Part Two Of Q&A With Men's Basketball Coach Herb Sendek
Aug. 31, 2001
Tony: You have acknowledged that offense has often been an Achilles heel for some of your teams here at NC State. Are there some misconceptions floating around regarding what you and your staff have been attempting to accomplish on the offensive end of the court?
Coach Sendek: When I first came to NC State, we inherited a team that did not have a great deal of depth or size. Justin Gainey, who eventually became our point guard, played four straight games in the ACC Tournament without a substitute, 160 minutes, a record that will probably stand forever. We basically played an iron five and we played a team with five guards. Our center the last third of that season was Danny Strong, who was recruited to be a two guard or a small forward.
Our slower pace of play in that first season left a lasting impression on a lot of people. It is an impression we've had a hard time shaking free of. We had to space the floor and use the clock. We didn't have the luxury of having our people get into foul trouble and being able to substitute comparable players. Even though we have changed our style a little bit each year, we've had a hard time getting away from some of those perceptions that were created that first year.
One of the greatest challenges we've had to deal with from day one is having to change our offense so often due to our personnel, injuries and other factors. In some years we even had to change at midseason because we had been decimated by injuries. Once we can settle in and stay with the same type of system, I think our team will realize dividends. It's not always a function of what system that's being used. In many cases it comes down to fundamentals, the ability to pass, dribble and shoot.
Last season, I really thought we had a much better opportunity to run, to push the ball and to press more. And quite frankly, that's exactly what we did. I don't think we always got credit for that because we didn't have a high rate of made baskets off our running game. And we didn't shoot very well from the foul line or from the three-point line. As a result, our scores weren't generally reflective of a running team. But if you look at some of our films, even after made baskets, you'll see us getting the ball quickly out of the net and pushing it up the floor. We look no different than teams that are associated with running, except that we didn't finish well.
In terms of extending our defense and pressuring, I think you could point to any number of games. We had a great comeback here against Duke using our full court press. Both times we played North Carolina, we employed a trapping, full-court defense.
Tony: Will that evolution continue this season?
Coach Sendek:As we look forward to our team this year, we will not be big by ACC standards. We're going to continue to run more and use our improving quickness. We should have improved depth and I'm excited about our evolving style of play. I think our fans will notice the changes as we keep moving to more of an up-tempo style. The recognition will follow when we start putting the ball in the hoop more consistently.
One of the things that excites me about this year's team is our front court. Although it's going to be young, it is going to be skilled. Any time you have more than three players on the floor that have a high skill level, it makes you harder to guard.
Tony: Can Wolfpack Basketball return to the status of being one of the nation's elite programs?
Coach Sendek:Yes we can, and with the all-out support of our fans, we will. I've never doubted that. Up until last season, we had made consistent and steady progress. And now, in a sense, we are starting our second cycle of recruiting with the graduation of our four seniors. They were the bridge, coupled with outstanding fan support in the spectacular ESA, that has helped enable us to recruit the nation's 3rd ranked recruiting class (Sports Illustrated).
Tony: What must be done to help this year's young team reach its potential and continue to build the program?
Coach Sendek: First, we must put last season behind us--be energized by a fresh start and the challenge of this new season. We should learn and be strengthened from the past, but meet our future with positive expectations.
Secondly, we need to attack this new season with focused determination. I think you will quickly notice the signature and personality of the 2001-2002 Wolfpack. In a word, we will be relentless. We will scrap and dive for loose balls and play with abandon. Yes, we will make mistakes because we are young. We have only three upperclassmen with experience. But I assure you, we will make up for any shortcomings of youth by playing with great desire.
Thirdly, because we will have many young players in key roles, it is vital that they have unyielding support. They need to know that our Wolfpackers and all of our fans are steadfastly behind them. I'm sure you've seen the power of encouragement at work in a young person's life. Our players need what only our Wolfpack fans can provide--a sold- out, deafening, home court advantage. Their enthusiastic support will inspire our young men like nothing else can.
Tony: What specifically would you like the fans to do to show their support?
Coach Sendek: First, I'd like to say that we have the best fans in the world. Their loyalty and love of the Wolfpack is unsurpassed. I would also personally like to thank so many of them who have offered their support and encouragement to our team, my family and myself over the course of the past season. I can't tell you how many positive e-mails, letters, and phone calls we received. People would greet me in restaurants or at the store with encouraging comments and ask me how I was doing.
I know we've also had our share of criticism. That's been well documented. Any time we don't achieve our expectations after dedicating ourselves to our goals, we deal with disappointment. And certainly no one felt that disappointment more deeply than our young men, our coaches and myself. I want our fans to be assured that no one wants to win for them more than I do.
I remember two years ago, I was really concerned when we left Reynolds Coliseum to go over to the ESA. Almost twenty thousand seats to fill for a basketball game is a tall order. You might have great attendance and it could still seem like you have an empty building. I was concerned that we were going to lose the legendary home court advantage that we enjoyed at Reynolds. But our fans responded and have done a great job of filling the seats.
As far as support for this season, I want to challenge our fans to take another step. We'd like to fill the seats for every single game, not because of the quality of the opponent we're playing, but because our Wolfpack is playing.
If, for some reason, you can't make it to a game, (and I know some of our season ticket holders travel a long way), we ask you to please make sure you pass your tickets on to someone who wants to be there. Maybe you know some youngsters who never have a chance to come see the Wolfpack play in the ESA. That opportunity would mean the world to them, and could get them started as life-long NC State fans.
Let's stand up and make noise. We want the ESA to rock on its foundation. Your positive and passionate presence will make a real difference, believe me. It will not only help us win, but that kind of atmosphere is a huge factor in the success of our recruiting. And recruiting success is a key to our future.
Tony: Obviously, there will be pressure to get back on track this season. How will you handle that pressure?
Coach Sendek: I'd say I approach handling pressure from two main aspects. First, I deal with fear and pressure to succeed from a base of personal faith. I believe my value and worth as a person are established by God, not by achieving any particular level of success. I know that God accepts me unconditionally. He loves me the same whether we win or lose. My faith, in addition to the love and unyielding support of my family, help give me that grounded perspective I mentioned earlier.
Secondly, I try to keep my focus on my mission and responsibility, which is to serve others. I try to concentrate my efforts on what I can influence and control, and not waste vital energy worrying about what I can't control.
My job, relative to developing a winning attitude, is to convey three things to our team: confidence, conviction and composure. I want my demeanor to foster those qualities in our team. We will approach this season with the armor of resolve and determination, not fear.
I know people will bring up "what if" comments and point out the pitfalls we might face. At times when others may question my ability, I need to rely on my deeply held convictions about who I am, and what I really believe. And I need to have enough courage to live out what I believe, and to persist in my mission.
I can go into this season without carrying the weight of fear of the outcome for several reasons: One, I know I can coach. Two, I know I have good coaches working with me. Three, I know we have good young players. And last, I know that the faith that has sustained me in the past will continue to strengthen me to meet our challenges.
Tony: Finally, making the NCAA Tournament has become the measuring stick by which programs are judged. What would it mean to you to take this team to the tournament?
Coach Sendek:I realize that many of our fans have been disappointed that we haven't yet reached the NCAA Tournament. Let's face it, that is the threshold measure of success by many in college basketball. Believe me, no one wants to get there more than I do, in large part to express my gratitude to our fans. But I encourage our Wolfpackers to continue their outstanding support and take inventory of the many achievements and successes we have shared.
As we approach this season, we are at a pivotal time in the development of our program. The response from the fans can go a long way in affecting our success. Now, more than ever before, our young players and our program need the unyielding support, positive comments and encouragement of our fans.
This will help our players feel good about themselves and spur their confidence. It will also help our recruiting, making an emphatic statement to the top high school players we are recruiting right now. We want them to know that NC State is an exciting, dynamic program with a great future that they will decide to be a part of.