The Strength Behind The Pack

RALEIGH, N.C. -- To be successful it takes strength from within, both in the athlete and the support system that is provided.

To be successful it takes strength from within, both in the athlete and the support system that is provided.

NC State begins its men’s basketball season Friday and the opener marks the fifth year of Mark Gottfried’s tenure as head coach of the Wolfpack. As Assistant Athletic Director and Director of Strength and Conditioning during that span, Bob Alejo has helped coordinate NC State’s steady growth.

Alejo has a diverse background within strength training and when it comes to the building process NC State is not his first rodeo. In fact, the first major project he was involved with made it to the big screen.

From 1993-2001 Alejo was the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Oakland A’s. He returned to the position for a second stint prior to joining the Pack in 2012.

“The A’s were a team that when I went there in ‘93 they were building,” Alejo recalled. “We almost lost 100 games twice.

“It feels you with pride. You really want to take something from point A to Z as fast as you can. I think this will be identical to what we did in Oakland. If you look at 'Moneyball' and what we are doing here, we started from the beginning. Our resources weren’t what everyone else has and that really the story of 'Moneyball' is how do you compete without the resources. There is other ways to win. I think at some point we are going to have all the resources. It is an orchestra that is making this work and it is kind of cool.”

Building champions from behind the scenes in a college setting is also something Alejo has contributed to. He worked at UCLA from 1984-93, including five while Gottfried was an assistant with the Bruins. UCLA won 25 national titles and had over 100 All-Americans during Alejo’s tenure.

The chance to link up again with Gottfried in Raleigh was too good to pass up.

“I spent 10 years at UCLA where I coached with Mark,” Alejo recalled. “There I was involved with all sports. Men’s basketball, when I left there, was my primary responsibility. From there I went to pro baseball for nine years and I was with the A’s. That actual link came from basketball too. I think I am more of a strength and conditioning coach than a baseball guy.

“I went back to the A’s for a second time. Then Mark got this job and we talked a little bit. After a little bit of discussion this sounded like this would be a place to come based on who was in charge, Debbie Yow and the staff that is here. I thought this was a great opportunity and a great challenge.”

“I am director of all sports but my primary responsibility is men’s basketball,” Alejo added. “The administration here thought this would be a perfect opportunity to take someone with my experience and put me in a spot to be able to lead the unit a little bit. My relationship with Mark allowed me to take over basketball. His faith in me to cover all sports but to succeed in Division I basketball was important to him. I think there is some comfort there with both of us.”

There is also a clear comfort with the student-athletes he helps. In turn, they know he has their best interests at heart.

“He has been in my corner since day one,” NC State junior BeeJay Anya said. “Coach Alejo is kind of like a father to me. Since I have been here I talk to him about everything. He has created a personal bond so that I will listen to him when he tells me what to do. I know he has my best interests at heart. I thank him for everything he has done for me since I have been here and we will continue to get better.”

A huge part of the process to see an athlete develop to his or her maximum potential is candor. Even if the pupil is willing to listen, the teacher has to say what needs to be heard.

“He was never one to sugarcoat things, he told me when I was fat, when I was being lazy and when he was proud of the work I was doing,” former NC State center Jordan Vandenberg said. “He makes you want the best out of you because that’s what he wants too.”

NC State had not reached the NCAA Tournament in the five years prior to Alejo and Gottfried’s arrival. The Wolfpack enters this season in search of its fifth straight berth to the Big Dance.

One of the biggest characteristics NC State has shown since Alejo arrived is the ability to rise to the occasion late in the season. In each of the last four years, with a NCAA Tournament berth still in doubt, the Pack has created enough separation from other schools with fine play in February and March.

“The impact Bob has had is huge,” Gottfried said. “He has transformed bodies since he has been here. It has made a big difference. He has played a major role in our success. It says a lot about NC State that a guy like him is here. That is the type of talent we are striving for. Bob could be at a lot of places. We are all grateful that he is here--I know I am. He believes in what is happening here and we believe in him.”

After spending most of his life on the west coast, Alejo is comfortable in Raleigh and at NC State.

“I love it here and I don’t think about California,” Alejo said. “This is a great place. This is our home. It is a great place to raise a family. My wife and I think this school is terrific. The leadership here is terrific. I am working with great coaches. We want to go to the top. Our strategic plan is to be a top-25 team and we are all buying into that. It is really a fun ride with everybody on the train going the same place.”

The excitement within Wolfpack Nation is at its highest level in many years. NC State has been a fixture in the NCAA Tournament and the entire athletic program continues to build momentum.

As far as Alejo is concerned, the process is still in midstream. NC State begins its next step towards the ultimate goal on Friday.

“Up to this point, we are where we want to be in a lot of areas,” Alejo said. We definitely are not where we are going to be but the players have done a terrific job of working hard for me. That is a critical part of this. I am pleased where we are but not satisfied. There is a championship here in the future somewhere.”

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