TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State guard Kodi Justice often found himself in the post trying to guard much larger players, sometimes even 7-footers.
The scrappy 6-foot-5 guard took every challenge head on and often on the head — in the form of an elbow — without ever backing down.
“Hopefully those days are gone,” Justice said. “But I’ll do it if that’s what they need me to do.”
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After two seasons of playing primarily guard-heavy small ball, Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley now has some big guys to throw into the mix this year.
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The Sun Devils will still rely heavily on their trio of senior guards, but the frontcourt will be bigger and more talented, allowing Hurley multiple lineup and style options.
“We played small-ball most of last season and certainly we can do that some this season,” Hurley said. “But this season we have the depth and the players in the front court where we can play multiple different ways.”
At Arizona State’s core will be Justice, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, senior guards who have a knack for knowing what the other two are going to do without having to say it.
Holder has developed into a steady floor leader who can score, Evans can fill it up in bunches when he’s on and Justice can do just about anything, knocking down 3-pointers, flipping behind-the-back passes and guarding whomever Hurley tells him to.
Now those three will have some big-guy help.
Romello White, a redshirt last season, has good size (6-foot-8, 220 pounds), an ability to finish at the rim and a relentless nature. Forward Vitaliy Shibel returns after missing last season with a torn ACL and Spanish big man Ramon Villa should take the next step after playing 33 games last season.
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De’Quon Lake, a junior college transfer, is long, athletic and should help protect the rim. Freshman Kimani Lawrence, a top recruit, will add depth and versatility as will former Ohio State forward Mickey Mitchell after he sits out the first eight games under NCAA transfer rules.
The Sun Devils will be bigger, stronger, more versatile and could push for an NCAA Tournament berth in their third season under Hurley, something that didn’t seem to be a real possibility heading into the past two seasons.
A few more things to look for from Arizona State in 2017-18:
ROUGH ROMELLO: White should give Arizona State a dose of nastiness it hasn’t had in recent years. The relentless forward doesn’t have an off button and should help the Sun Devils inside at both ends. White is excellent finishing at the rim rolling off of ball screens, can hit the mid-range jumper and never gives up on a rebound.
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REMY AT THE POINT: Holder has run the Sun Devils well in his time in Tempe, but now he should get some help from top recruit Remy Martin. The quick 6-foot guard can run the team when Holder is out or allow him to slide over to shooting guard. Martin also is a tenacious defender and should have an impact on that end of the floor immediately.
EUROPEAN TRIP: Arizona State got a head start on the season with a trip to Rome and Barcelona this summer. The Sun Devils played three games and were allowed extra practices for the trip, giving the team an early chance to bond and get a feel for one another. Teams that take these once-every-four-years trips often get the season off to a good start, so don’t be surprised if it works for the Sun Devils, too.
TRANSFER IMPACT: While the trend in college basketball is to add graduate transfers who can play immediately, Hurley took the old-school route by adding three players who will have to sit out a season. But those three players should make the Sun Devils better by making practices nearly as competitive as the games. San Diego State transfer Zylan Cheatham and former Kansas player Carlton Bragg will work to make Arizona State’s big men better and former Cleveland State guard Rob Edwards will push the Sun Devils’ guards.