ASU men's basketball squad returns from COVID-19 pause to face tough Colorado team

·4 min read

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 postseason for a third straight year in 2020, only to have that derailed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020-21 season was a disaster on multiple 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 pause at 8 p.m. on Saturday when they host Colorado (11-4, 3-2) in Pac-12 play at Desert Financial Arena. Even in the best of circumstances, 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 played just once since Dec. 20, that game coming on Sunday, Jan. 2 when the Sun Devils lost at California.

ASU and UCLA have played the fewest conference games, with UCLA hit with COVID right before it affected the Sun Devils.

"I feel guilty to think that I've had it tough," Hurley said, speaking with the local media on Zoom. "Just based on what the real world, people are having real problems with COVID, have lost loved ones, lost jobs, and just what's happened to the world. The impact this has had, certainly it hasn't been good to me in terms of career-wise or what we've done here the last two years. It goes without saying I don't think great things have happened, whether it's injuries we've gone through each of the last two years, multiple stoppages."

"I'm hoping so many of us got it this last time that we should be able to move forward and get into a routine again and get the opportunity to play games and as long as our opponent can play then we'll be ready to play. We're excited about getting to go out and compete again."

The team went into quarantine upon its return from the Cal game after a player who did not make that trip tested positive, shutting down the program for five days. (That player had originally tested negative before the team's departure.) The entire team was tested that Thursday with a number of players coming up positive.

Hurley's first day back out of quarantine was Wednesday, meaning he hadn't had any contact with his players or assistants in 10 days. It was an unusual situation because he estimates missing two practices in his previous six years, with those coming because he was on the road recruiting.

Hurley had issues breathing, which concerned him because of a lung surgery he had after his much-publicized car accident early in his NBA career.

"A lot of thoughts going through my mind and how I felt about that but never felt to the point I thought about going to the hospital but it was chills and the body aches and the restrictive breathing and it lasted about two days so I was able to gradually feel better," he said. "Each day I'm feeling better with more energy. It definitely hit me pretty good."

A portion of the team returned to do some limited skill work last Saturday under the supervision of Hurley's assistant coaches but they had to do so wearing masks. The head coach watched virtually just to assess where his players were at from a fitness perspective.

The last two days the team has been able to return to some sense of normalcy but there is some catching up to do.

"We did some conditioning yesterday, and then also working on our offense, our timing, things that are impacted, and getting some skill work in, so that guys aren't dribbling the ball off their foot just because they haven't had the repetitions they normally would have in preparing to play a game of this quality. On a limited timetable you're trying to do a number of different things."

The Sun Devils will be thin in the front court upon their return. Sophomore forward Marcus Bagley has not played since Nov. 15 due to a lingering knee issue. Hurley stopped short of saying his player would not return this season but acknowledged there was a setback because the doctor with whom Bagley was dealing contracted COVID.

In addition, Hurley dubbed junior forward Jalen Graham "questionable" due to a non-COVID related illness.

If there is any good news, it's that senior guard Marreon Jackson has had some time to recover from a wrist issue that he had been trying to play through.

Colorado has been one of the Pac 12's better teams 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 at Arizona Thursday night.

The Sun Devils will be honoring former standout Ike Diogu in festivities at halftime. His number will be the eighth to go up into the rafters at Desert Financial Arena.

Reach the reporter at Michelle.Gardner@gannett.com or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona State men's basketball to play Colorado after COVID-19 issues