Column: Hurley ejection from Arizona game sets tone for Arizona State tenure

Arizona State fans got another look at the intensity of Bobby Hurley when he was ejected from Sunday's game against Arizona, his first in conference play as a Pac-12 coach.

The honeymoon phase with Arizona State's first-year basketball coach is in full swoon at this point, with even senior quarterback Mike Bercovici weighing in despite playing a different sport at the school, declaring on twitter, "Bobby Hurley for President" following Hurley's ejection from Sunday's game against Arizona. 

It must be said that whether it was his intention or not, Hurley's first technical foul came too early and with his team still having a chance to win the game, at that point down six points with 74 seconds left following a foul call against forward Savon Goodman. The Sun Devils had fought back from down 16 points in just a few minutes, had earlier scored six points in half a minute. He had been vigorously warned earlier and been aggressively arguing his case with officials throughout, so it didn't come out of the blue. 

At the time Hurley got his second technical foul and ejection, I understood it, even if I didn't agree that ASU was wronged on that particular blocking foul called against sophomore point guard Tra Holder. But there were a lot perceptional benefits to his actions that I think are much bigger than any one game, particularly when it's his first outing against Arizona and he's even more under a microscope than he already was in his first season given the understandable intrigue. 

Hurley is loved by his team for how much of a players' coach he is and his actions reinforced the 'he fights for us' narrative. Senior forward Willie Atwood, in the midst of competing for Most Improved Player in the Pac-12, said as much after the game. The value of that shouldn't be underestimated. We're talking about impressionable 18-22 year olds who want to find something to latch onto and embrace. It's a cultural thing that can seep into every crevice of a player's habitual process and way of thinking in a transformative way that more broadly rises the capability of a team and program. 

Also, the Sun Devils desperately need such an infusion of a magnetic personality at the helm of their basketball program. Former coach Herb Sendek similarly was tossed from a game and threw his hands into the air to rally support from the fans, but it more atypical of his personality type than Hurley. Sendek was passionate and intense in a different way. Hurley wears it on his sleeve and it's palpable and draws eyes on him in a way that can be intoxicating and potentially even create a level of reverence that all great coaches seem to engender. Look no further than college basketball legends, including Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams. 

That's what Todd Graham was able to generate in his initial years at ASU, but with Sun Devil basketball it's of even more value because of the disparity of fan support between the two sports at the school. Even the possibility of such a thing with ASU basketball is a hugely significant development. It's going to take a lot to improve ASU's overall lot in the Pac-12 pecking order, and having a coach who is perceiving as having this type of charisma and charm is invaluable to that process. 

People look at Hurley and see an enigmatic figure. How did this guy who was generously listed at 6-feet tall and 160 pounds end up the best college point guard of his generation and a lottery pick who would have been an NBA standout if not for nearly getting killed in a car accident? How? Who is he? 

Hurley captures attention in an era in which that's a difficult thing to do. People want to be entertained and make purchasing decisions with that in mind. It's not as though a lot more will buy tickets and show up simply because he's the coach. But it's an added incentive that combined with solid play from an enjoyable team to watch will provide ASU with a much-needed shot of adrenaline. 

And Hurley's preferred approach to basketball is conducive to that, as we saw Sunday. It was a game with not a lot of fouls or turnovers, high field goal percentage shooting, an enjoyable pace of place to the eye. His team has shown a tendency to rebound the ball with intensity and play defense with purpose. ASU isn't the most talented of teams, but it is talented enough that when combined with its competitiveness is an enjoyable enough product to generate increased interest when Hurley himself is added as the sweetener.

Arizona coach Sean Miller has earned a reputation for being very intense on the court and aggressive with arguing his case to officials. Some have even said it has hurt his team's ability to get foul calls as a result. Whether it was intentional or not, Hurley's actions demonstrated he's going to be just as vigorous in games as his contemporary in Tucson. It had the feel of a coach who isn't going to take a backseat to anyone in demanding the same level of consideration for his team, his players. It's also the type of thing that will resonate with recruits and their coaches and families, and play well in the media. 

All of that is a good thing for ASU basketball. 

Sun Devil Source Top Stories