Three-plus hours into their first practice of a new era on Friday, Arizona State players were furiously shooting 15 foot jumpers one after another, snaking through a line as an entire team in an effort to broaden the group's collective skill set.
At first, Bobby Hurley wasn't happy. He had the team start over, asserting that the shots were uncontested and needed to be converted at a greater rate, and with more energy from those cycling through the gauntlet which traversed the half court's entire arc.
Eventually, the first-year head coach was appeased. Somewhat.
"It was a little bit chaotic at times, that's what you normally would expect," Hurley said after the practice. "I think, especially on offense, just playing a little bit too quick on that end of the floor. A lot of stuff to clean up, making the extra pass, shot selection things. But I liked the intensity and effort. It was a long practice and the guys stood up to it physically and mentally, so a happy first day overall."
With just six returning players, there's a lot of integration that needs to take place ahead of the team's season opener Nov. 13 against Sacramento State, and not just with the new offensive and defensive schemes that all players are now learning.
Signage that adorns the overhang closest the Weatherup Center practice court declares ASU's mission statement as, "a core of toughness: relentless and poised." Hurley has a simmering intensity to the way in which he conducts practice, and he's far and away the predominant voice on the floor.
"The culture change is accountability," junior forward Savon Goodman said. "That's been in our ears a lot. We're held accountable on defense and offense in a sense but more on defense because everything we do is based on if we get a stop. That's how [Hurley] sees winning. He doesn't see winning on if we get a bucket. I think that's the biggest culture change around here and the trust he has in his players and the respect we have for him."
Defense has to come first, according to Hurley. It's about consistnecy of effort and setting the tone for what's expected of players on a day in, day out basis.
"We're just trying to stress the urgency with playing defensively in terms of rotating, helping your defense," Hurley said. "We're establishing the position on the floor we need guys to be in off the ball and talking a lot about that. We're talking about our ball screen defense. It's more geared toward that and then toward our later stages of practice we start putting in some things on offense and getting the guys familiar with some of the things we're going to be running. You kind of start with the most easiest thing and then build up to the stuff that will be tougher for guys to remember."
The Sun Devils have some key returning players capable of stabilizing the program through it's transiton. Four starters -- Goodman, senior center Eric Jacobsen, senior shooting guard Gerry Blakes, and sophomore point guard Tra Holder -- return this season from a team that went 18-16 last season, including 9-9 in Pac-12 play and 15-3 at home.
"I just think Eric is a great communicator and from the back line can anchor the defense with his positioning," Hurley said. "And then Gerry I think is a really strong perimeter defender. I like what I see from him. And then I just think we can rebound effectively. With Savon, the way he rebounds and (junior forward) Obi (Oleka) and Eric and (senior forward) Willie (Atwood), I think it's a really good core of rebounders. So I think in that regard, defense, we're in pretty good shape."
Goodman and others seemed to embrace the philosophical approach to practice, centered around defensive intensity and execution.
"I love it," Goodman said. "Coach isn't really big on offense. He wants to score a lot but i feel he emphasized defense today more than offense. I definitely feel like he did that. When we didn't play defense he got on us and made us stay in. He does drills based on if you get stops you get off and you get on offense. Most of our drills are based on if you get a stop you get a point. So I don't think he's really too big on offense. He puts in the plays and we run them but we did so much skill work in the summer that he trusts us on offense that when he puts in sets, we do our secondary flow and try to get a bucket."
Early on, Hurley expects there will be a lot of teaching moments that slow down the pace of practice. There's a lot of work to be done bringing everyone up to speed on how drills are supposed to be conducted, teaching points on the offensive and defensive schemes and so much more.
"It's a new system and it's a lot of new plays we've got to learn," Goodman said. "Today we went over our Horns set and our Flow set out of a half cout set. We put in five plays out of each of those and besides those, just competing out there. We went for about three hours today, three and a half. The biggest part is keeping up the level of intensity for the whole three hours. Our coach is big on that, if not we're going to have consequences. Everybody was out there, being really competitive, picking each other up and trying to keep the level of intensity up."
The offense consistent of a lot of very determined floor spacing coupled with quick action ball screens in succession in order to stress help defenses into miscuses which arise from having to make difficult split-second decisions.
"Our offense has a lot to do with spacing and making sure all the pieces are in the right spot in the half court and then it's some screening action and some quick ball screens and then we try to find where the pressure point is on the defense and explore that," Hurley said.
It's something they'll be working on for the next five weeks before they officially unveil Hurley's brand of basketball to the ASU community.