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Bobby Hurley’s Undefeated Arizona State Is Now A Top Five Team

After the impressive Kansas upset, respect for ASU basketball soars

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Arizona State v Oregon
Their Devil is a bit more frightening than our Devil
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After the upset at Kansas, as expected, undefeated Arizona State shot up the polls and is now #5 AP and #6 in the Coach’s Poll.

We didn’t see the ASU-Kansas game until Monday night but there’s only one thing to say about how Arizona State played: that team played like Bobby Hurley played.

It was tough-minded, daring, and never quit. The coach must be very proud.

Kansas fans, Bill Walton noticed incredulously, left early. Why not? They knew what was happening.

A smaller, less talented team was strangling the Jayhawks on their legendary home court.

It reminded us of watching Hurley in college. For a while he was a high-wire act between his toughness and his emotions before he emerged as a pocket assassin, a guy who hit a crucial three against UNLV in 1991 and then said he’d been waiting for that shot all night. He’s the guy who got in Christian Laettner’s face at the halftime of the national title game in 1992 and told him he wasn't getting it done.

We’d love to be in his head for a while to see when he turned the switches between his dad, Bob Hurley of St. Anthony’s fame, and Coach K.

He learned toughness from his father growing up, often being kicked out of practice, and augmented that at Duke because like him or not, no one would say that Coach K is not a tough-minded coach. But we assume he also learned an immense amount about psychology at Duke and how to get the best out of players. We might give his dad the edge on toughness because he was a parole officer who was hard on his players so that they wouldn’t meet again in his professional capacity, but we’re not sure anyone in any sport is a better psychologist than Krzyzewski.

What does Bobby bring to his career that’s uniquely his?

Well first he played at a vastly higher level than Coach K. Bob Knight was a brilliant coach and Coach K was an outstanding point guard at Army, but he never played for the stakes that Hurley did. Very few players and even fewer coaches have been to the heights Hurley ascended to as a player.

It will be very difficult for him to communicate as well as Coach K has at Duke, but he has the template to do it and - we base this on observation from a distance and not any particular knowledge - he has an emotional sensitivity that his dad may have limited because as a parole officer and as coach at a gritty Catholic high school, toughness was far more important than niceness.

What Bobby can bring that is unique is his combination of player’s intuition and experience and the toughness and psychological insights he learned from two mentors.

We expect players will come to regard him as a player’s coach but one with a significant coach’s intellect.

As we saw in his first game against Arizona, Hurley hasn’t completely conquered his turbulent emotions and that could be a problem for him as it was when he was a freshman at Duke.

Yet he triumphed then and our bet is that he’ll continue to do so.

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