Pac-12 hoops preview: Arizona State set to usher in next generation

Sean Goebel/Staff
Redshirt freshman guard Alex Rossi notched three points and one assist across seven minutes in Saturday's tilt against Arizona State.

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To call Arizona State’s 2017-18 season a roller coaster ride would be a criminal understatement. The Sun Devils began the season unranked, worked their way all the way up to the No. 3 spot in the AP Poll, fell all the way back out, then somehow made the tournament only to be bounced in the First Four.

Last season’s twister is over, but another go-around is on the horizon. Head coach Bobby Hurley led Arizona State on the most exhilarating ride of his tenure thus far, and he’ll have the task of one-upping the thrill of his career.

The men who are unbuckling their seatbelts and exiting the ride are Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice, the Sun Devils’ top three scorers last season.

The loss of Holder especially stings; for four seasons, Holder was the lifeblood of Arizona State, earning a reputation as one of the Pac-12’s better guards. Evans and Justice were instrumental in Arizona State’s success last season as well, as both consistently put points on the board.

Saying farewell to veterans such as Holder, Evans and Justice would be difficult for any program, but Arizona State has the benefit of being incredibly young across the board going forward.

Of the 17 players on the Sun Devils roster, 12 are either freshmen or sophomores. That collection of young talent is likely to take on significant minutes next season, and that bodes well for the team’s future.

Among the youngsters who will remain on the Hurley Express are Remy Martin and Romello White, a pair of sophomores who played big minutes in their freshman campaigns.

White may have started almost every game last season, but Hurley made it clear in March that Martin is the future of the program, and for good reason.

After only making one start last season, Martin is set to emerge from the shadow of Holder and run the show down in Tempe.

Martin thrived as Arizona State’s primary reserve, averaging 9.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game as a freshman. That performance earned him Co-Sixth Man of the Year honors last season, an award he shared with Colorado’s Dominique Collier.

The guard made his grand entrance onto the national stage when he recorded 21 points and five steals in an upset victory over then-No. 2 Kansas.

White will likely join the starting lineup come the beginning of the season. The big man had a fine season, but there was a clear discrepancy between his conference and nonconference performances.

In nonconference play, White averaged 14.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while shooting a blistering 69.9 percent. In conference and postseason play, those figures dropped to 8.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game on 61.6 percent shooting.

Redshirt senior De’Quon Lake is another candidate to get more run next season as well. The forward wasn’t exactly a focal point in the offense, but he was uber-efficient in the few shots he did take, averaging 7.2 points per game on 71.1 percent shooting.

Stepping onto the ride alongside Martin, White and company is Hurley’s most anticipated incoming class yet, a group that features a quartet of highly ranked prospects.

Highlighting that incoming class is Luguentz Dort, a five-star recruit by ESPN and a four-star by 247Sports and Rivals.

At 6’4”, 215 pounds, Dort has a frame that will translate well at the collegiate level — very similar to that of former Arizona star Rawle Alkins.

In the 2017 and 2018 BioSteel All Canadian Games, Dort won back-to-back MVP honors, dropping 30 and 34 points in the contests, respectively.

While Dort’s scoring was on display in those contests, he has been lauded for his aggressiveness, athleticism and defense. All of those attributes will be of invaluable help to Arizona State, one of the more suspect defensive teams in the Pac-12 during Hurley’s tenure.

Joining Dort in Arizona State’s incoming class are four-star prospects Uros Plavsic, Elias Valtonen and Taeshon Cherry, all of whom provide the Sun Devils with much-needed length and projects to spread the floor.

Similar to rival Arizona, Arizona State’s intrigue resides in the team’s youth. The Sun Devils may not be ready to compete for a conference championship next year, but by running the youth and letting them develop, they could be contenders in the near future.

Justice delos Santos covers men’s basketball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.