by DieHard Sun Devils fans after the miserable loss to Wazzu. He responded by coaching a complete game and putting ASU back into the win column upsetting Washington in convincing fashion. Any shot at the NCAA Tourney would have been lost if Hurley’s Sun Devils could not rise up and ball against the Huskies.
For two seasons, a passionate and emotional Bobby Hurley has struggled in Pac-12 play. His teams seem to be riding the same rollercoaster other ASU Basketball and Football Coaches have experienced in Pac-12 and Post-season play. All DieHard fans know the feeling of a certain existing pregame anxiety wondering what Sun Devil team is going to show up! I already have it a day before Hurley’s squad faces Colorado!
“Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. You’re not being the ball, Danny.” Golfer, Philosopher -Ty Webb
Right now the Sun Devils are looking “in” at the NCAA Tournament! As I have suggested before, no guard combination in College Basketball wants to be chased around by Luguentz Dort and Remy Martin for 40 minutes.
After Thursday’s fiasco, Sun Devil Coach Bobby Hurley put his kids through a complete practice without letting the players shoot the ball. It was his version of punishment for an atrocious shooting night against the Cougars and a throw-back to the hard-nosed coaching he grew up with.
But it was also a fantastic way to stress how to handle the Washington Huskies 2-3 Zone Defense. The Zone is something Arizona State has struggled against. The young Sun Devils quite honestly stink at allowing the game to come to them. In fact, they need to “be the ball” rather than force play resulting in poor shot selection and a myriad of turnovers. In Jedi-speak, “use the force,” don’t fight it.
I guess the movie Caddyshack had some valuable lessons after-all! Ty Webb’s young Caddie, Danny Noonan was forcing the issue in life as well as with his golf game en route to winning the Country Club Caddie Scholarship. (I’ll bet some of you younger Sun Devil faithful probably have wondered why people use the word “Noonan” on the golf course during a putt attempt, or while yelling at a T.V. Screen when a Field Goal Kicker is about to boot a game-winner.)
Saturday night was not exactly an X’s and O’s marvel! It was a different look filled with consistent passing and post attacks. The Sun Devils had 24 turnovers on 18 assists, but it was a different all-around Sun Devil effort. Coach Mike Hopkins’ Washington Huskies faced the same Arizona State team that beat Kansas and Mississippi State. The same Sun Devils who pushed Nevada around for most of the game.
Victory is sometimes a place where unlikely heroes show up. But against the 2-3 zone, the basketball world knew the Sun Devils needed to exploit the middle of the Husky defense.
Romello “The Big Fundamental” White was 8-9 from the floor with monster dunks and a variety of sound pivots and pops. He had eight rebounds, one huge block and fouled out of the game late with the look of a satisfied diner at Mastro’s Steakhouse in Scottsdale. His impact went beyond the numbers. Let’s hope he eats dessert against Colorado Wednesday night.
Zylan “Yes Sir” Cheatham grabbed nine rebounds, had seven assists, two steals, two blocked shots and was 4-7 from the field. He patrolled the entire floor like a boss, and with Romello, forced Washington into some difficult shots. The Huskies shot only 36 percent from the field and were outrebounded 40-23 at The Bank.
The Sun Devils methodically exploited the high post against the vaunted Washington 2-3 Zone, outscoring the Huskies 42-20 in the paint. Washington shot 55 percent from the free-throw line and struggled with our bigs all night.
Coach Hopkins as King Kong?
One may never again witness Washington Coach Mike Hopkins blow his lid like he did facing Hurley’s fiery Sun Devil squad at The Bank. Hopkins is a disciplined man and an experienced coach, but Arizona State rattled him! The Huskies never recovered.
The Washington Coach was pounding his chest like King Kong and screaming at his kids in frustration. At one point, Coach Mike walked eight feet onto the court in a tirade during gameplay. The referees stopped play but didn’t process a technical against Hopkins, probably feeling sorry for the man. ASU flipped the script. The Devil’s became King-Kong on Saturday night, climbing a huge skyscraper to perhaps save the season.
The bottom line is Arizona State shot 62 percent against the best defense in the Pac-12. It was the Sun Devil’s best shooting night in a Pac-12 game since 2009. They were constantly on the attack and only shot 17 three-pointers, making 6 of them. They had six steals, four blocked shots, and 24 turnovers on 18 assists.
ASU consistently attacked a vaunted zone defense for the first time since the last ten minutes of the 2018 Syracuse game! 24 turnovers on 18 assists means they were focused on moving the ball, albeit sometimes resulting in ugly outcomes! Bobby Hurley’s young Sun Devils have seen and understand the success they have had when they move the ball via pass rather than dribble. Washington for example, was exhausted by Arizona State’s ball movement and consistent attacks.
“Repetition is the mother of all learning,” especially where successful basketball preparation is concerned. Arizona State got knocked down Thursday Night, got back up, changed their attack, and man-handled the top team in the Pac-12 just two days later despite two games worth of turnovers!
I think of the Bill Murray 1991 hit movie “What about Bob?” Despite the turnovers, the resilient Sun Devils are “Baby-stepping” and making progress. I give huge-props to Bobby Hurley for making his kids practice without shooting the ball. He forced them to be the ball, and visualize the planned angles of attack. The results were obvious… Arizona State 75 Washington 63.
Luguentz Dort started the game outscoring the Washington Huskies 5-0 by attacking the rim and taking a beautifully arced three-point shot. He was 1-6 from three-point range, 5-10 total from the floor, and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line. Lu had 6 assists, 6 turnovers, 3 steals and 1 nice rejection in the paint.
Film Don't Lie with Luguentz Dort (@luguentz). 🍿
Dort put on a defensive clinic against Washington. The freshman held Jaylen Nowell to 38% shooting along with three steals, and a block. Here's how he did it.. @sportscronkite pic.twitter.com/dzX8sYJH7Z
— Chancellor Johnson (@ChancellorTV) February 12, 2019
Again, I will take all six of his turnovers, including what I remember to be 3 additional offensive charges. Why? He was more collected via the “eye” test. He was getting into the paint and moving the ball. All five of his missed three-point attempts were good looks. The efforts of Bobby Hurley are making a difference with the composure of young Luguentz.
Remy “Share the Sugar” Martin had 5 assists, 1 steal and was 5-7 from the free throw line. He also hit two long three-point shots. Despite some unnecessary turnovers, Martin is a guard that Pac-12 opponents would rather not contend with for another two and a half seasons.
Rob Edwards was 2-4 from three-point range, grabbed 8 rebounds and finished with 12 points. If Arizona State continues to work inside then out, Edwards, Kimani Lawrence, and Taeshon Cherry are going to have some big nights from downtown.
The Big Fundamental had a powerful one-hand jam thundering down the lane! It was like a man among children. My take? He launched off of one foot and looked fundamentally sound and agile. Kudos to the Arizona State strength and conditioning team! Romello continues to be a treat to watch in the paint.
Bobby Hurley was at his animated best! I never blame the referees. They have an impossible task at hand. I take the Zylan “Yes Sir” Cheatham’s approach. When the whistle blows on the court, Zylan simply says, “Yes Sir,” and moves forward.
Thursday I counted at least five blatant pivot foot changes or shuffles by the Huskies that should have gone the other way via a “traveling call.” Defenders have it hard enough within the rules, and between the NBA and NCAA, the fundamentals need to come back. Romello, De’Quon and Zylan all had suspect calls when they were playing perfect vertically aligned defense. Lake had 4 quick fouls limiting his playing time. White eventually fouled out late in the game.
Achieving Our Potential
When people work together building a house, will the job get done faster with everyone doing their own thing? Or with an organized team approach fueled by consistent leadership adhering to fundamental engineering principles?
To establish trust, one first must be consistent and trustworthy. You could apply this to business, athletics, or any interpersonal relationship. Leaders can’t blow an uncertain trumpet if they want people to follow! Actions and results speak louder than words.
Hurley is doing a fine job recruiting talent. My fear is he blows an uncertain trumpet and it fuels the Jekyll and Hyde play of his Sun Devils. Ultimately, we need to relax and give the program time. But as I have mentioned before, if Hurley engineers one big Tournament run, let’s say in the next six weeks, does he take the first big basketball job handed to him? The Program needs consistency and trustworthiness in order for more 4 & 5-star athletes to pick ASU.
Now, in 1990, the State of Arizona Population was 3.6 million people. The growth of the Valley and Arizona State University has been exponential. 71,000 plus students attend the University and its satellite campuses. Today Arizona has close to 7.3 million residents.
With this has come massive “regime changes” and an influx of opinions and money at the University’s Level. Our football program has suffered greatly here with plenty of coaching changes and lost potential. The Bank is outdated, and we have a Nationally ranked Hockey Team playing on a community ice rink!
Imagine if Tempe and Arizona State remodeled Sun Devil Stadium, Frank Kush Field 20 years ago and did not lose the Cardinals nor the Fiesta Bowl? What would those facilities have done for Sun Devil Football over the past two decades?
Our basketball program struggled until April 3rd, 2006 when Herb Sendek accepted the head coaching job. His nine-year run was positive, creating a platform for Bobby Hurley’s success. In four years under Coach Hurley, we are 27-38 in the Pac-12. The driving force why Arizona State has won some big games, is we have the talent to rise up to face any challenge at hand. In this same time, we have witnessed close games and losses with fatigued players and no coaching adjustments.
Business and Athletics – Team Play Equals Success
Research reveals when teams are underperforming, despite resources, wealth, and talent, it results from problems with coordination, guidance, and organizational leadership. A fiery leader, no matter how good-meaning and passionate, can chip away at intrinsic motivation negatively impacting the desire to collaborate, pass the ball or play team defense. It straight-jackets a clear path to superior levels of performance and success and might upset young athletes who have yet to gain the experience, vision or wisdom.
Great business leaders show team members the path, providing all of the tools and weapons for success. They clearly communicate expectations, game plans and goals. Then, they get out of the way and let each individual get after it. They support and serve the best interests of the team while providing on-time, ongoing constructive input. Coaching is no different.
What’s next for the Sun Devils
A hot Colorado team presents another tough matchup for Arizona State. Earlier this season, the Devil’s beat Colorado at The Bank 83-61. Recall Remy Martin and Luguentz Dort came off the bench. Martin responded with 8 assists 2 steals, 3 rebounds, and 0 points. Dort had 14 points, 4 boards, and 2 assists. The key at The Bank was ASU worked the ball into Romello “The Big Fundamental” White who finished with 19 points!
If Arizona State runs the offense through Cheatham, White and Lake consistently, we should be able to stop the upstart Colorado Buffaloes on their home court. Please remember Colorado slapped “Guard U” around in the 2018 Pac-12 tournament 97-85. I hope Remy, Romello, De’Quon and Kimani remember. Maybe Mickey Mitchell could travel to Colorado to help keep the Sun Devils focused on a big statement win?
With a magnificent win against Washington, it is my hope Bobby Hurley has turned a corner. His Arizona State Sun Devil’s need to put the past in the rearview mirror. We have yet to realize true potential. We need to roll, “monsooning” back onto the National scene with a strong Pac-12 Conference finish.
Arizona State 74 – Colorado 67.
Congratulations to Sun Devil James Harden for continuing his streak of 30-point games.