Herb Sendek's leap from N.C. State to Arizona State was one of the most perplexing moves of the offseason. Why would a coach leave one of the biggest college basketball hotbeds in the country - and a program he has led to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments – for a Pac-10 school with little basketball tradition?
Sendek, who also has roots on the East Coast, says the answer can be found by looking at the Hall-of-Fame coach of his new rival.
Twenty-three years ago, Lute Olson made a shocking career switch. He left Iowa, a program he had turned into a national power, to come to Arizona. At the time, the Wildcats were coming off a 4-24 season and had been to the NCAA Tournament once in the previous 32 years.
Olson ultimately turned the Wildcats into one of the elite powers in college basketball. He has won 11 Pac-10 titles, made four Final Four appearances and claimed a national title in 1997.
Olson, a North Dakota native, led Iowa to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments before coming to the Desert.
"This was the right time and the right place," Sendek told Rivals.com. "If you look at Coach Olson and what he did with going from Iowa to Arizona, and then you look at the demographics and direction of this place, you can see the tremendous potential here."
By "demographics" and "potential," Sendek means the fast-growing recruiting hotbeds on the West Coast.
Seattle has begun to consistently produce elite recruits in recent years (Marvin Williams in 2004, Martell Webster in 2005 and Spencer Hawes in 2006). Lorenzo Romar turned Washington around by landing some of Seattle's top recruits. That includes the stars of his last two teams, Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy. The Huskies have a 55-13 record over the last two seasons.
Then there's nearby Southern California, which has grown into arguably the biggest talent pool of any area.
Sendek, who grew up in Pittsburgh, has already begun to take advantage.
It started in May when former McDonald's All-American Eric Boateng transferred to ASU from Duke. Sendek, who landed two other McDonald's All-Americans during his 10 seasons at N.C. State (Julius Hodge and Scooter Sherrill), recruited the 6-10 center when Boateng was coming out of the St. Andrew's School in Middleton, Del.
"Eric has been our real lightning rod for our program," Sendek said. "We're also really trying to reach out to California."
Wondering about your favorite team's Final Four chances? Not sure how long it will take those freshmen to gel?
In June, Sendek hired one of the most successful prep coaches in the Los Angeles area - Scott Pera - to be his director of basketball operations.
When last year's leading scorer Kevin Kruger transferred to UNLV in July, Sendek quickly offered his scholarship to Pera's former point guard, Derek Glasser, who was weeks away from walking on at USC. Glasser quickly committed.
Soon after Glasser's switch, his former backcourt mate at Artesia High, five-star shooting guard James Harden, began leaning towards ASU. Earlier this month, Harden committed to Arizona State. Harden - who had scholarship offers from Arizona, UCLA and Washington - is ranked the No. 18 overall prospect in the class of 2007.
Five days after Harden committed, Seattle guard Jamelle McMillan, the son of Portland Trailblazers coach and former N.C. State standout Nate McMillan, did the same. McMillan, who is ranked the No. 105 senior in the nation, had offers from N.C. State and Stanford - along with interest from several other major programs.
That early recruiting success, combined with Sendek's relatively young age (43), makes his vision of a remarkable turnaround for Arizona's other state school look plausible. Sendek is the second youngest coach in the Pac-10 (Washington State's first-year coach Tony Bennett is the youngest).
Olson was 49 when he came to Arizona.
"People think I'm older because I don't have any hair," Sendek said. "I guess I have a distinguished dome."
Circle the Dates
Many of the big games had already been revealed months ago, but when the ACC released its full schedule last week there were still some interesting dates to note:
Nov. 7:Maryland plays the first game of any team on Nov. 7 by hosting Hampton as part of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. The Terrapins will have played three games before North Carolina begins its season by hosting Sacred Heart in the NIT Tip-off in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 14.
Nov: 14Matt Doherty makes his return to the ACC as SMU's coach when the Mustangs travel to Florida State for the start of the Colonial Classic.
Nov. 24 Florida State, which narrowly missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid last season because of a weak non-conference schedule, begins what may be the toughest three-game stretch of any team in the nation when they travel to Pittsburgh. Next up is a trip to Wisconsin, which has lost five home games in the last five years, for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 28. That is followed by a visit from defending national champ Florida on Dec. 3. The Panthers, Badgers and Gators are all expected to be in the preseason top 10.
Dec. 9: George Mason gets back into the limelight. The Patriots travels to Duke for a nationally televised game. With only one of five starters returning from the mid-major Cinderella that made the remarkable run to the 2006 Final Four, this could get ugly in a hurry.
Dec. 28 American coach Jeff Jones makes his return to Charlottesville to face Virginia in the new John Paul Jones arena. Jones played at UVa from 1978-1982 and coached there from 1990-1997. He led the Cavaliers to the Elite Eight and a share of their first ACC regular-season crown in 12 years in 1995.
Dec. 29Wake Forest and Florida State both try and gain an edge over the rest of the league when they play at the St. Pete Times Forum, site of the 2007 ACC Tournament. The Deacons face South Florida and the Seminoles will play Providence.
Jan. 27 Sandwiched right in the thick of the ACC schedule, North Carolina will travel to Arizona. The road trip is part of a brutal non-conference schedule for the Heels, who also face Ohio State (Nov. 29) and Kentucky (Dec. 2).
Bad news, good news
Louisville suffered a significant blow when senior guard Brandon Jenkins broke his right leg during a pick-up game Friday. Jenkins is expected to miss at least three months and could miss the entire season.
Jenkins averaged 11.2 points a game in 2005-06 and was expected to play an even bigger role for coach Rick Pitino this season. Jenkins is the only senior returning and was needed to help replace the scoring void left by Taquan Dean, who averaged a team-high 17.1 ppg last season.
Pitino can take some solace in the steady weight loss from his prize recruit Derrick Caracter.
The 6-foot-9 freshman has lost nearly 20 pounds since he arrived on campus last month, going from 318 to 299. The slimmer frame should make him even more agile. Caracter, a five-star prospect, was ranked No. 25 overall in the class of 2007.
• Former Georgia power forward Younes Idrissi told Rivals.com he committed to Iona last week. Idrissi said he visited Baylor and Iona. He must sit out this upcoming season, but has two years of eligibility remaining. He averaged 6.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and a team-high 1.5 blocks a game last season.
• Former Louisville power forward Brian Johnson has transferred to Mississippi State. Johnson, who has battled knee injures for much of his career, must sit out this upcoming season and has two years of eligibility remaining. He averaged 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds last season.
• Senior guard Jeremy Hunt will return to Memphis after being suspended for all of last season. Hunt has started 26 games in his career and averaged 9.5 ppg. He was suspended following an incident on Sept. 18. Soon thereafter, Hunt claimed he broke his hand during shooting practice.
• Former Miami star Dick Hickox died Friday from esophageal and colon cancer. Hickox was Miami's first basketball All-American, and averaged 19.4 points per game during his three-years of action. Hickox led the Hurricanes to a 23-3 record in the 1959-60 season and a No. 8 spot in the polls - the highest ranking in school history.
• The Big Ten Foreign Team concluded its four-game tour of Australia earlier this week. Illinois' Marcus Arnold averaged a team-high 17.8 points per game, scoring in double digits in each game. Ohio State's Ron Lewis wasn't far behind at 16.3 ppg. Michigan's Lester Abram poured in 15.3 ppg and Purdue's Gordon Watt, a transfer from Boston College, added 13.5 ppg. Minnesota's Jonathan Williams led the team in rebounding with 9.0 boards a game.
• Former Maryland center Lonny Baxter was sentenced to two months in jail on Wednesday, for firing a handgun last week in downtown Washington D.C. Baxter was celebrating one of his last nights in D.C. before heading to play professionaly in Italy. Terps coach Gary Williams was in the courtroom and spoke on behalf of his former player and Baxter's attorneys also offered a letter from former Maryland teammate Juan Dixon in hopes that he would receive probation.