TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State clawed its way through last season, putting itself in position for a third straight NCAA Tournament before the coronavirus pandemic canceled everything.
Once the offseason hit, the losses started mounting.
Two key players were gone to graduation. Three more declared early for the NBA draft, including one who also entered the transfer portal. Three other reserve players also entered the portal.
Just when the Sun Devils were staring at a rebuilding season, coach Bobby Hurley pulled off some recruiting magic.
By adding athletic guard Joshua Christopher to a class that already includes forward Marcus Bagley, Arizona State has its best recruiting class in the modern era and changed expectations for the 2020-21 season — if there is one.
“With Josh’s decision, it certainly elevates everything that we’re doing," Hurley said in a Zoom call this week. “And so much time went into his recruitment and it’s so satisfying that he made the decision he made. I think it shows the confidence that he has in the program and what we’re doing at Arizona State.”
Hurley has built the program in a steady progression during his five seasons in the desert. The Sun Devils won 30 combined games the first two seasons, but at least 20 each of the past three.
Arizona State made the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and 2019 and was in a solid position before the pandemic hit to make it three straight for the first time since four consecutive appearances from 1960-64.
The Sun Devils went into the offseason in decent shape for 2020-21, losing only guard Rob Edwards and injury-plagued forward Mickey Mitchell to graduation. Arizona State also lost three players to the transfer portal, but none contributed more than 1.8 points per game.
Then team leader Remy Martin, a junior guard, declared for the NBA draft. Big man Romello White followed and then guard Alonzo Verge Jr. Martin and Verge could still pull their names from the draft. White likely won't be back after entering the transfer portal in a move Hurley said caught him off guard.
The latest recruiting class could change everything.
Arizona State got a big recruiting boost with the addition of Bagley, younger brother of Sacramento Kings big man Marvin. A 6-foot-7 shooting forward, Bagley was rated the No. 27 overall 2020 class player in the 247Sports composite and signed with the Sun Devils in the fall.
The big get was Christopher.
The brother of current Arizona State guard Caleb, Christopher had multiple options on the table before giving Hurley and his staff a lift by committing to the Sun Devils on Easter.
A dynamic 6-5 guard, Christopher is ranked as the No. 10 overall player by 247Sports, giving Arizona State two top-30 players for the first time in the modern recruiting era. He also is the Sun Devils' highest-rated player ever, edging current NBA star James Harden's rating in 2007.
“A couple years ago, our team mantra was ‘fearless’ and that’s how I view Josh. He’s fearless,” Hurley said. “As a competitor, a fierce competitor, both ends of the floor. Dynamic athlete, super skilled. Really gets after it, is about winning. So he checks all the boxes there. I just think he’s not afraid of the challenge to try and go to Arizona State and help us take another big step.”
The current recruiting class puts Arizona State in good position for the immediate future and Hurley took it a step further, adding two transfers to make sure the Sun Devils are set up down the road.
Former Portland State player Holland Woods was one of the top guard transfers on the market and Arizona State convinced the Phoenix-area native to return home. A 6-1 guard, he earned first-team all-Big Sky honors last season after averaging 17.7 points, 5.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds.
“He fits to a T everything we’re looking for out of a point guard,” Hurley said.
Arizona State also added former Ohio State guard Luther Muhammad, who averaged 7.0 points and 2.3 rebounds last season and is known as a superb defender.
The Sun Devils are expecting Muhammad to redshirt next season and will ask for a waiver so Woods can play immediately.
Even if Woods has to sit out, Arizona State should be in good shape with the additions of Christopher and Bagley.
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