Q & A With Hoops Coach Herb Sendek

An ailing Herb Sendek couldn't attend his weekly press conference, but he did gut out a teleconference with the Wolfpack beat writers. Here's what he had to say as the Pack prepares for its conference opener at Miami on Sunday.

You talked about changing around your rotation and starting lineup and such. Where do you stand with all of that?
I think we first started to discuss some of those things following the St. John's, then we had two days before the West Virginia game, and because of our health situation, we had a difficult time practicing and we took that period of time to try to get better for the game against West Virginia. In the early part of this week, we still had a few guys out, but our health is coming around right now and everybody's back in one capacity or another other, than Tony Bethel.

We continue to learn more about our guys, but this period of time, to make some of those decisions, is not as easy as it otherwise could be. I would also hasten to add that we have 10 guys on scholarship and we have to expect all 10 guys to be ready to contribute to us. That may come in different sizes and forms as we move through the next 16 games, but we have the kind of team where we would hope that different guys are able to step up on different nights.

Do you think Tony Bethel will be able to play this weekend?
I would say right now he's doubtful. He has not practiced at all, and at last check, yesterday morning, he had lost 15 pounds and still had not eaten. In retrospect, with more information being provided, it really was amazing that that young man played in our last couple of games, because not only has he lost a lot of weight and struggled during his illness, but his energy level was really low.

He's the one guy who is doubtful. We gave Engin Atsur the first part of week off, because he had a back problem that developed into back spasms after the Columbia game. So we gave him time to rehabilitate, and he's doing better. Julius Hodge continues to get treatment for his ankle, but he's back practicing. I think, fortunately for us, we have it down to one guy – and one less coach.

Senior Levi Watkins has really been struggling. What have you seen in his game that maybe needs to be fixed?
Just to really emphasize the positive, he's had a really good mindset this week at practice and really come out and continued to provide us with leadership and worked really hard, and that's not always easy to do when things on the court aren't working out like you probably hoped and expected. I'm proud of the way he's come back and worked.

I remain confident about our team. I know we haven't played our best basketball here recently, and certainly it's difficult to isolate any one guy. We have to pull together and continue to work, and hopefully play better than we were able to the last two games.

What have you seen in watching film of Miami?
Miami really, I think, got everyone's attention earlier in the season when UMass beat UConn, and Miami just really handled UMass. Then I think the exclamation point was added when they went up to Gainesville and beat Florida, and obviously everyone knows how difficult that place is to play.

They have three great guards who are blessed with incredible athletic ability, they put it on the floor, shoot it, they're athletic, they're a tough-minded team … I think, once again, they probably demonstrated that very clearly last night at Georgia Tech.

How important is depth as you enter the ACC?
Depth helps protect against some of the things that could happen during a season. There have been some very successful teams that haven't had as much depth in a given year, but haven't had many things go wrong. The most important thing, though, is that you're really good and you have players who can compete at the highest level on a consistent basis.

What are the key matchups for you against Miami?
Miami's guards have really taken the spotlight with their scoring productivity, but their frontcourt plays hard, they rebound the ball, they finish around the basket and they defend. Once you're in the ACC, sometimes it's oversimplification to say, "If we do this, we can win." You have to have great balance, play both ends of floor, expect every game is going to be very competitive and be as ready as you can be to go.

How important was this week off for your team?
It certainly came at a good time. We needed some additional time this week, and we made some progress with our health, though we're not there yet. Hopefully, even with some guys on the shelf, we were still able to improve some things.

Was there any one area you focused on improving?
We worked on everything, we really did.

Is there a chance that you could be walking into a buzzsaw in Miami? This is a football school, but this game is sold out and fans are pretty excited about it.
It's a huge game -- and we say that every game now for 16 games. That becomes the standing joke for our press conference. You ask, "How big is this game" and we say, "This game is bigger than life, 100 times 100 million," and it goes on and on, every game. Calling someone a football school or any other labels you want to toss around … those are meaningless labels. The people that are competing have great respect and great understanding for what needs to be done.

How much of your recent struggles can be attributed to health and how much to poor play?
It's really impossible to answer that question with any kind of clarity. We're never going to use our health as an excuse; you've heard every coach on earth say that. You coach the guys who are able to play the best you can. There are two realities: one, we have not been healthy, and how much of a factor that is is anybody's guess. The second factor is we have not played our best basketball. Both are true statements.

You had Anthony King in one of your camps. Have you been surprised with how well he's played, third in the league in rebounding and second in blocked shots?
He's done a really nice job for Miami; in particular, his rebounding statistics stand out. He's really added strength to his frame, and he's a real force inside.

Are you still in survival mode with the health or are you at a critical point, performance-wise, with this team?
Once again, I think those are the kinds of questions that are going to be answered as we move forward with our play. You don't have a lot of mental energy and time to sit around and try to label things. What you have time to do with what we've been through is get guys to the doctor, get guys treatment, figure out what you're able to do and not do, take whoever is available and work your pants off with them. To try to quantify – and it seems that's what everyone is asking me to do today -- in some intelligent way, whether we're 72-percent healthy and it was 28-percent poor play, and what percentage of that was an opponent like West Virginia … I can't do that. I know two things: we weren't healthy, and two, we didn't play nearly as well as we can.

What has impressed you the most about Andrew Brackman's game?
His relentlessness. He just goes after it. Whether he makes a big play or whether he makes a mistake, he just continues to give relentless effort.

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