Syracuse and Arizona State players and coaches addressed the media yesterday, ahead of their First Four showdown tonight. Jim Boeheim, Tyus Battle, and Frank Howard were in postseason form with their answers to reporters’ questions; here are some takeaways from the entertaining and informative press conference.
The Sun Devils are happy to be back under the radar
ASU came out of nowhere early in the season. When Bobby Hurley’s squad won its first 12 games and skyrocketed to the No. 3 ranking in the country, it was the story of the season, mostly because no one saw it coming. In the PAC-12 preseason poll, Arizona State was picked to finish sixth — its highest spot since 2010-11.
After crashing and burning at the end of the season, though, the Sun Devils are back to feeling like everyone is sleeping on them.
“We’re the underdog,” ASU senior Kodi Justice said. “We’re not looked at to be one of the guys that can win this tournament. So we can go out there and just play our game, play free, do what we do and not worry about anything. It’s literally, we’re out here playing basketball, having fun. So, now, being the hunter you can go out and play free instead of on most nights, when you’re the hunted, you get everyone’s A-game.”
It seems like the Sun Devils are relishing the underdog role they tasted at the beginning of the season.
Frank Howard has strep throat?
Some surprising injury news emerged during the Syracuse players’ session with the media: Howard has been dealing with strep throat this week.
“I’ve been taking the meds, getting a lot of sleep,” Howard said. “So I’ll be fine.”
Howard was apparently sleeping during the Selection Show on Sunday, so he didn’t get to experience the euphoria with his teammates. The point guard practiced Tuesday and says he’s good to go for Wednesday night.
He better be, because you’d expect the junior to play all 40 minutes. Jim Boeheim does not have an alternative option at his disposal. Howard’s health, or lack thereof, is another reason why the Orange must control the pace and prevent the Sun Devils from running up and down the floor in transition.
Bobby Hurley was *this* close to playing for Syracuse
Say what you want about Hurley, who was easy to hate during his college days for multiple reasons: he played for Duke, he was fiery and aggressive (perhaps to a fault), and he was nearly unstoppable. If you don’t like Hurley, that’s OK. After Christian Laettner, who helped him win back-to-back national championships in the early 1990s, there may not be a single Blue Devil who personifies the program more.
But there is no denying that Hurley is one of the best point guards in college hoops history. More than two decades after graduating, he still holds the NCAA record for career assists.
And he almost played for SU.
“I just remember when I was coming up, [Boeheim] coached great point guards, and that was very attractive for me to want to consider playing at Syracuse,” Hurley said. “I saw Pearl Washington play Sherman Douglas, and those were guys I looked up to when I was coming up.
“So, yeah, they were right there. I just, when I visited Duke, it was just — I couldn’t say no to that. But I always enjoyed the possibility of going there and always thought what a great coach Coach Boeheim was.”
If the Fizz had existed back then, we would have posted no fewer than 50 articles about Hurley’s recruitment. It’s fun to play the “what-if” game, especially because Syracuse was a top-five team for the majority of 1989-90 — Hurley’s freshman year.
Both Hurley brothers (Dan is the head coach of seventh-seeded Rhode Island) led their teams to the Big Dance this season, but they have a long way to go to match their dad, who won 28 state championships in 39 years at St. Anthony’s High School in New Jersey.
“There’s nobody more prepared and more involved in coaching than Bob [Hurley, Sr.],” Boeheim said. “And Danny and Bobby are very, very similar. They’ll never be as good as their father, but they’re pretty good.”