Coach Bobby Hurley has Arizona State off to the best start in program history and the No. 3 national ranking. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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It was just after noon this past Sunday afternoon inside Arizona State's Wells Fargo Arena. Bobby Hurley, his stomach twisted in a knot the way it always is at the start of a game, stood in front of his bench as his players and Vanderbilt's players took the court.

"I actually took a moment and looked around," he said this week. "The place was packed in a way it never has been since I got here. It was loud, and there was a real sense of anticipation."

He paused. "Of course, I was anticipating a long, tough two hours — and I was right. But for a moment there, I was able to enjoy the moment."

The moment had come in the wake of an impressive win over Xavier and a stunning victory at Kansas, the latter a week earlier.

"You beat Kansas at Kansas, it gets people's attention," Hurley said. "It showed all of us how good we can be."

It also apparently showed Arizona State's fans something. The Sun Devils had averaged just more than 6,000 fans for their first five home games. Sunday's crowd was 10,797 in an arena that seats 10,574.

"You could feel the difference even during warmups," Hurley said. "You could feel the buzz."

Like most coaches, Hurley doesn't spend a lot of time enjoying moments, especially during the season. As it turned out, the moment passed quickly. Before he could bask for long in what was then a No. 5 national ranking, Hurley found himself coaching a team that trailed Vanderbilt 13-0.

"Never liked noon tip-offs much," he said with a laugh.

The Sun Devils finally got their wake-up call and came back to beat the Commodores, 76-64. It was the first time in school history an Arizona State team has started 10-0, and it allowed the Sun Devils to leapfrog Duke — Hurley's alma mater — to a No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press poll. Arizona State even got five first-place votes, finding itself behind only Villanova and Michigan State. It will enter Friday's home game against Pacific at 11-0 .

Heady stuff for a coach whose first two seasons produced a combined record of 30-35 and some embarrassing losses.

"There were certainly some low moments," Hurley said. "The games on national TV where we got hammered by Kentucky [115-69] and Purdue [97-64] last season were tough. I knew, or at least I thought, we were going in the right direction. But there were some pretty dark times."

Few basketball people have known the kinds of highs and lows Hurley has been through, as a player and now, at 46, as a coach.

After playing on four state championship teams at St. Anthony in New Jersey under his father, Bob Hurley — one of four high school coaches in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame — he was handed the ball as Duke's point guard by another Hall of Fame coach, Mike Krzyzewski, before his first game as a freshman.

He led Duke to three straight national championship games: the first a humiliating 103-73 loss to UNLV in 1990, the next two producing the school's first two national titles. He was adored and abhorred by college hoops fans, the little kid who wore his heart on his sleeve and then broke your heart with his play.

He graduated in 1993 as the NCAA's all-time assists leader (1,076), a record that stands today, and was taken with the seventh pick in the NBA draft that spring by the Sacramento Kings.

How good a pro he might have been neither Hurley nor anyone else will ever know. He began his rookie season as the Kings' starting point guard. That season ended on the night of Dec. 12, 1993, when Hurley, en route home from the arena, was broadsided by a station wagon driving with its lights off.

Hurley, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the car and landed, according to the police report, 127 feet away, facedown in a water-filled ditch. Another driver pulled him from the ditch before he could drown, and teammate Mike Peplowski helped keep him alive until EMTs arrived. Hurley had two collapsed lungs; five broken ribs; head, neck and back injuries; a torn right anterior cruciate ligament; a broken fibula; and a fractured wrist. Doctors later said that 99 of 100 patients probably would not have survived.

Hurley returned to the Kings the next season. But he was a shadow of his former self as a player. He stayed in the NBA as an end-of-the-bench player through 1998. Then he spent 12 years, as he later put it, "mourning" his lost career.

In 2010, his younger brother Dan, who had followed their father into high school coaching, was hired as the coach at Wagner. By then, Bobby thought he was ready to walk back into a gym. He asked his little brother to hire him.

The Hurley brothers quickly put Wagner on the map and then, after the Seahawks went 25-6, moved together to Rhode Island in the spring of 2012. Bobby could have stayed at Wagner and become the head coach, but he wanted to help his brother establish himself in the Atlantic 10 — plus, he was having too much fun to split up the act.

A year later, Bobby was offered the Buffalo job. In his second season, he took the Bulls to their first NCAA tournament appearance. That led to the offer to succeed Herb Sendek at Arizona State. It was the Pacific-12, a Power Five school. If for no other reason than the difference in weather, Hurley had to say yes.

ASU has had spasms of glory since it first played basketball 106 years ago. Under Ned Wulk, for whom their home court is named, the Sun Devils reached the Elite Eight three times, most recently in 1975 when they lost to John Wooden's last UCLA championship team.

Since then, there hasn't been much to brag about. Seven NCAA tournament appearances in 32 years; one vacated trip to the Sweet 16 in 1995 under Bill Frieder and a point-shaving scandal in 1994 that eventually led to two former players doing jail time.

Two solid young players, Tra Holder and Kodi Justice, were in the program when Hurley arrived, and he brought a third potential star, Shannon Evans, with him from Buffalo. "He had a lot of big-time teams wanting him to transfer," Hurley said. "Fortunately, he said to me right away, 'I'm coming with you.' "

All three are now seniors and are the heart of this team. But freshman center Romello White, an academic redshirt a year ago, is averaging 14.8 points and 8.7 rebounds a game, giving the Sun Devils an inside presence they lacked during Hurley's first two seasons. Mickey Mitchell, a transfer from Ohio State who became eligible two games ago, will also provide help rebounding. On Sunday, he had 13 in 23 minutes. Kimani Lawrence, a 6-foot-7 freshman who might have started the opening game, broke his foot in early November. Hurley expects him back for conference play.

In short, Arizona State appears to have arrived. Of course, there's still a long way to go. "Respect is something you have to earn," Hurley said. "We're still working on that."

For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.