After its first full week of highly competitive practices at the Weatherup Center, Arizona State let loose in its first public scrimmage Friday night.
Under the florescent lights at Wells Fargo Arena, the Sun Devils showed off a light-hearted approach that was a glaring contrast from years' past under Herb Sendek, when even these types of outings were seriously organized.
"I've always had these type of events, just being more for the players," ASU first-year head coach Bobby Hurley said after the Maroon and Gold scrimmage. "Dunk contest, 3-point (contest). And then the scrimmage, all I'm hoping is no one gets hurt. Believe me, what we did (at an earlier Friday practice) for multiple hours, we got everything I wanted to get out of today."
The 10-minute scrimmage was more comprised of ASU players running the court and dunking the ball rather than setting up offense or playing hard on defense, but don’t think Hurley believes his team will take that attitude into the season.
The Sun Devils are too new in his tenure to be polished and Hurley said the main areas his team needs to work on are simply “just all the things we need to do to win games.”
“We’re giving up too many easy baskets due to not having the focus you need to be back as hard as you need to get back,” Hurley said. “I’m been staying on the guys to do that and working on the ball screen defense and rebounding and all those key things that you need to do to win games.”
While the Sun Devils have ample skills to improve on, Hurley said he’s been impressed with senior center Eric Jacobsen and his ability to not only establish himself in the post, but also quickly change ends of the floor.
After Jacobsen lost 20-25 pounds in the offseason, Hurley said the 6-foot-10 big man has the ability to out-run defenders on the court and be more capable in transition.
"It seems like whatever team I put Eric Jacobsen on, that team does pretty well," Hurley said. "He's been having a major impact in what we do. He's been getting a lot of touches on offense and good things are happening.”
Jacobsen, now playing at 240 pounds, averaged 8.3 points and 5.9 rebounds last season. Jacobsen is one of the three seniors on the Sun Devils roster, accompanying forward Willie Atwood and guard Gerry Blakes.
When ASU was going through its coaching change, Jacobsen said he weighed up to 275 pounds, but then took the rest of the offseason to start focusing on losing as much body fat as possible from his playing weight of 260-265 last season.
Going from around 14 percent body fat to six percent, Jacobsen is clearly more nimble and it shows on the court. Now working in Hurley’s fast-paced style of play – both in games and at practice – Jacobsen fits right in.
“The biggest [change] has just been the pace of our practices,” Jacobsen said. “There’s so stopping and talking. It’s bang-bang to the next thing and if you can’t keep up it’s on you kind of thing so that’s the biggest part and everything we’ve done in practice has been a competition so it has created an edge, a real competitive edge between guys.”
Jacobsen said his role remains executing the traditional screen and roll, posting up and having his back to the basket a lot, but with his lighter frame, he is now able to flash to the high post or take fade away shots in the post, opportunities that are present in the new scheme.
“I have to change the way I play a little bit,” Jacobsen said. “Last year I was real physical in the post and used my weight to my advantage so in the beginning of the summer it was weird to me. I can’t bang as much I guess you could say.”
As far as the culture change with Hurley taking over the reins, Jacobsen said junior guards Shannon Evans and Torian Graham – who both have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules – were leaders over the summer since they came with Hurley from Buffalo. But ever since Jacobsen and the other seniors have begun to learn the ropes, they’ve taken back their veteran roles on the team.
“All the new guys have come in and worked really hard and that’s been the biggest surprise for me this year, just he work ethic of everyone,” Jacobsen said. “Then we had guys like Shannon and Torian who came with coach who were a big help in the transition and just because me, Gerry, and Willy are seniors, we had no idea what to expect.”
With Evans unable to play this season, Hurley said he doesn’t know who he wants to back up sophomore point guard Tra Holder quite yet, but knows he wants Blakes on the court a lot, with a chance sophomore guard Kodi Justice could also get in some minutes in that role as well.
Despite a few blank spaces to fill in before the season opener on Nov. 13, Hurley said he thinks the players have been starting to retain more and get more comfortable with his practice methods.
“I just like a lot of the guys, how they look out there, how they’re meshing together,” Hurley said. “We’re trying to correct a lot of habits too. When you’re in the offseason and you’re playing pickup basketball, you develop a lot of bad habits and we’re focusing on those thing too and defense and getting better.”