Photo Bobby Hurley may be best known for leading Duke to back-to-back national championships in 1991 and '92, or for holding the NCAA career assist record (1,076). However, he more recently vaulted himself to top-tier coaching status, leading his Arizona State team to No.3 in the AP Poll last season after going 12–0 in non-conference play and beating Kansas. Unfortunately, his Sun Devils slipped to 8–10 in Pac-12 conference play and barely made the NCAA tournament, falling to Syracuse in a First Four game to finish their promising season 20–12.
Now in his fourth season as head coach, Hurley believes he is finding the balance he needs with a winning mix of great athletes, interior presence, defense, and quick guards. And, of course, there is Luguentz Dort. ASU’s top-10 recruiting class features the Canadian standout who, in his first seven college games, is leading the team with 21.7 points per game.
I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Coach Hurley in Las Vegas before they won the MGM Main Event Championship. That win, along with the next two, helped Arizona State enter the AP Top 25 poll this week at number 20. The Sun Devils are the only Pac-12 team that is still undefeated. They will be tested with their next four games against No. 6 Nevada, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and No. 2 Kansas.
Q: What do you look for in guards when you're recruiting them out of high school?
A: There are a lot of things that go into that. I like a competitive spirit, a competitive drive that you could see that's visible, a passion for the game and getting better. You want a guy who’s going to fight a battle on defense be unselfish. You want a guy who can pass, get you in the offense, share the ball, and make everyone better.
Q: Your dad, Bob Sr., won more than 1,000 games as a high school coach. What secrets has he taught you?
A: You’ve got to work at it. Just being around the game my whole life, since I was able to walk, it's been unique to see what he does and see how much passion he has for it.
Q: What do you like better, coaching offense or defense?
A: I was always a pretty tenacious defensive player. I took a lot of pride on defense, but just from playing under Coach K [at Duke] and my experiences in the NBA I really enjoy offense, so I watch a lot of professional basketball. There's a lot of professional influence in what we're doing at Arizona State with how we score. Last year, we were the top scoring team in the Pac-12.
Q: What are some unusual stats that you use a coach and like to pay attention to?
A: There are a lot of things. We talk about deflections; it might be an underrated thing that doesn't show up in the box score, but the more active you are on defense—you could lead to a steal and a turnover and then a basket the other way. We talk with our players a lot about that.
Q: You are the all-time assist leader in college basketball. How do you teach someone to be a great passer?
A: It's years and years on the playground and developing instincts and having an innate unselfishness when you're playing. And then you have to play with Grant Hill and Christian Laettner—that helps a lot. Staying [in school] for four years helps in today's day and age. Some of the best point guards move on to the NBA very early, so that's probably why I still have the record.
Q: Do you think that anyone will ever break that record of 1,076 career assists in college?
A: I hope so. You always hope that the future is better for the next generations that follow you.
Q: You are one of the most successful college basketball players and then you have this amazing second career in coaching. If you could go back and do anything differently what would you change?
A: I probably would've gotten into coaching sooner. I got into coaching a little bit late, in my late thirties, but I've enjoyed every year. It's been a blessing. I feel like it’s what I'm meant to do. I have so much passion for it, and it's nice to see that I could have an impact on the guys I'm coaching.
Q: If you could go back in time and talk to your 14-year-old self (because I'm 14 right now) what would be some of the stuff you would say?
A: I was very stubborn. So, keep your eyes open and listen. You're not perfect, you could be somewhat of a perfectionist, but you're going to make mistakes and learn. And that's what being a young person is all about. Just being more willing to admit that you're not going to do everything right.
Q: Do you think that early season games matter as much given the emphasis on the NCAA tournament?
A: I think that if you're in a close range of teams that are competing for a couple of spots in the NCAA tournament that the work that you do at this time of year, when they examine your whole season, does have an impact. I think because we were so good last year and had so many high-quality wins in non-conference, it helped us get into the NCAA tournament. So, we certainly take every game very seriously and hope to get better as a team every time out.
Q: How do you guard Luguentz Dort?
A: Lu is a fierce competitor and very explosive. He is one of the best athletes you'll find, with this speed and his explosiveness and his jumping ability, and he's got a great mind too. He's a very, very competitive guy. I know he's got an unbelievable future ahead of him. You don't average 22 [points] a game, where he is right now as a freshman, by accident.
Q: How did you manage your emotions as a player? Because I know as a player I will sometimes get upset when I'm out there.
A: You never want to show your opponent weakness. So if something is frustrating you, you don't want to let your opponent see it. Just try to be real stoic and still enjoy what you're doing. Express yourself but be more under control. I think that gives you a better chance to perform at a more consistent level. I struggled with that early in my college career. I would complain or feel bad if I missed a shot or I had a turnover or the refs made a call I didn’t like. I was able to get that under control as I got older.
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images