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ASU Men’s Basketball: Freshman Sam Cunliffe’s transfer leaves the Sun Devils in a tough spot

(Photo: Eliav Gabay/WCSN)

Arizona State freshman wing Sam Cunliffe requested release from his scholarship with intent to transfer on Monday, as first report by Jeff Goodman of ESPN.

Cunliffe, a 6-foot-6 guard/forward from Seattle Rainier Beach High, was ASU’s prize recruit of the 2016 class, and the first top-50 recruit for second-year head coach Bobby Hurley. ESPN ranked him 41st in its top 100, making him the highest recruit to join the Sun Devils since James Harden in 2007.

“We wish Sam the best in the future,” coach Hurley said in a statement.

Cunliffe started all 10 games for the 6-4 Sun Devils, averaging 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes. In his best game, on Nov. 23 against the Citadel Bulldogs, he had 23 points and 10 rebounds in a 127-point effort for ASU. He started the season as the de facto power forward, being the second-tallest player in ASU’s undersized starting lineup.

“In the first couple games, I was setting more ball screens and other stuff I just wasn’t used to doing,” Cunliffe said at a November practice. “After that, me and coach talked. He wanted to get me going again, moved me back out to the wing where I was more comfortable.”

Cunliffe has not spoken on the reasoning behind his decision. While it appeared like he had acclimated to his new position, it seems like a possible factor in his choice to leave the program was simply a poor fit, although the true motive is still unclear. Since the beginning, he has cited Hurley as one of the biggest reasons he came to ASU when he made his summer commitmentCunliffe was getting significant minutes as a true freshman with a Power Five program.

The loss of Cunliffe puts ASU in a tough spot for the immediate future, as Hurley will now have to make a change in his starting lineup. The Devils host New Mexico State on Saturday, and then a matchup against the undefeated Creighton Bluejays looms as well. Pac-12 play begins with a visit to the Stanford Cardinal on Dec. 30.

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