Herb Sendek Q&A

<b>GREENSBORO, N.C. --</B> NC State head coach Herb Sendek's 2004-05 team was picked to finish 5th in the ACC this season at the annual ACC Operation Basketball. Sendek met with the media and here's a sampler of what he had to say.

Is this team a legit national championship contender?
It's impossible to say how good we are or how good we're going to get, we're still very much a work in progress. We're two weeks into practice and we're still trying to become a good team. I think we have a good balance of guys with experience as well as some talented newcomers. We have a chance to do well if we can stay healthy for once, if so I think we have some good parts that can work together well.

To compete in this league, do you have to almost be a national championship contender?
Absolutely. If you look at the top of this league in any given year, those teams are in the mix. I don't recall going into a season with as many teams as highly regarded as they are this year. If you look at some of the preseason polls that have come out, it's almost staggering.

How concerned are you about rebounding and who do you see being your major rebounders?
We have a chance to be a good rebounding team this year, in fact on paper we probably have a better chance on doing well in that area than we have in the past couple of years. I think when we sat around this table the past couple years, that was a legitimate concern for our team, and its still something we have to concern ourselves with and if you watched the way we've blocked out in practice the past couple days, you'd say you'd still better be concerned about that. At least in terms of personnel, we have a chance to be a better rebounding team.

Who are your best rebounders?
Well right now it's Hodge, just based on the first two weeks of practice, the guy who has the most rebounds is Julius Hodge. He just has an amazing knack for getting deflections and getting rebounds, for being where the ball is.

Do you think programs are unfairly judged on their performance in the NCAA tournament?
The answer most recently has been that more and more stock seems to be put into that tournament than no matter how good a year you have, that last game tends to overshadow the season to some extent. [Kentucky] comes to mind, they had a remarkable season, but in a single elimination tournament against good competition, and in the sport of basketball anything can happen, they bow out a little earlier than expected to UAB [Alabama-Birmingham]. The players and people involved in that program should be able to feel good about what they did for six months.

Are you over the hump?
I don't feel sports is one of those things where you ever arrive. I've personally never looked at it that way. I just try to approach each team, each season to the best of my ability. And really just stay focused on doing the best job I can for the guys on our team and our basketball program. And you know, continue to get better myself every year.

Did you ever consider yourself under the hump?
I certainly wasn't oblivious to the criticism, to the question, I was well aware that it was going on, but to the best of my ability I've really tried to stay focused on the things that I can control and continue to give my best effort and improve as a coach. But no, I wasn't on Walden Pond unaware that it was happening.

On Cedric Simmons:
He's a talented young man, he's an eager learner, he's just really trying to absorb as much as he can right now. He's blessed with a great deal of talent, we're really excited about his future with us. I think he gives us a presence that we didn't have last year. Cedric gives us someone with great length who is also blessed with terrific athleticism.

On Tony Bethel:
Obviously that year in residence was really helpful for him. He was able to learn our system, and he was able to gain a good measure of strength. He really has transformed his body more than anything. He's already helped us win games. I can't quantify them, I can't point to his name in a box score, but just his presence alone in practice last year with the intangibles that he brought to the table and the fact that he made practice so much more competitive helped us win some games last year. He's going to be an integral part of our team this year, he gives us another guys who can break defenders down off the dribble, he has a way to make other players on the court better. I think he's also a guy who will play both ends of the floor very well. He's a really good player.

On Engin Atsur:
You know Engin is such an unassuming, quiet person, somebody who doesn't draw a lot of attention to himself, that it takes sometimes a careful, astute observer to say, hey, you know what, he's really special, because he's not going to tell you about it himself. And he is really special, in every way, in every way. He's a lot stronger physically right now, and he's a really good player for us. I really respect and admire the way he goes about his business, he's a real team guy. It takes someone else to recognize his excellence for him, he doesn't do it himself.

On Andrew Brackman:
[Playing baseball and basketball at the same time] is something different, it's something that we haven't been through. But he's an exceptional athlete, and an unbelievable kid. He has the potential to become a great rebounder. I keep asking Andrew if I'd be able to get any wood on one of his pitches, and he assures my that I wouldn't.

On Gavin Grant:
Gavin, like Andrew and Ced, has really been impressive. He's a different kind of player from Julius, but like him he has good versatility, and he can do a number of things exceptionally well.

On Cameron Bennerman:
I think Cameron has continued to improve, and has had his best fall, his most consistent fall since he's been at NC State. I think that was probably bolstered by the fact that he really did have such a strong finish for us last year.

On Julius Hodge:
He's had a remarkable career for us. When we recruited him we had high expectations for him, and he certainly has met them every step of the way. He's been instrumental in the re-establishment of NC State basketball, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

Do you like the fact that he's so outspoken? Do you ever try to reign Hodge in and say, "Watch what you say"?
I want all of our players to present themselves in a way that reflects favorable on our program and their families. I think that's important, that's some we talk to our players about all the time. But at the same time everybody's not alike. So that's good, if you look at our team you have all sorts of different personalities. But that's what makes it wonderful, that we're not all the same. I want Julius to be himself, I want him to allow his beautiful personality, his engaging personality to shine through, but at the same time I always want that done in a way that is respectful of everyone and reflects favorably on the program.

Do you miss the fact that you won't be going to Cameron [Indoor Stadium, at Duke] this year?
Well, obviously we haven't had any success there. We've had a real drought over at Cameron, so we've certainly assured ourselves that we won't be changing that.

Will you be wearing red shoes this year? Or shades?
Well, we play indoors, so I won't need any shades. But when we wore those shoes in the ACC tournament, it was amazing how many people asked me, you know, 'where can we get shoes like that?' or 'can you buy those in the store?' I think they look better on Chuck than me.

How did your team and yourself recover from the loss to Vanderbilt?
It was a hard loss, one that we won't forget, one that stung a great deal. But at the same time you have to move forward. It's not something that we wake up every day and just allow to interfere with what we have to do today. It's a lesson well learned and its not forgotten, but it has been put on a shelf so we can move forward with excitement and anticipation this year.

I was crushed by the loss. The day after the game, I didn't go to work, I just kind of sat around and felt sorry for myself and thought about everything that I ever could that didn't go my way. I even thought back to high school about a girl that wouldn't go out with me. I just started having a flea party, you know, what if we wouldn't have got this guy interested, what about this call... and finally I just had to stop myself and say, let's look at this differently and think about all the wonderful things that have happened and really take a disposition of gratitude.

Do you sense NC State fans want a return to [great] success? (last ACC championship in 1987, last Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1989)
I don't sense it, I know it. We want to do it for them and for ourselves as well, and I think we've taken some important steps in that direction, and we certainly have put ourselves a few times in the mix to be able to do that.

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