Doubts about Sendek's ability to lead the program began to surface and the mass number of transfers sparked concern in the NC State community. So Sendek's seat was understandably a bit warm as he entered his fifth season. Again, many observers expected NC State to return to the NCAA Tournament. The team's chemistry was, no doubt, hampered by Damon Thornton's DWI and subsequent suspension for the first semester. The Pack was spanked by Charlotte in the ESA and embarrassed by Fresno State in the tip off classic. This team was plagued with many of the problems previous Sendek led teams seemed to be afflicted with. State struggled to find consistent offense and shooting percentages were low.
State opened the ACC season with a loss at Virginia, a game that NCSU led for much of the way. Bright spots were few and far between and dissension made it's way to Raleigh as Gerald Wilkins, father of highly recruited Damien Wilkins publicly criticized Sendek. The Pack finished 5-11 in the ACC and many fans were rightfully critical of Sendek, calling for him to be removed from his position as head coach. Athletics Director, Lee Fowler, stood by Sendek and supported him coming back for another year, an action many State fans did not support. Fowler cited Sendek's incoming recruiting class as one of the reasons for his return.
During the off-season, Damien Wilkins, national high school player of the year in one publication, decided to declare himself eligible for the NBA draft. Wilkins was to participate in pre-draft camps and turn pro only if he was a first round pick with a promise of playing time at the next level. Wilkins decided to return to school, however, Sendek denied him a spot on the team. Wilkins transferred to Georgia. Some fans howled and others were glad to lose the player whose father, they felt, was a detriment to the chemistry of the team.
NCSU's highly touted freshman class arrived with high expectations. Julius Hodge, the lone McDonald's All-America, said he thought NC State could contend for the national championship during his tenure. Frontcourt players, Josh Powell, Jordan Collins, and Levi Watkins were said to have better fundamental skills than that of departing seniors, Kenny Inge, Damon Thornton, Ron Kelley, and Damon Thornton. A late addition to the class, Illian Evtimov was expected to give the Pack another shooter off the bench.
Sendek promised State fans a new and improved offensive system. He said that State would look to run and score more often. After assistant coach Sean Miller departed for Xavier, Sendek added fired Ohio head coach Larry Hunter to "audit" the program.
Few believed this NC State team would end the ten years of suffering bestowed upon NCSU fans. The ACC media picked NCSU to finish 7th in the conference. Early in the season the performance on the floor was proving the doubters correct. State shot a miserable sub-30% in a loss at Ohio State and lost to UMASS in the ESA.
The pre-cursors of another terrible season were evident. State was struggling to find an offensive identity and the younger players and older players alike were not adjusting to Sendek's new offensive scheme, described by many as "Princeton-esque".
Tomorrow, catch Part 4 of "Decade of Darkness".