No one can accuse Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley of not keeping things in perspective.
His team was on track to qualify for the playoffs for a third straight year in 2020, only to have it go off the rails with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020-21 season has been a disaster on many fronts – injuries, COVID, lack of team chemistry. And this season, many of the same challenges persist.
The Sun Devils (5-8, 1-2) return from a COVID break at 8 p.m. Saturday when they host Colorado (11-4, 3-2) in Pac-12 play at Desert Financial Arena. Even in the best-case scenario, the Buffaloes would have presented a formidable challenge.
But COVID hit virtually the entire team, including Hurley, even though all were fully vaccinated. ASU has only played once since Dec. 20, that Sunday, Jan. 2 game when the Sun Devils lost to California.
ASU and UCLA have played the fewest conference games, with UCLA being hit by COVID just before it affected the Sun Devils.
“I feel guilty for thinking that I had a hard time,” Hurley said, speaking to local media on Zoom. “Just based on what the real world, people are having real issues with COVID, lost loved ones, lost jobs and just what’s happened to the world. The impact that has had, certainly it doesn’t ‘hasn’t been good for me career-wise or what we’ve done here in the last two years. Needless to say, I don’t think any great things have happened, whether it’s injuries that we have suffered each of the last two years, multiple stoppages.
“Hopefully a lot of us got it this last time that we should be able to move on and get back to a routine and have the opportunity to play games and as long as our opponent can play we’ll be ready to play. We are excited to be able to come out and compete again.
The team entered quarantine upon returning from the Cal game after a player who did not make that trip tested positive, halting the program for five days. (This player had originally tested negative before the team left.) The entire team was tested on Thursday with a number of players testing positive.
Hurley’s first day out of quarantine was Wednesday, meaning he had had no contact with his players or assistants for 10 days. It was an unusual situation as he reckons he missed two training sessions in his previous six years, ones that came because he was on the road recruiting.
Hurley had respiratory issues, which he was concerned about due to lung surgery he had undergone after his high-profile car accident early in his NBA career.
“A lot of thoughts were going through my mind and how I felt about it but I never felt to the point that I had thought about going to the hospital but it was chills and aches and breathing restrictive and it lasted about two days, so I was able to feel better gradually,” he said. “Every day I feel better with more energy. It really did me good.”
Part of the team returned to do limited skill work last Saturday under the supervision of Hurley’s assistant coaches, but they had to do so while wearing masks. The head coach watched practically just to assess where his players were from a fitness standpoint.
Over the past two days the team has been able to return to some normality, but there is some catching up to do.
“We did a bit of conditioning yesterday and then we also worked on our attack, our timing, the things that are impacted and we worked on our skills, so guys don’t dribble the ball just because they don’t. haven’t had the rehearsals they normally would have to prepare to play a game of this quality.On a limited schedule, you’re trying to do a number of different things.
The Sun Devils will be lean in the front court when they return. Second-year forward Marcus Bagley hasn’t played since Nov. 15 with a persistent knee problem. Hurley stopped short of saying his player would not return this season, but acknowledged there was a setback because the doctor Bagley was dealing with contracted COVID.
Additionally, Hurley called junior forward Jalen Graham “doubtful” due to an illness unrelated to COVID.
If there’s any good news, it’s that senior guard Marreon Jackson has had time to recover from a wrist issue he’s been trying to fix.
Colorado has been one of the best teams in the Pac 12 in recent years under coach Tad Boyle. Saturday’s game will be the third in a week for the Buffaloes, who are coming off a 76-55 loss to Arizona on Thursday night.
The Sun Devils will pay tribute to former star Ike Diogu during the halftime festivities. His number will be the eighth to climb the rafters of the Desert Financial Arena.
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