Q&A with Herb Sendek

Two years ago, Herb Sendek was hired by Arizona State to better the state of school's basketball program. After a 21-win season, a fifth place finish in the Pac-10 and one of the biggest turnarounds in college basketball last season, suffice to say that this goal is very much on track. Devils Digest sat down with ASU's Head Coach to review the 2007-08 campaign and various team matters.

DevilsDigest: Coach, a few weeks ago your season ended and you no doubt had some time to reflect on all that happened. What do you take away from the 2007-08 season?

Herb Sendek: "When I reflect, I always end up in a place of gratitude for the journey that we shared, for the experiences that we had, for the relationships that we built; to me that is always the best part to remember, the part to hold onto the tightest."

"We've moved forward full speed ahead; we haven't taken time to catch our breath yet. Springtime is always very important for us. Our men are working hard to finish strong academically, and have started their spring workouts. They did so about a week after the season ended, and those have gone very well. As always, we are working on recruiting, at the same time we're putting energy into our upcoming camps, trying to complete our schedule, and of course we are busy making preparations for the groundbreaking and construction of the Weatherup Center. The Sun Devil Club lunches and gatherings are always a fun part of this time of year, along with a lot of other special springtime events that we get involved with."

DD: The offense had a marked improvement you're your first season in Tempe to this past one. Did anything change in your offensive philosophy that contributed to the success of this year?

HS: "I don't think my philosophy changed, I think more than anything else our personnel changed. As a coach you are always trying to put your players in the best possible position to be successful and I thought that we tried to do our best in both years. But, clearly this past year we were able to be much more up tempo, much more wide open. We really looked to push the ball in transition, and open things up more than we were able to do the first year."

DD: Your offensive system is often characterized for taking too many three-point shots. Naturally defenses can dictate offensive schemes, but do you believe that it's a valid point or a misconception?

HS: "We understand the power of the three-point shot. If good shooters are open, we want them to take it and make it. So much of what we do is a function of the defense; the defense has much to say with that as we do."

DD: Your zone defense was effective in your first year, and continued to be successful from there on out. Do you think it was kicked up a notch and was more effective this past season?

HS: "There is no question that we developed a better understanding of what we were doing. As the season progressed we improved. We still are very much a work in progress with it though."

DD: James Harden arrived to campus last summer with lofty accolades. Looking at his body of work, did he met or exceeded those expectations?

HS: "I think that everyone expected him to be a terrific player and he was and then some. He just had a fabulous freshman year for us. He really continues to give our program national notoriety because of his presence."

DD: What areas would you like to see him grow at?

HS: "Well, I want to see him advance on a broadband front like all of our players, and I think that James will continue to work and transform his young body. He'll come back in the best shape of his career, bigger, stronger, and able to sustain great efforts for longer periods of time because of the conditioning commitment he is going to make. He is somebody who is so versatile to begin with; I would just like to see him continue on a broad based front."

DD: Harden staying for his sophomore and not testing the NBA draft was never in question. How much of that speaks volumes to his personality?

HS: "James is somebody who has great confidence in his ability. He knows his game and he knows what he has to do better than anybody."

DD: How would you sum up the season Jeff Pendergraph had and rate his improvement from last year?

HS: "I think we were able to give Jeff more help. We were able to surround him with players that make things a little bit different for him here in year two. Good players want to play with other good players. I think that we helped lift some of the burden that Jeff carried in his sophomore year."

DD: Many times, Ty Abbott was inconsistent on offense, yet a very complete player in his skills. What is your assessment of the season he had?

HS: "Ty is very precise in what he does. He is someone who pays attention to detail, he is someone who even when you are going through the offense without a defense (in practice), he's sharp. He is really tuned into every part of what he is supposed to do. I thought he also had an excellent first year, probably exceeded many peoples' expectations, and just really gave us a tremendous boost. He was clearly the difference in a number of our wins."

DD: You would probably agree that Jerren Shipp was the unsung hero on this team last season… HS: "Jerren was kind of our utility infielder. He did a little bit of everything. He played three positions on the floor. He started, he came off the bench, he is just somebody who became the jack of all trades for our basketball team."

DD: Eric Boateng had a rough start to the season, but vastly improved as time went on and by the end of the year was clear crowd favorite…

HS: "In fairness to Eric, as everyone knows, he essentially did not play competitively for two years. That's a long time. As he got his feet under him and got some game experience under his belt, he clearly continued to rise and play better, and once again he was clearly the difference maker in a couple of our wins especially down the home stretch."

DD: What do you credit his turnaround to?

HS: "I don't think it's usually just one cataclysmic event. It's not some epiphany. It's just daily grinding. It's just keeping on chopping wood, showing up and working hard. It's the old metaphor of the stone cutter - it's not the final blow that breaks the rock, it's each successive one that contributes to the ultimate breaking."

DD: Beginning of the season both Pendergraph and Boateng started for the first couple of games, and then Boateng was regulated as a reserve. Can you walk us through why that approach was nixed early in the season? Will you explore it again next year?

HS: "Every team evolves and continues to do so; you just try to put the parts together as best you can. Just because you did something one year doesn't mean you will do the same thing next year. The starting lineups change within a given year and things have a way of just working out. As things evolved for us this past year, I thought we came up with a really good rotation. Like always we will look at things from every perspective, keep our options open and take our personnel and put them in the best position to be successful."

DD: Looking ahead to this upcoming season, what can we expect from Johnny Coy and Taylor Rohde

HS: "I think we added two more players that have come from winning programs and have outstanding character quotients. Both young men have a very good skill set. They can shoot and that is something that our team needs to continue to build on."

DD: Your first recruiting class was ranked nationally in the top 20, and a year later with Coy and Rhode you are adding two solid players to the team. Why have you been able to recruit so well at ASU thus far?

HS: "Recruiting is always a constant team effort. So many people play an important role. Certainly our assistant coaches are an integral part of recruiting, but our players have a dominant role when the young men visit campus. Everybody that is pitching in to make Arizona State the best place possible, from our administration and faculty to our support staff; it just really is a total team effort."

DD: What are some of the most exciting features of the new practice facility (the Weatherup Center) that is going to be built and why?

HS: "It's going to help our ability to practice and train year-round. Obviously it is going to enhance our ability to be attractive to recruits. I think it really improves the quality of life for your student athletes…it's scheduled to break ground the 29th of April and is scheduled to be completed in about a year from now."

DD: You spent a lot of time promoting the basketball program to the students and the local community. When you were hired by ASU did you expect to engage in such great efforts to sell the basketball program to prospective fans?

HS: "It's apparent that we have and continue to face challenges. The exciting part is conquering those one day at a time and making improvements. It's not always going to be a geometric progression; there are going to be some detours, sometimes perhaps we are even lost in the wilderness a little bit. It's part of the process. It would be nice if it was always a little better than it was before and then a little bit better than that. But that's not usually how life works. We just have to keep our nose to the grindstone and continue to plug away."

DD: What are some of the unique challenges about sharing a market with four professional franchises?

HS: "I don't know how to qualify that. Our daily focus is on Arizona State and we have made some tremendous stride with the presence of our program, not just here in the valley, but nationally. Our crowds continue to grow and at the end of the season they were as good as anybody in terms of their involvement in the basketball game."

DD: Why do you think student turnout and involvement in the basketball program has increased so much this past season?

HS: "I think you have to credit our players. We have a collection of guys that are easy to root for. That kind of thing becomes contagious and it was great to see the student section continue to swell and grow. The way they stood the entire game and supported their gold was really fun."

DD: When the team just missed out on being invited to the NCAA tournament, the non-conference scheduling was brought up as the main reason. What changes can one expect to see in this area this coming season and in the near future?

HS: "It will be no different than it was this year. We are always going to schedule in a way that we think that gives us the best chance of gaining an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. We did so last year, as it turned out it didn't work that way. But scheduling is challenging, it's difficult. Here in Arizona there are not as many schools around who can simply get in a bus and come over and play you.

Back on the east coast there are so many schools when it comes to scheduling that you could draw a five-hour radius around almost anyone's campus, and there are a whole bunch of schools that pop up, bus over, and scoot on over for a game. In the west coast it is not that way. There are some geographic limitations as well."

DD: ASU does not have a great recent history of putting players in the NBA, but have you been able to involve guys like Ike Diogu, Eddie House, and others in the current version of ASU basketball?

HS: "Absolutely. We have had great communication with those players. I can list so many guys who really stayed in touch and have been a part of what we are trying to do. It really has been great."

DD: Speaking of the NBA, should it have an age limit/years after high school limit, and if yes, how long should it be?

HS: "I don't like the one year and done rule. The best thing would be to go back to the way it was: whenever somebody is ready to go based on his estimation, they should be able to do that, whether they are right out of high school or whether it is one, two, or three years out of college). I don't like the arbitrary one year personally."

"Right now as it stands there are guys that absolutely know that they are going to college for one year and so in some cases you can see where somebody would be a college student for just over a semester and before they even finish their spring semester they're packing up and heading out. If that is the known approach ahead, why not let that person just go to the NBA in the first place?"

DD: Do you feel that the ‘one and done' is the biggest threat to college basketball today?

HS: "I don't feel that this is the biggest threat for college basketball. I think college basketball is alive, great and doing well. There are a lot of good players, and it's so competitive and well- balanced. One thing that makes college basketball's attendance more challenging is that there are so many games on television. When your team is playing at home, chances are it's on television. So I think that is something to consider as well."

DD: After finishing fifth in the Pac-10 and barely missing the big dance, one would assume that the "next step" the program needs to take in the 2008-09 season, is challenging for the Pac-10 title, and participating in the NCAA tournament…

HS: "We always want to put ourselves in position where we have an opportunity to do those things. This past year was no different. It's not always the next step. As I said, sometimes things aren't that direct. But making the NCAA tournament has become increasingly more difficult. You really have to be an excellent basketball team."

Note: this interview was conducted prior to the departure of assistant coach Mark Phelps.

Thanks to Eric Menkhus who assisted with the questions for this interview.

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