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October 11, 2018

Bobby Hurley

San Francisco, California

Q. Where is this team compared to where you thought it would be? Now in your fourth year, it's the year a team starts making traction under a new coach. Is this team ahead of schedule where you thought you'd be or behind schedule, or what you thought?
BOBBY HURLEY: I want to talk about last year for just a second. I thought we had the potential just with the guard play and the addition of Romello White and De'Quon Lake and another year for Vitaliy Shibel, just more of an inside presence to balance the guard play. So wasn't surprised that we made a jump last year.

This year, I had always thought I had a vision for losing Tra Holder and Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice. That's why we looked at Zylan Cheatham and Rob Edwards, two transfers that excelled already, that are older players, proven players, and then we had our best recruiting class with Lugentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry. Lugentz Dort has had a big impact on what we're doing. The battles every day with he and Remy Martin have been pretty epic.

For me, just with my Jersey roots and the value of defense that was ingrained in me from my dad growing up to Coach K and the whole thing, I always wanted to be a good defensive basketball team. I think this is my best opportunity with the roster we have right now to be better defensively.

Q. Bobby, such an unusual season for you with how well things went in nonconference play, weren't able to keep that momentum in league play. Going into the off-season, were you able to maybe kind of recapture that early momentum, or did you kind of have to build up some spirit?
BOBBY HURLEY: We talk to the players a lot. It's fragile. Basketball is extremely fragile. Every day is that way. Last year we played Arizona to be No. 1 in the country and lose a close game in Arizona, and one week later we're playing at Utah fighting for our lives not to go 0-3 in the Pac-12, and that's just within one week.

So we really focus on getting better every day. I think that we didn't do as good a job of closing out close games, like in the nonconference we had a war with Kansas State. We won 92-90. Our Kansas game was way closer than a ten-point margin at Kansas. So there were games that were close. We found ways to win. In the Pac-12 we didn't. When we lost to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament, we were one of four teams nationally that never lost by double figures. It was ourselves, Virginia, Villanova, and Nevada. So we were in a lot of games, a lot of close games, and we just didn't win enough of them in league play.

Believe me, the fellows are hearing about it on the practice floor, just about how we need to play better in conference. I'll use any example or every example I can to emphasize that. That's on our list to perform better this year in league play.

Q. What excites you about this team?
BOBBY HURLEY: I just think -- I touched on the capabilities defensively. I think I'm seeing that every day based on our competition and just our overall athleticism and length. I have a lot of roster flexibility. I have different lineups, more size, more ability to maybe generate turnovers and get out in the open floor. Also, our closeouts now are guys that have a 7'1" wing span. So it certainly is going to help, I think, our defense and our ability to get stops more regularly.

And that was always -- you know, the guys fought and did everything they could last year, and we caused all kinds of problems for teams on offense, but it was just a struggle defensively to be as good as we needed to be.

Q. Who's been the most pleasant surprise so far?
BOBBY HURLEY: I think Kimani Lawrence has had a great off-season, just based on maybe guys that we had high hopes for, but he struggled with an injury last year that lost a lot of time, and it was hard for him to find himself and find a role, especially since we were rolling so well early in the season.

But he's attacked the off-season, is in great shape, has made some adjustments to his offensive game. He's shooting it way better. It's something that we have to replace with the guys that graduated, and I think we can help in that category. But he's just a really good all around player, great kid, hard worker, and just can do a number of things for us. So we're excited about him.

Q. You had a taste last year and then ran into some trouble. What did you learn about yourself as a coach that's going to help you this season?
BOBBY HURLEY: I mean it's just tough. You're constantly fighting. I talked about how fragile it is. We had such -- we kind of burst on the scene, and there was so much enthusiasm about what we're doing and just took a lot of pride in that. Just the way our crowds flocked to the games last year was like nothing I've seen before. So there were a lot of positives.

The flip side is just guiding my team better, just finding more ways to close out some close games, and we didn't win enough of them. We put ourselves in a really dangerous position for postseason. Hopefully, we won't do that this year.

Q. What's your most interesting story from the recruiting trail?
BOBBY HURLEY: This year? It's been kind of light. When I say that, it's -- a lot of the pieces are in place, and we -- currently, we're most likely only going to lose two players from this year's team. So a majority of the team is coming back. I can't really comment on specific guys that we have, but we've already done pretty good work in 2019.

So, yeah, it's hard to come up with one that would stand out at the moment.

Q. I know you take great pride in taking that curtain down, those blocked-out seats at Wells Fargo. Is it staying down?
BOBBY HURLEY: Yeah, the wall's down. Every day I'm at my gym working out in the morning, and someone will come up and say, hey, I just bought season tickets. So it's going real well. I feel enthusiasm about what we're doing. I think there's an opportunity right now in Phoenix for us to continue the momentum that we built from last year.

I think we've got some great nonconference games on our schedule. Having Kansas come in before Christmas, some really exciting games there. And then just hope to build on it. But I think that the crowds are going to be there like they were this past season.

Q. What's been your biggest challenge in trying to recapture the early momentum that your team had last year going into this?
BOBBY HURLEY: I don't think there's many challenges. The guys are very push button. They're very hard working. I think they're hungry. We're not a program that I think just expects to be anything given to us or it's our right to go to the NCAA Tournament or to have a great season. So the guys are pretty focused and determined. We've been having great practices and preparing the right way.

So, yeah, everything has been what I'd hope it would be at this point.

Q. You mentioned who your biggest surprise is so far. Who would you like to nudge along? Who needs to do some work?
BOBBY HURLEY: I think Romello White is a guy that could take a jump, and I'm hoping he can do that. As a freshman, he put up good numbers, 12 and 7, and rebounded well for us. He's a guy that's got to put together a great overall season. I think he's capable of doing it.

I think our depth is outstanding because, if you had asked me like who I'm going to talk about, Romello could be the fourth or fifth guy that I might talk about, and he's very capable of putting up great numbers for us. I just think it's just a tribute to the depth that we have coming into this year.

Q. If you could just finish this sentence. Arizona State wins the Pac-12 title if.
BOBBY HURLEY: Arizona State wins the Pac-12 title if we defend and rebound and just play together because that's going to be the challenge. And I have to do a good job coaching this team because it's been easy for me. I've had guys that play 30, 35 minutes, and we're deeper, and I'm going to have to figure out lineups and combinations that work and distributing playing time is going to be more of an emphasis for me.

If I do all those things well and our team plays together, I think we're talented and we could really compete with anybody.

Q. So Remy was kind of talking about how you guys have some bigger guards this season and how it's kind of helping them to be able to switch on to different players. How have you used that as an asset with a bunch of bigger guards?
BOBBY HURLEY: Yeah, I just think it kind of takes the court away more on defense, just having more length, more size, more strength. I think, just from a rebounding perspective and a team defense perspective, I think we're really strong. We have three guys that might want to compete to be Pac-12 defensive player of the year. And I know there's great athletes and great defenders on other teams, but Remy Martin, his on the ball defense, and Zylan Cheatham, just as an overall defender, a multi-position defender and a super athlete. And Lugentz Dort is just a shutdown defender. With his strength and his athletic ability, even for an incoming freshman, and his mindset and approach to defending, he just wants to lock you up. He's got the physical tools to do it.

I just like our approach to that.

Q. To piggy-back off that answer, so you guys are certainly more athletic and maybe more defensive-minded than you have been in the past. Strategically, how are you going to be able to take advantage of the guys' competitiveness? Are you going to play differently at all? Is anything going to change defensively in your strategies? Are you going to press more?
BOBBY HURLEY: We had a three-quarter court press that we used last year. I think you almost have to have it in your arsenal just for a variety of reasons, whether it's to shorten the clock against a particular opponent or when you're down in games to figure out a way to get yourself back in the game.

When you could put a guy like Zylan Cheatham on the point of the zone or the three-quarter court, just with his athleticism, his activity, his motor, it's something that we're putting into our plan this year defensively. We would like to create more turnovers and maybe not be in such a five-on-five half-court game. I think defensively we'll be able to generate more stops, but I think offensively we have the potential to excel in the transition game in the open floor. So having something that we could go to to change the tempo of the game would be helpful.

I think that hurt us some last year when we got to league play. I think teams didn't want to run with us, with our guards, and they milked the shot clock and shot late and crashed the board and kind of shortened the game on us.

Q. How about ball screen defense? Do you have more versatility as far as that?
BOBBY HURLEY: Yeah, that's been another great thing. Lugentz Dort could play the point guard for us, and he's 6'4", 220 pounds. He's got a 7-foot wing span, and he's built like Rawle Alkins. That's who he kind of looks like, from Arizona last year. He could guard four positions. When you have Zylan Cheatham that can switch on a point guard and you're comfortable with him doing a good job staying in front, it gives you more options as a coach, things that we couldn't do the past couple years.

Q. Do you think you guys will embrace the guard use with their personality again, or was that more last year and does this year have a sort of different personality to it?
BOBBY HURLEY: Yeah, I think just the small guards, we were fun and kind of lethal on offense at times, just with our explosiveness. So it made sense. I think we -- there's different players. They laid the foundation for it, but still having Rob Edwards and Remy Martin and Lugentz Dort those three guys will carry on that tradition fairly well.

Q. Did that sort of persona give a team some swag, some sort of bravado that you needed last year?
BOBBY HURLEY: It was just something fun. It's a basketball, and you're competing, and everything is tough, but just want to have a good time doing it too and celebrate what you're doing. That was kind of -- just thought it was a cool thing for our players. They enjoyed it. They embraced it. And they took the responsibility that went along with it. I think it's going to continue. I think in the future we're going to have the ability to bring in guards to Arizona State because of our style of play, and our system is very friendly to guard play. So I don't think you've seen the last of it, if you watched us last year.

Q. And you probably talked about this already, but just the lessons learned from last season, just that hot start and then what happened kind of at the end of the season. What did you learn from that?
BOBBY HURLEY: Just that there are struggles and you go through adversity, and you've just got to fight through it. We fought -- and, again, I touched on we lost a number of close games in league play. It was -- every game was a fight, and we didn't win enough of them. It was a difference of winning two or three more really close games that would have put us in a great position for the tournament.

We realize that. We've got to do a better job when we get to league play. We've got to be peaking further down the line than we were this past year.

Q. Any possibility you would schedule a matchup with your brother at UConn? Is that going to happen at some point?
BOBBY HURLEY: Yeah, it's out of the question in terms of just our relationship and just our whole upbringing and what it means. It's just not going to work. We care a lot about each other. We've been through a lot together. Just couldn't really -- wouldn't want to see either one of us disappointed that way.

It would be a mirror image. A lot of what I learned and believe came from the years I worked with my brother. I owe him a lot about just the success that I've had just because of what I learned working with him. And I'm happy for him, and he's going to do a great job at UConn.

Q. I was with him a couple weeks ago, and I asked him a question about how long he wants to do it. There are more coaches saying they don't want to be lifers. What do you say about that?
BOBBY HURLEY: I love the game. I think there was something I was missing when I wasn't either playing or coaching. It's been so rewarding for me to start at Wagner and Rhode Island, spend those years with my brother, and then going to a place like Buffalo that had never been to the NCAA Tournament. In the second year, seeing all my players celebrate after we won a championship. The confetti coming down and seeing my players embracing their family and knowing all the work you put in in that process. And to see the reward of it makes it special. Coming to Arizona State and struggling for two years and then just getting to No. 3 in the country, No. 1 in ESPN, and watching my guys just enjoy the whole process, it was -- I can't see myself really wanting to stop or do anything else.

Q. Except the same thing?
BOBBY HURLEY: Right, awesome.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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