TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley waited with nerves for six picks before the Sacramento Kings selected him in the 1993 NBA Draft.
The wait lasted quite a bit longer last Thursday, when Sun Devil prospects Luguentz Dort and Zylan Cheatham sweated out the entire two rounds before finding homes as undrafted free agents.
Each inked a two-way contract — Dort with Oklahoma City and Cheatham with New Orleans — after falling out of the first round and negotiating through the second round to find the fitting landing spot as their respective pro careers begin.
Hurley was in Brooklyn with the duo, feeling all the nerves that came with his own draft experience all those years ago.
“I had the same feeling in my stomach for those guys, the same anxiety all day and then just wondering when it was going to happen for them,” Hurley said, comparing Thursday with his own draft experience. “Brought back a lot of feelings like that.
“In the moment it’s not easy — it wasn’t easy for those guys,” the ASU head coach added. “I think moreso Lu because of where he was projected to go — most people had him going significantly higher. There were reasons behind the scenes as to why he wasn’t drafted at all. There were plenty of opportunities, it just wasn’t the right opportunity.”
Dort was a projected late first-round pick after he averaged 16.1 points and 4.3 rebounds during his freshman campaign. His raw decision-making and questionable shot selection — he hit 41% last year — might have hurt his stock, but his defensive aggressiveness and attacking slashing could be developed well by a Thunder franchise known for turning raw athletes into contributing rotation players.
Cheatham likewise doesn’t need to be coached on effort.
A relentless rebounder and versatile defender with the potential to defend guards to some power forwards, he joins a rebuilding Pelicans team as member of a rookie class that also includes No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, center Jaxson Hayes and combo guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
On two-way deals, both Cheatham and Dort are assured to make the NBA but will likely split time between their NBA team and the G League.
“Their value was kind of demonstrated by how quickly they signed two-way contracts,” Hurley said.
Hurley appreciative of contract extension
Hurley received another contract extension this offseason amid a pursuit of his services by at least one other basketball program, St. John’s.
He said a sit-down two weeks after the team’s NCAA Tournament run ended with ASU President Michael Crow and Vice President of University Athletics Ray Anderson parlayed into a new contract agreement.
“It was amazing just how much President Crow knew about our program,” Hurley said.
“He always watched and had some tremendous observations just as a great leader that he is, just about things that he saw from me (that were) good and some that made me look about ways that I could keep getting better as a coach. It’s tremendous to get that type of feedback and they immediately made it known to me that they wanted to get me here for the maximum amount of years so that I continue to build off what we’ve been able to do for the last two seasons (of NCAA Tournament appearances).”
Still filling out staff
Arizona State lost two assistant coaches from a year ago and filled one of those vacancies by hiring Eric Brown away from an assistant post at UNLV.
The other opening remains unfilled, but Hurley said he and top assistant Rashon Burno have picked up the slack both regarding developing their current team and in recruiting.
Hurley said he’s in no rush to fill the final vacancy and that the addition of Brown should strengthen his contact base on the West Coast.
“I just think that Eric, his whole body of work is what we were attracted to,” Hurley said. “He’s been in the business a long time, he’s worked at multiple places, he’s a pro. He’s good on the floor and he’s got great contacts. He’s also a West Coast guy. Even though I’ve been out here now (going on five years) … it’s nice to have a guy on staff who has connections on the West Coast. He just came really highly-regarded, a lot of good people that I respect reached on on his behalf.”
Hurley added he even met with former Nebraska head coach Tim Miles during his assistant search. Miles, he suspects, could take this year off from coaching and contribute as a TV analyst before finding another head coaching opportunity.
Who’s stepping up?
Hurley cited sophomore Taeshon Cherry and juniors Kimani Lawrence and Romello White as players who could take steps toward accepting larger roles this upcoming year.
Lawrence has seemingly grown another inch and added 10 pounds, putting him around 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds and giving him the ability to play the 2-4 positions, according to Hurley.
Maybe the biggest point of conversation came in Hurley’s comments about Cherry, who the coach believes had a wakeup call playing behind Cheatham and seeing Dort’s NBA stock rise last year.
“It could be a bit of a wakeup call, like, ‘I got to get it going here,’” Hurley said. “I just noticed more maturity about him in workouts, him controlling his emotions a little bit better and just his focus in how he was training. I think he knows with Zylan graduating and going on there’s an opening there for him to step in and be an impact player.”
Hurley also said he’s excited about incoming freshmen guards Alonzo Verge and Jaelen House in terms of their vocal leadership.
One more NBA Draft memory
Hurley, on how he did not bring the best fashion sense to his own draft day in 1993: “I had a decent suit. The suit was OK. The fashion piece was not … as much in focus, and I didn’t have much fashion style at the time. I think I ended up getting a tie at the mall like two days before the draft.”