Q & A With Herb Sendek

Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek met with a host of media members this afternoon to discuss 10th-seeded NC State's matchup with seventh-seeded Charlotte on Friday in Worcester, Mass., and other topics surrounding his basketball program.

Can you start off with an update on Tony Bethel and Jordan Collins.
Sure. You know, both guys continue to receive treatment. Neither player has been cleared to practice yet, so both, I would say, remain indefinite for Friday's game.

What is the nature of Bethel's injury?
He had some bleeding and some swelling in his groin area. He obviously aggravated it, injured it that first play of the second half [against Florida State] where he stole the ball and went in for the three-point play. He's been receiving a lot of treatment since then, but sometimes those things can take longer than you'd like or expect.

What have you learned in watching film of Charlotte?
They have a very talented basketball team. They have Eddie Basden, who is not only the Defensive Player of the Year in Conference USA for the second consecutive year, but also the Player of the Year. And that's a league that has a great deal of talent; guys like Francisco Garcia from Louisville, play in that conference. And … Brendan Plavich, just a remarkable shooter with truly unlimited range. I saw him hit a shot on tape from the edge of the jump circle – and it was effortless. And he needs very little time and space to get his shot. And then, Curtis Withers is another terrific player for the 49ers. He's about 6-8, 240, and really plays everywhere and does a little bit of everything for them, all over the court. Just recently, he had 20 points at the half against Memphis.

And then they have any number of other guys who are very good players for them, although I think those first three guys do the majority of their scoring.

With Plavich, are we talking J.J. Redick range?
Yeah, unlimited range. I mean, it's uncanny; it almost reminds you of when guys used to shoot the two-hand setshot from halfcourt – only his is a jumpshot. And it's not like he has a setshot and needs a lot of time and everybody else on the court has to be on the ground. He needs a split-second to get his shot, and even when you're on him, he uses fakes and his strength and his savvy to still get his shot up and away.

Ilian Evtimov really seems to play his best basketball in the postseason.
Well, he really has stepped up for us in big games, and right now, he's playing outstanding basketball. I thought his ACC Tournament, as you know, was excellent. And I think he has a good measure of confidence right now, and with his experience, it's important that he be one of the guys who provides great leadership for us and continues to play at a high level.

When you get to this time of the year, it's difficult to advance if your best players don't play their best.

It seems like he can carry the team when other guys are having off nights.
He can do that regardless. He's a very good basketball player and I just think he was a real key for us in Washington.

How much was he hindered early in the year due to the knee surgery?
I think each of the last two years he went through that evolution. He came off surgery in each of the last two years, so he had a prolonged period when he wasn't able to be in the gym as normal. And then, once he did return, he was carefully monitored; he wasn't somebody who was able to go all the time at full speed. And so, obviously, [in terms of] timing and just getting back in the groove, it wasn't until later each of the last two years, I think, before he hit full stride.

He shot around 25 percent against non-conference opponents and just over 50 percent against ACC teams.
And I think last year you'll see a similar trend, where he just kept getting better and better through the season. I think it's probably more than a coincidence that [it was] once he got some practice time and some consistency on the court under his belt before he was able to play that way in the games. And like I said, in each of the last two years, he went for a significant period of time when he wasn't doing anything, and it's hard to go from doing nothing to being your best, no matter what you do.

Basden will likely guard Julius Hodge. Can you talk about that matchup?
I don't know for sure what their plans are. I know they play multiple defenses, they like to really keep you off-balance, they change a great deal.

But anytime you average three-plus steals a game [like Basden], that's remarkable. To consistently take the ball away from the other team night in, night out, that many times, when they know that that's what you do well, it means you have a real gift. I don't think that's something you teach; guys that do that have a real gift of being able to get their hands on balls, being able to anticipate, and he's terrific at doing that.

For a team you haven't seen a lot of, how much film do you watch?
We watch enough so that we feel like we have a handle on what they do. You still don't have a whole lot of time, maybe a day or so more than you ordinarily would within a conference, and you have a limited amount of time with your team. And sometimes it's not nearly as important what you know as a coach, but what you can get across to your team in a short period of time so that you don't just overwhelm them with information. Because they still have to be able to play rather than think, and just rely on the habits that you formed over the last several months.

Is there anything you've noticed that you can attack with Charlotte? They've lost by double-digits in each of the last three games.
They've had a great year and I don't know if there's anything that's unique to those three games that stands out in my mind. They played a couple on the road, and it's a long season for everybody. Illinois came close, but other than that, nobody went into that last weekend undefeated.

Were you surprised to be seeded so low?
I really didn't know what to expect. It's not something I gave a lot of thought to. Our mission down the homestretch was to get in, and we didn't have a lot of time and energy to try to analyze things. We were just full steam ahead trying to get into the field.

I think selecting the teams is very difficult, and I think seeding them, in some cases, could be almost an impossible task. I don't know how you differentiate between some of those teams, although you have to; everybody has to have a number beside them at the end of the day. In many cases, it's a flip of a coin.

So we're seeded where we are, and obviously, our seed means that we draw a very challenging first-round opponent, and that's the way it is. So we've just got to go play.

The 10th seed is usually an underdog, but this is Conference USA vs. ACC, so it's a little different.
I guess, from that standpoint, we would be the underdog with Charlotte having a seventh seed and us having a 10. But either way, whether you consider yourself the underdog or you consider yourselves the favorite, you've got to go play the game. Those labels kind of go out the door when you toss the ball up and you've got to play. You've got to play it.

Do you think the Selection Committee showed a sense of humor by putting two North Carolina schools together?
I didn't laugh.

There's always interesting matchups in the field, where maybe a former assistant of a head coach gets paired against his former boss, or two teams that drink the same water play against each other early. There's all kinds of interesting matchups that sometimes come out of those brackets, and obviously, we're playing a school that's in our state, a school that has great tradition, and right now, you certainly have to consider them one of the perennial powers in Conference USA, together with teams like a Louisville or a Cincinnati.

Just flipping the channels, I watched for a few minutes back when they beat Cincinnati earlier in the year, obviously not having any idea we would be playing them in the Tournament. And I can just remember watching that game and thinking, "Wow. This team is really a talented team -- I'm glad we don't have to play them this year." And now we have to play them.

Has there been any discussion in scheduling them again?
We played them in the one tournament a few years ago and really haven't had any further discussion about playing them on a regular basis.

When's the last time an opposing coach called your radio show?
I don't know … I don't know.

How hard is it to get into an offensive flow with an early-morning start in a cold gym? I remember a couple of yeas ago in Oklahoma City [against California] it was a struggle.
Well, the gym will be the same temperature for both of us, fortunately, and we'll both have to deal with the same circumstances. So I don't think we want to go there. We're going to play whatever our game is scheduled to tip and we're going to be at the right gym, so we can't get sidetracked with all those kinds of things.

I do think our team a couple of years ago in Oklahoma City had a very short turnaround. We made it to the ACC championship, we got back late Sunday night, we ended up playing the first game on Thursday [and] it was like an 11:30 a.m. local tip. It was a very, very quick, hard turnaround for our team in that particular year. I think our opponent, in that case, had not just one, but a couple of days more than we did. And I thought that was very challenging for our team. Fortunately, this week, we've got an extra day given our health situation. That's good. I don't know that it will make a difference, but who knows?

Did your guys have a sense of accomplishment this weekend?
Our guys did feel good about themselves, because I think they recognized how hard they had worked. No matter what you do, when you give all of yourself like that, you tend to give yourself permission to feel good about what you've done. Our guys did play good basketball this weekend, and, really, have done so for several weeks now, when we had very little room for error. So from that standpoint, they did handle a difficult situation exceptionally well.

Your team has a lot of experience in the NCAA Tournament. How important is that?
Experience is always welcomed, I think. We have some guys who are veteran players, and we're going to have to lean on them, because we're also a team right now relying on some younger players. And I think it's going to be important that guys like Ilian and Julius and Levi help show the way. There's no substitute for experience, in some cases, and I think those guys have an important role going into Friday's game.

What did your young guys learn in the ACC Tournament?
Well, I just think any time you compete in that atmosphere at that level of competition, you find out what it's really all about at this level. And those kinds of experiences, I think, serve you well as you move forward. It was a great experience for our young players.

On a personal level, where does the strong finish rank among your greatest accomplishments?
Aside from wins and losses and where you finish in the standings and all those things that are the bottom-line measure that we use so often in sports, if you just set that side for the time being, it just was a really good feeling to be part of this group because of the kind of people they are and the fact that they just really continued to battle when we had a lot stacked against us. And so from that standpoint, regardless of what happens in terms of wins and losses, I think those guys will always be able to hold onto that. We were in a jam, things were stacked against us and we found a way to bring out the best in each other and in ourselves -- and that's a good feeling.

What does it say about the guys that didn't play a lot at the end of the regular season, especially Cameron Bennerman, and then played a lot this weekend and stepped up?
I think Cameron is not alone in that his role has changed several times through the course of the season. Our team has constantly had to adjust. Cameron was playing a lot on our basketball team; in fact, he was our second-leading scorer at one point. And he got hurt; he damaged ligaments in his arm and he was out for an extended period of time. For weeks. It's one thing to be out a couple of days, but when you're out weeks during the middle of a conference season, and everyone else is practicing and competing and you're riding a stationary bike, you come back and now his role was different. He didn't get to pick up right where he left off, so he had to go through that transformation. Then our team had changed again with some other health issues, and I just thought the way he played in the tournament is the way he's capable of playing, and he really gave us some great play in Washington. And, obviously, we're going to need him to be that good and better when we go to Massachusetts.

You've played 19 straight against conference teams, in familiar venues with familiar refs. Now you're going to play in a foreign gym against a team you don't know. How does that change the tone of things?
I don't know quite where to go with that … It's the same for all of us. We're all coming out of conference seasons and going to play someone different, someone we're not as familiar with. But that's not unique to us; they have a similar path that they've followed. They've been playing in Conference USA and they haven't played us, and I think everybody tries to learn as much as they can about their opponent here in the first few days of the week and put your gameplan together and you've got to go play. You may not, through that process, ever get to a point where you're as familiar with the people you are in your conference that you just get to play two or three times a year, year after year, and you get a pretty good feel for their tendencies. But the thing is it cuts both ways on that.

But the NCAA Tournament experience, the atmosphere surrounding it, how different is it for players and coaches?
It's a great atmosphere, it's exciting to be a part of March Madness. Everybody strives to be one of 65 teams, everybody wants to be a part of the tournament, and so it is, it's exciting, it's thrilling, and everybody wants to do their best, believe me. But we've had a season full of preparation. We've been in a lot of challenging, exciting places that we've gone to this season. We played at Washington, in a jam-packed arena there. We went to BYU, a team that had only lost a handful of games in their building in many years. We took our team to Madison Square Garden. We played an ACC schedule, we played at all the – this year, many of the great arenas in the ACC. The ACC Tournament … I mean, what an atmosphere, the MCI Center, all those people and throngs of media.

And so our guys have been exposed to a lot, and the ACC is another step and the NCAA is another step and hopefully the journey has prepared us as well as it can.

When you saw that Plavich shot from the edge of the jump circle, do you remember which game that was, or where?
I think I saw him hit it against Louisville and that game was on television as well. I caught part of that when they were playing, and he was amazing that night.

What will your approach be in defending him?
Wow. Try not to let him hit those threes.

Anybody in particular you'll have on him?
We'll put a number of guys on him. We might try to put three guys on him.

When you watched that Charlotte-Cincy game, what made you think they were a tremendous team?
I just thought the game was played at a high level. Cincinnati's a heck of a team, and the athletes on both teams just really competed, made shots. It just was a heck of a college basketball game.

Are you more inclined to look at Charlotte's real good games or a couple of tough losses when you put together a gameplan?
The good games. I think, maybe with some exceptions -- I know Illinois only had one loss – I haven't watched all the teams in the country that carefully, but you could probably find some games for just about all of us that weren't very good at some point during the season.

How much of that Cincinnati game did you watch
I watched a good part of it.

Do you expect either Bethel or Collins or both to play or are both pretty doubtful?
I'm going to remain hopeful, but I don't think that we can plan for them to be there for sure. I think Jordan is probably further ahead than Tony in his recovery. So we've just got to be prepared for all contingencies.

Is there a confidence in seeing your team play well without those two?
We had some guys step up, and that's what we're going to have to have happen this weekend, I think. And you've got to play with who's ready and who's available, and that's something that we've kind of grown accustomed to this season. And different guys are going to have to be ready to meet the challenge.

J.J. Redick said that Engin Atsur was one of the toughest guys to defend him. Atsur was all over him on Saturday despite Redick's 35 points. Did you get any sense of frustration on Engin's part that could be lasting?
No. Engin is a great competitor. Obviously, he didn't feel good about Redick scoring those points, but he's also someone who has amazing self-control and focus. He doesn't easily fluster or flinch. He's somebody who gives it his best, wants to do well, is competitive enough that he doesn't like not doing well. But at the same time, he has a great maturity and if something doesn't work in his favor, he doesn't become rattled. He doesn't flinch.

You have had strong success in tournaments. Is there a different mindset for tourneys or to what do you attribute that success?
To be honest with you, we've had some terrific players play very well. We don't change our approach that much. We pretty much go about business as usual, we try to prepare and work hard, and go play our best. And our guys have done a nice job of improving as the season has gone along and put themselves in a position to be playing their better basketball down the homestretch.

What are the qualities that make Basden such a good defender?
He's just strong and powerful and quick and just has a lot of excellent athletic attributes. And obviously, he's experienced.

This team has had tough NCAA Tournament losses. Does that provide any extra drive? These guys have gone down about as hard as anyone.
Yeah, we have. We've had some tough losses. I don't think anybody forgets those. You can't hold onto them and dwell on them, but none of our guys forget those. I think our guys are very focused; they understand what this whole thing is about.

Does it add to the drive?
It may. It may. But I think everybody who enters the tournament is really focused and driven to do well. Every game, one team is going to win and one's going to lose, so it's unlikely you'll catch anyone sleeping. Everybody, at this point of the season, is going to be ready to go.

Plavich may remind us of J.J. Redick. Is there anyone that Basden reminds you of?
Well, I'm not very good at those kinds of comparisons. This weekend, we were talking about what team they most reminded me of, and I'm just not too good at just picking one person and one guy and saying, "Those two guys are alike." He's a different kind of guy. I don't know who comes to mind that he's most similar to, but he plays both ends of the floor. He's a great defender and he also scores. He's Player of the Year in a heck of a conference.

You said there was some sense of accomplishment in the past couple of weeks. Is there any danger that they could be content in getting to this point?
I don't think so. I don't think so.

You have no concerns that that could be a problem?
I don't think so. I don't think we're too content yet, no.

Some of the players have mentioned that last year's Vanderbilt loss motivated them throughout the season. Did you ever bring that up during the season?
I probably have mentioned it once or twice, I don't remember the exact context. Maybe once or twice, but it's not something we talk about regularly. Probably somewhere over the course of the last six months, I might have mentioned it once or twice, about, for example, finishing, attention to detail, the game's not over until all zeroes are on the clock.

We talk about things like that. We might bring up the UNLV-San Diego State game. We even talk about FB games. "Did you see what happened last night on Monday Night Football?" So you're always looking for examples to teach, and sometimes the best ones are your own, the ones you've lived personally.

Have you watched film or tape of that Vanderbilt game?
No. We did not.

Do you have an idea of in-state schools you want to play in a rotation or anything like that?
Nothing that definite, though. We don't have any specific prescription that we're going to follow.

Can you talk about Julius Hodge's leadership down the stretch?
I think our guys draw confidence from having him on their team bus when we go to the arena. He's one of those guys, you look around and say, "OK, good, he's on our bus. We can leave now." You know? Having a guy like that in the huddle and on the court and on your side, I think, helps the other guys feel better about our chances, game to game.

How well do you know Bobby Lutz?
I know him pretty well.

Any impressions of him?
He's done a terrific job with the program, that's obvious. And I think his tenure there speaks for itself. He and I have had a few conversations on the road recruiting, when we've been at the same place or on the same rental-car van. You run into guys on the road from time to time.

They talk about how difficult it is scheduling ACC schools at Charlotte, and they say some teams look down on them because they're not in the ACC.
Well, I don't know who would look down on them. It would take somebody with a great deal of arrogance, because they're very successful and they've done a great job. I don't know how you would do that.

Have you and Lutz recruited many of the same players?
We may have recruited a couple of the same guys over the years, but not regularly. We haven't had that many experiences where we've recruited the same guys.

What did Lutz say when he called into your radio show?
Oh, Don Shea was just asking him a lot of questions. I didn't get too many things in, really. But he was just asking him about his team and stuff, just shooting the gab, you know?

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