The lure of Mill Avenue is just too strong.
It’s a phrase that certainly applies to college students from across the country who want to attend Arizona State University. The drinking and partying are legendary along that main drag, almost like a miniature Bourbon Street in downtown Tempe.
But elite high school athletes are also flooding into ASU. Mill Avenue is certainly a draw for them too, but it’s always been there. No, it’s something more that’s drawing them to Tempe, namely surging football and basketball programs led by charismatic coaches.
Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley — Hurricane Hurley, as I have dubbed him — has created excitement around a program that has almost always played second fiddle to in-state rival Arizona.
Before this season’s NCAA Tournament was canceled, Hurley had brought the Sun Devils to the Big Dance in two consecutive seasons. ASU (20-11, 11-7 Pac-12) was firmly on the bubble for this year’s tournament but was likely to get in for the third straight time.
On Monday night, Hurley and ASU landed the highest-ranked recruit in program history when 6-foot-5 shooting guard Josh Christopher, from Mayfair High School in Lakewood, California, committed to the Sun Devils. He is the No. 7 prospect in the country, according to 247 Sports.
One would think the warm weather, sunshine, mountains, attractive coeds and access to city life would always lure top recruits to Tempe. Yet for many years, that has not been the case with the revenue sports — football and men’s basketball.
As impressive as Hurley has been with the men’s basketball team, Herm Edwards is doing something even bigger with football.
Shiny new facilities don’t hurt, either. Last summer, ASU completed a five-year, $300 million renovation of its football facilities, including classy luxury suites, a gargantuan video board (5,419 square feet), new locker room and weight room.
But Edwards is selling the program like no one’s business. And he can coach, too.
Full disclosure: most of the sports media, myself included, mocked ASU for hiring Edwards in December 2017. It seemed like a wacky idea at the time because Edwards had been out of coaching for nearly a decade and was 63 years old.
While the program hasn’t yet reached the lofty expectations of ASU athletic director (and Edwards’ personal friend) Ray Anderson, Edwards has proved many people wrong.
Edwards has guided the program to a 15-11 record in two seasons, qualifying for back-to-back bowl games. But the biggest impact has come in recruiting, which is now cresting like a Pacific Ocean wave from a surfer’s dream.
Already armed with top recruits like quarterback Jayden Daniels — a budding superstar — from previous classes, the Sun Devils landed another top 30 class in 2020.
ASU’s 2020 recruiting class is ranked No. 26 by Rivals and No. 24 by 247 Sports, largely due to Edwards dominating recruiting in California, where he played college football in the 1970s at Cal and San Diego State.
The Sun Devils have eight four-star recruits in their latest class, led by players like wide receivers Johnny Wilson and LV Bunkley-Shelton, athlete Elijah Badger and running back Daniyel Ngata — all from California.
One thing was never in question, and that is Edwards’ ability to communicate and inspire. He is a magnetic public orator, and he is a sought-after commodity as a motivational speaker.
Imagine Edwards sitting in the living room of recruits and talking to their parents. He’ll win that battle more often than not.
The next step for his football team is winning more games. When Anderson hired Edwards, he said he wanted ASU football to be a perennial top 15 program.
With the type of recruits Edwards is bringing to Tempe, that doesn’t seem as far fetched as it did just two years ago.
Recruits are now flocking to Tempe, America’s newest recruiting hotbed. And it’s not just about Mill Avenue anymore.