Bobby Hurley and how to play point guard for college basketball’s most decorated point guard ever

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Bobby Hurley hits the recruiting trail looking for a point guard, he has a particular player in mind.

Sometimes he finds him; sometimes he doesn’t. But the Arizona State head coach knows exactly what he wants — almost to the point of being too specific.

Hurley wants the opposite of himself.

Yes, the former four-year starter for legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski who won back-to-back national championships, who was named a Final Four Most Outstanding Player and an All-American, who still leads the NCAA in assists and who is widely considered to be one of the best point guards in the history of college basketball — in addition to being an NBA lottery pick — doesn’t want another version of himself.

Hurley understands how that sounds “to a degree.”

“I think that I look for a guy that’s a little different than me,” Hurley said. “You would think that I would try and find myself again. But I kind of look for someone that is a little more explosive, has a little more athleticism, and then can we teach a little bit? Can we refine a little bit through watching film, just through how we drill and how we play?

“So, I kind of look for a guy that has a little more upside than I had. I, kind of, maybe maxed out my talent and I try and find a little bit more of a dynamic point guard.”

Talk about expectations.

Hurley doesn’t want to coach himself. He wants to coach someone better than himself. So imagine what it must be like to be a point guard for Hurley.

It’s actually nothing like what you might think, his former point guards say.

“When you think about playing for someone who’s arguably the best point guard ever, someone from an outside perspective may think it’s a lot of pressure, but Hurley, he was very much a players’ coach and gave us a lot of freedom to be able to create on the floor,” said Tra Holder, who played for Hurley at ASU from 2015 to 2018.

In Hurley’s eight years as a head coach, two at Buffalo and the past six at Arizona State, being a point guard for him has been a crash course in unconventional but applicable and necessary skills. It has been a front-row seat in a classroom of court vision, an opportunity to occasionally face Hurley — experience his trademark on-floor intensity in person — and a chance to be given the freedom to run an offense not often seen in the college ranks.

The latter is a direct result of Hurley’s experience playing under Krzyzewski, himself a collegiate point guard.

“He had high expectations, high standards of how we work and how we train, how we prepare, but when the lights were on, he allowed me to express myself playing the game,” Hurley said.

Now Hurley does the same for his point guards, giving them an extraordinary amount of responsibility, freedom and leeway.

Hurley believes if he gets the types of point guards he wants to execute his up-tempo system, then he will run the offense through them “to a large degree,” meaning they’re going to have a significant impact on the end result.

“If you want to be here and play here at that position, then you’re going to have that opportunity,” Hurley said.

Holder, who was recruited to ASU by former Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek, nearly transferred when Sendek was fired after the 2014-15 season, but he stuck around to play for Hurley. It wasn’t until after he graduated and started watching other teams that he realized just how much freedom Hurley gave his guards.

Shannon Evans, who played for Hurley at Buffalo before transferring to Arizona State when the Sun Devils hired Hurley in 2015, never felt like he had to worry about what Hurley was thinking or what the coach might do if he messed up.

It’s a shared feeling among all of Hurley’s point guards, and that belief in them instilled a level of “ultimate confidence,” Evans said.

“It’s unbelievable how much he believes in you,” he said. “It was really easy to play for him because I felt like I didn’t have to look over my shoulder. Like, if you’re playing for somebody that’s real high status and every time you make a mistake, especially as a young guy, you’re going to look over your shoulder and think, ‘Am I about to come out if I turn the ball over?’ and things like that, but he always instill[ed] confidence and made me believe in myself.”

Hurley isn’t a believer in micromanaging.

He’s not one to overcoach, said Luguentz Dort, the former ASU guard now with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Dort believes that Hurley understands the downside to overcoaching: handcuffing a player’s potential.

“I let the play breathe,” Hurley said. “I let my guys make decisions.”

But that independence to run the offense isn’t just handed over. It’s earned. And when it is, then Hurley lets his point guards do their thing.

“He gives me a good amount of freedom,” said Remy Martin, a preseason first-team All-American. “Throughout the years, we’ve developed a great relationship and, obviously, I had to work for that and for the freedom … He just allows me to do what I need to do.”

With that much freedom, however, come high expectations, Hurley said.

As Monte Bearden, who ran the point for Hurley at Buffalo, put it, every coach is looking over their point guard’s shoulders to a degree because “their program is in your hands.”

“If they’re not playing the right way, then there’s going to be consequences and it could get a little heated,” Hurley said.

Hurley added that he won’t “sugarcoat anything or pretend things aren’t happening. If we have to address something, we do it.” And that usually means the guards get subbed out so Hurley can talk them through their issues, Dort said.

But one of Hurley’s expectations of his guards was relatively simple, said former Buffalo guard Jarod Oldham: Don’t turn the ball over.

“He didn’t hold anybody back,” Oldham said. “Like playcalls, shot selection, he wasn’t really big on trying to control you in that aspect. It was more so, like, display your talent, whatever your strength is, stick to those.”

Hurley is one of 10 former Krzyzewski players or staff members who are now Division I head coaches, and his experience as a point guard has given him a “unique insight” to being a head coach.

“Your role, your responsibility as a point guard is to kind of orchestrate everything,” Hurley said. “You got to know not only your position, but what everyone else should be doing so you could direct out there on the floor. And, so, the cliché that ‘the point guard is the quarterback’ or ‘the extension of the coach on the floor,’ you feel that way … that’s part of the responsibility of being a point guard.”

Now, as a coach, Hurley relies on that experience and the rare understanding of what a player is going through to coach his guards, both on and off the court.

Former ASU guard Kodi Justice said Hurley would pull his guards aside for quick conversations, sometimes showing off his ability to see things before they happened.

“He’s like, ‘When somebody attacks, why did you attack that way? If you would’ve went this way, this guy would’ve helped and this would’ve opened up,'” Justice said.

Hurley’s renowned court vision as a player has come through as a coach, especially in the times when Hurley harped on Dort about finding open teammates in the corners off a screen on the wing.

Said Hurley: “If I notice something immediately, it just becomes a quick side conversation so that the guys will adjust and the next time maybe look for something different that they didn’t maybe necessarily see on that one play.”

One common thread that has connected all his guards has been Hurley’s intensity.

He’s a yeller and a screamer. He’s demanding. He’s tough.

“He’s just so intense on doing the right thing,” Dort said. “I must say that he really pushed us [to make] a point. It was me and Remy — you know, Remy Martin [in 2018-19] — and he was just telling us, with so much intensity, to do the right thing, because he knows that we can do it.”

Going back to his days at Buffalo, Hurley likes to seek out the opinions of his guards on their next opponent, sometimes doing it during game-day shootarounds. He wants to know what they’re seeing, how they’re feeling or what they feel are areas or matchups they can take advantage of.

Hurley has long had an open-door policy. Martin estimates 80% of his time spent with Hurley is spent talking about things other than basketball — like what Hurley has been cooking lately. He understands when a player just needs to get away.

During the 2017-18 season, when Evans was a senior, ASU lost back-to-back games on the road to the Arizona Wildcats and Colorado Buffaloes to start its Pac-12 season. Heading into that stretch, ASU was 12-0 and ranked third in the country. Evans remembered having a “horrible week” and said he didn’t play well in either loss — he finished with just seven points and five assists against Arizona and 11 points and two assists against Colorado. Before the next practice after the Colorado game, Hurley told Evans to sit down and relax. He wasn’t practicing. He needed to get his mind off basketball for a little bit.

Evans had 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in the next game, an ASU victory.

Hurley taught Martin, who’s beginning his third season as Hurley’s starting point guard, how to take in the moment, be present and “take the game by the hand.”

“The sense of moment — ‘Hey, we need a point here, we need you right now, we need to get a stop, get a steal, make a big play,'” Martin said. “Something that I know, but … he gives me his energy, he gives me his sense of intensity. He just fills me up a little bit more and it makes me want to make the right play and hit the shot that just changes the momentum of the game.”

Then there’s Hurley on the court.

He doesn’t just work on the fundamentally sound skills his guards will need. He teaches skills and moves they’ll need in real-game situations, such as same-hand and same-foot layups, running floaters, shooting while coming across the lane and fadeaways.

Bearden benefited from the simplest of lessons from Hurley: How to throw the right bounce pass. It helped Bearden neutralize the length and speed of college basketball as a freshman at Buffalo.

Justice remembered trying to keep his skill moves basic when he first started playing for Hurley in 2015, but Hurley encouraged him to be more imaginative.

“His skill breakdowns for us guards, like I’ve never seen anything like it,” Justice said. “We were working on things you only see NBA guys do.”

Said Oldham: “You don’t expect a coach to have you work on that. That’s something unorthodox. Most coaches are more so, like, traditional. Like, ‘We’re going to do it like this.’ But he was like, ‘Nah, man, we’re gonna work on everything.'”

At first, working on same-hand, same-foot layups was hard, Dort said. It goes against everything every basketball player learned.

But it worked.

“It was worth it,” Dort said. “Sometimes the defender’s not going to think you’re going to do that and you do it. And if you work on it, you just get better at it.”

And sometimes, Hurley is the defender.

It usually starts with Hurley showing his guards a skill or drill he wants them to run.

“It’s not like he can’t still do some things with the ball,” Justice said.

Then it turns into Hurley defending his guards in live drills or playing the role of the offense in defensive drills — and he’s not going half-speed. He did it more at Buffalo than at ASU, but he still tries to defend his players, some 30 years younger than him. Oldham doesn’t think Hurley can just sit on the sideline and watch other people play basketball without getting in on the action.

And when it happens, Martin said, it’s time to soak in the moment.



Arizona State guard Remy Martin gets the ball well behind the arc but pulls up anyway and splashes the 3-pointer.

“You could see why he was who he was,” Martin said.

But Hurley is on the court to work.

“He’s going to go at us,” Justice said. “He’s going to guard us. He’s going to show us, ‘OK, this is how I like it, but now go ahead, play your game and I’m going to try and stop it.’ So, he’s just a competitor.”

When Hurley takes the court, he has an underlying intention: to show his players that he’s as invested in them as they are in him. And he is always trying to learn more about his charges.

“I was guarding them, seeing if I could pick up something about a tendency or something that I could help them with in their dribble moves at me,” Hurley said. “If I was able to regularly stay in front of them, I knew that was a big problem. It was almost as if I’m staying in front of you, that’s not a good sign, so we got to keep working on our handle then.”

During preseason practices, Martin and ASU’s younger guards, including Alonzo Verge Jr. and Josh Christopher, had no problem getting by Hurley.

However, Hurley won’t let just anyone get by him when he steps on the court. Things have gotten heated. Words have been exchanged. Balls have been kicked. And Hurley has talked his fair share of trash.

“You’re going to try to do a move and he was like, ‘No, I’m not going for that,’ or ‘That’s a stop,’ ‘You missed a shot,'” Dort said.

Then there were times when Hurley talked to himself on the court.

“He would be like, ‘Good D, Bobby,'” Dort added.

While Hurley’s guards see the late-40s version of their head coach on the court, there are times when they get a glimpse of the version ingrained in college basketball fans’ memories. Hurley breaks out his old highlights on occasion, usually after bad games or a stretch of poor play.

“I remind them, like, ‘Look what I was doing here, so maybe you guys should try and do a little better,'” Hurley said. “They shouldn’t be forced to watch that because, I mean, there are some decent clips, but it’s a way for me to kind of say, ‘Hey, you want to win championships? You want to get to the highest level? Then you know we got to change some things here.’ So, I rarely bring those out.”

In the minds of his guards, Hurley has achieved everything they want to.

He went to the Cadillac of all Cadillac schools. He went to Final Fours. He won national championships. He was a top-10 draft pick. He spent time in the NBA.

That carries some serious gravitas with his players, some of whom grew up wearing Duke jerseys and most of whom, if not all, grew up dreaming of accomplishing any of the feats that Hurley did. That could come off as intimidating to some, but Hurley’s guards quickly learned that the résumé, the yelling and the intensity were just a façade. Behind all that? A coach who wanted to let his point guards play, show them moves they would actually use and hold them to the same level of expectations he had been held to once.

At the end of the day, Hurley thinks he has accomplished that.

The proof is in the relationships. His first point guards still consider him a friend, someone who’s just a phone call away.

“It wasn’t really hard to play for him,” Holder said, “because we all looked up to him, basically.”

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