Sendek prospers at ASU after departing Wolfpack
All job openings on Tobacco Road should be accompanied by a surgeon general’s warning: Coaching here may be hazardous to your mental health and induce premature departures and rabid expectations.
Really, North Carolina State fans? This is the coach you were so eager to see leave, the one that has the Arizona State men’s basketball team in most preseason Top 25 polls? If this is your idea of a castoff, well, where should the Sun Devils send the thank-you bouquet?
In two seasons, Herb Sendek has made ASU basketball relevant again. It has opened practice under the watch of a national eye thanks to a 13-game turnaround between seasons 1 and 2 and a sophomore guard, James Harden, who is projected to be an NBA lottery pick.
Perspective is a funny thing. ASU athletic director Lisa Love looked at Sendek in 2006 and saw a coach who had run an impeccable program, who was known as one of the sport’s few remaining gentlemen and who had averaged 21 victories and posted consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in his last five seasons with the Wolfpack.
NCSU fans saw a coach with a losing record against Duke and North Carolina and a demeanor that was a far cry from the Wolfpack’s most recognizable mentor, the late Jim Valvano.
When Sendek took the ASU job, Orlando Wright, the father of then-recruit Chris Wright, now with Georgetown, told reporters Sendek’s treatment by NCSU fans was the equivalent of “a modern-day lynching.” None of that matters to Sendek anymore, and he is too polite to speak negatively about the experience. These days, he barely resembles the Sendek who was portrayed in Raleigh.
His conversations are thoughtful, and he can be open and funny.
“He’s big on old-school jokes,” said Drake coach Mark Phelps, a longtime Sendek assistant. “They’re the type that would be hilarious back in 1960, but now they’re funny just because he’s telling it.”
People forget Sendek was only 33 when he took the Wolfpack job. More than a decade has passed. He is constantly refining.
Those who criticized Sendek for his deliberate offense with the Wolfpack might be surprised to know the Sun Devils will pick up the pace this season.
“Coach wants (just) the point guards to push it, but if I get it, I’m going,” said Harden, who plays on the wing.
Does Sendek know that?
“No,” Harden said, laughing.
When Sendek was offered the ASU job, Phelps tried to talk him out of it. NCSU was coming off a 22-10 season and sported a strong recruiting class. Yet Sendek saw potential in a Tempe program that was an afterthought in a Pac-10 dominated by its Arizona neighbor just two hours south.
Was he entering another tempest? Maybe not. Sendek already is 2-2 vs. rival UA and has posted three victories vs. ranked teams. In the previous 11 seasons, ASU had gone 2-28 against ranked teams at home.
“When you present an idea to Herb, and you have fought through it from every angle and you give it to him and you’re feeling good that you’ve covered it all, you can be guaranteed he’ll find some holes,” Phelps said.
Does Sendek, 45, think he’s changed?
“I’d like to think I’m different,” he said, “but without forsaking any last chance of humility, it’s difficult to answer. I’ve done my best to continue to learn, and I’m always doing my best to improve.”
ASU fans hope he doesn’t change too much. There was a lot to like at NCSU.
ASU 2008-09 SCHEDULE
Nov. 14 Miss. Valley St. 8 p.m.
Nov. 18 at San Diego St. 8 p.m.
Nov. 23 Pepperdine 2 p.m.
Nov. 27 Charlotte-a 6 p.m.
Nov. 28 Baylor/Providence-a TBA
Nov. 28 TBD-a TBA
Dec. 4 Jackson State 7 p.m.
Dec. 7 Nebraska noon
Dec. 14 IUPUI-b 1:15 p.m.
Dec. 20 BYU-c 2:30 p.m.
Dec. 23 Idaho State noon
Dec. 29 Central Connecticut St. 7 p.m.
Jan. 2 at Stanford* TBA
Jan. 4 at California* 6 p.m.
Jan. 8 Oregon State* 8:30 p.m.
Jan. 10 Oregon* noon
Jan. 15 at USC* 8:30 p.m.
Jan. 17 at UCLA* 1:45 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Arizona* 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 29 Washington St.* 7 p.m.
Feb. 5 at Oregon* 8:30 p.m.
Feb. 7 at Oregon St.* 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 12 UCLA* 7 p.m.
Feb. 15 USC* 8 p.m.
Feb. 22 Arizona* 8 p.m.
Feb. 26 at Washington* 8 p.m.
Feb. 28 at Washington St.* TBA
Mar. 5 Stanford TBA
Mar. 7 California TBA
Mar 11-14 Pac-10 tourney$ TBA
a- at Anaheim, Calif.; b- US Airways Center in Phoenix; c- University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale; * Pac-10 Conference game; $ at Staples Center, Los Angeles