Busy Times for Coach Sendek

Elected officials are initially judged by their first 100 days on the job. While ASU basketball coach Herb Sendek's tenure hasn't quite hit that century mark yet, it's easy to realize how much he has accomplished in a relative short amount of time. Devils Digest caught up with the Sun Devils' skipper to get his thoughts on various topics regarding the maroon and gold.

Herb Sendek was officially hired by Arizona State on April 3rd. While he will be the second youngest coach in the Pac-10 conference, he brings with him an impressive coaching resume. He completed his head coaching career at North Carolina State, taking the Wolfpack to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. In those five seasons, only Duke has collected more conference wins than Sendek's squad. He was voted the ACC Coach of the Year in 2004, and reached the final four twice as part of Rick Pitino's staffs in Providence and Kentucky.

Being hired during the final four weekend, and just a couple of weeks before the late signing period for the 2006 recruiting class, it was imperative that Sendek and his staff hit the ground running. Consequently, their efforts have been nothing short of impressive. He rounded up the 2006 class with the signings of two quality players. The first was Jerren Shipp, one of the most prolific scorers in the Los Angeles area high school scene, and the second signing was Eric Boateng, a MacDonald's All-American selection who will be transferring from Duke (who will be sitting out the upcoming season). Additionally, the Sun Devil staff has been scouring the nation for prospects for the 2007 and 2008 classes, as they prepare for the all important AAU tournament circuit that will begin in July.

So, how would Sendek sum up his experiences thus far in Tempe? "It's been a real learning process," he replied. "I'm trying to find out as much as I can about the landscape, trying to meet as many people as I can. It's been very busy. There's hasn't been much time off the job. My family hasn't been here yet to join to me – they will be by the end of this month. So basically, we've had a pretty full three months of work, followed by work, and in between that we had some work (smile)."

Aside from putting the finishing touches to his squad, the new ASU head basketball coach, was also occupied by hiring his own staff. Assistant coaches Mark Phelps and Archie Miller followed Sendek from North Carolina State, while Dedrique Taylor, who comes with established West Coast ties, was hired from Nevada. Scott Perra, fresh off winning the California state championship as the head coach of Artesia High School was appointed the Director of Basketball operations. Mike Gibson arrived from Michigan State, and will serve as the team's coordinator of basketball technology. "It's worked out very well and I couldn't be more excited about the coaching staff," said Sendek. "We have coaches with a wealth of experience, good people, and guys that complement each other very well."

At North Carolina State, Sendek employed an offensive scheme that resembles the well-known Princeton offense. The Sun Devil skipper doesn't want to characterize the scheme that will be instituted in Tempe as the Princeton offense, but rather brand it the Arizona State offense. "The offense is predicated on good fundamental concepts," he explained, "and that's the key is for any offense – whether you want to call it the flex, the motion…every offense is predicated on having good fundamental concepts and ours is no different."

The Sun Devil team returns virtually everybody from last year's squad, as well as the team's top seven scorers from the 2005-06 season. Nevertheless, those numbers are no guarantee for a smooth transition to Sendek's new style of play. "There's gonna be a learning curve," admitted Sendek. "We're not gonna play the same exact way as Coach Evans and his staff did. So even though we have a lot of returning players, for us they're all new players. I'm still trying to get to know the team and the players, and I'm sure we have a lot of relationship and team building ahead of us."

Naturally, most of the out of conference schedule this coming season has been established prior to Sendek's arrival. His theory concerning this topic is based on the ultimate goal of being a participant in March Madness. "In general, your schedule has to conform with your team's needs in a given year," he said, "and I think in the most general sense you want to schedule over time to give yourself the best possible chance at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. You want to play a quality schedule within the framework of the two criterias I mentioned."

Looking forward, as Sendek and his staff assemble the squad for the 2007-08 season and beyond, the ASU head coach stated that he tries to find the best players possible, regardless of high school accolades, that will fit his system. "We've had great success with guys that fall into the category of diamonds in the rough and we've been blessed to have the blue chippers," he remarked. "We'll take them all if they're good enough and fit the system. We like the total package. We want players that can do everything well. We also want to recruit guys with great character, who are gentlemen, and fit well in what we try to do."

As mentioned, the ASU staff's recruiting efforts to date have spanned the country from Montana to Florida. Consequently, the AAU tournaments that Sendek and his assistants will attend, will take place on both coasts and in every region of the nation in between. He doesn't expect to enjoy more recruiting success closer to Tempe in comparison to more remote regions. "The West Coast is certainly a very important area for us," commented Sendek. "We have to start with our state, branch out west and we're certainly not restricted to the west. I don't think recruiting anywhere is easy. I think it's competitive and always requires a lot of due diligence. To get the better players, no mater where they're from, is always a great challenge."

Some may argue that college basketball is dominated by the abilities of the point guard position. Sendek disagrees with that notion, and believes that a successful team is one that can have quality players in all positions. "I think it's about balance," he said. "You can have a great guard, and if you have a bunch of lousy players you probably won't be any good. Another adage is that defense wins. That's true, provided that your offense isn't just awful. You can play pretty good defense, but if no one can make a shot, it's gonna be hard to win. So, I tend to prescribe to the theory that balance wins. The more balance you have, the more excellence that you have in different areas, the more chance you have of winning."

One reason the hiring of Sendek caused much excitement among the ASU fans, is the fact that he was able to succeed in the ACC, regarded virtually by every college basketball expert as the best among all Division-I NCAA schools. Nevertheless, Sendek certainly doesn't feel that the ACC's title of best conference is one that is cemented in stone. "I'm not conceding that any conference is the best in the country," he explained. "Each year that story remains to be written. There are outstanding leagues in every nook and cranny of this nation. There's great balance and parity in college basketball and I don't think that the Pac-10 needs to take a back seat to anybody."

It may just be a case of the infamous East Coast bias, but some college basketball pundits have described the Pac-10 as having a reputation for playing ‘finesse' basketball. Sendek refutes that theory and or any sweeping generalization that is made concerning one conference or another. "When you paint with that broad of a brush, you really have a hard time getting into those nooks and crannies and doing the woodwork," he stated. "I think there are finesse teams in every conference and they are teams that are physical in every conference."

"There are some teams that are more finesse in the first half and in the second half, based on their coach's presentation at halftime, become physical," continued Sendek. "I just don't see it as cut and dry that this league is finesse and this league is physical. I think it changes. In the beginning of the year, a team may be more finesse and then they have an epiphany and now are more physical."

From parking to concession stands, ASU is undergoing a sweeping movement to improve the basketball experience at Wells Fargo Arena. Needless to say that Sendek is endorsing that movement and will be an integral part of it. "We're gonna give Wells Fargo Arena a face lift," he said. "Having quality facilities is important to everybody. It's certainly critical in recruiting, and you want the fans that come to this venue to have the amenities that will lead to a good experience. So, we want to create an environment that isn't only good for competitive reasons, but also good for our fans and the two really go hand in hand. There's a real determination to work together, to come together. People have really expressed a good major of excitement. There seems to be an eagerness to move forward together."

Eagerness is certainly an adequate adjective to describe the atmosphere in the south wing offices of the third floor of the Carson Center. The Sun Devil basketball staff isn't only excited to embark on long road trips during the July evaluation period, but also to start individual practice session with members of the team a month later, not to mention full squad practice sessions in October. It's no secret that fan support has dwindled the last couple of seasons, and is now counted on more than ever to start the turnaround many have been yearning for the maroon and gold.

"We really would embrace their presence at Wells Fargo Arena," remarked Sendek concerning the ASU fans. "It starts with everybody. The students are important, but every single person is important. We're gonna need everybody joining hands in an unprecedented way. We humbly ask that everybody grab a friend and come on. That's how we'll continue to build atmospheres – one person at a time."

Hiring a tireless worker and a coach of the caliber of Herb Sendek should certainly lay the groundwork for successful years to come…

NOTE: Many thanks to Big E Sundvl who assisted with the questions!

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