NC State Welcomes Biedenbach, UNC-Asheville To ESA
Dec. 14, 2001
By Tony Haynes
The NC State men's basketball team will be more than ready to get back on the court when it hosts UNC-Asheville on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.-and that isn't just because the Wolfpack (7-2) is eager to play again following its impressive win at Syracuse last Saturday.
Compared to final exams, a basketball game against any opponent probably seems like a walk in the park. Academics were the top priority this week as every member of the Wolfpack hoops squad attempted to take care of business in the classroom.
"It's been a challenge hitting the books, eating, playing basketball and hitting the books again," freshman Julius Hodge said of the vicious cycle. "This week has been mostly academics but I made sure I came to the gym every night and worked on my game. It's been practice and books, practice and books, sleep occasionally and eat when you can."
NC State head coach Herb Sendek shortened practice sessions this week in order to accommodate the demands that have been made on the players' time. But the stress of exam week doesn't appear to have dampened the enthusiasm that accompanied last week's impressive victory over the nationally ranked Orangemen. The 14-point triumph on the road bumped the Pack's RPI rating up to No. 35 and helped ease the sting felt after losses to Ohio State and Massachusetts.
The news got even better on Monday when first-year center Josh Powell was named ACC Rookie of the Week for the second time this year. In two Pack wins last week, the 6-9 Powell scored 32 points on a 15-of-18 shooting touch.
"He would be the first to tell you that he has a lot of learning and developing ahead of him, but certainly his progress to this point has been better and more rapid than I would have expected," Sendek said. "He's ahead of where I thought he could be at this point. In that same breath, I would tell you that he's only scratching the surface. He's still learning a lot about the game and a lot about himself. He is a very intelligent young man, he has a real cerebral side to him. He asks questions and he wants to know things. There are some guys who come along that have all the answers who you can't tell anything too. Josh asks good questions, he listens and he wants to get better."
Not only has Powell asked questions, he has answered some. Before the season, Sendek and just about everyone else wondered of NC State had anyone who could produce points in the paint and rebound the basketball. Powell's unexpected emergence has, to a certain degree, eased those concerns.
Of course, Saturday's contest at the ESA will be an annual homecoming for UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach, whose NC State roots run deep. A former Wolfpack guard and assistant coach, Biedenbach is still an active member of the Wolfpack Club.
On Saturday, however, he'll be out to upset the apple cart. It won't be easy. The Bulldogs are off to a 1-7 start, with their only victory coming over a Western Carolina team that upset Florida State. As usual, UNC-Asheville is collecting big checks to balance its athletic budget by playing a murderous early season schedule. After facing NC State, the Bulldogs will play road games at Michigan State and Auburn. They have already visited West Virginia and Minnesota.
"Eddie Biedenbach has a scheduling philosophy that's like the NBA," Sendek said. "He wants to harden his team for its conference. He figures that's the best way to get Asheville into postseason play."
The philosophy nearly worked two years ago when the Bulldogs made the Big South Conference Championship game after losing 11 of their first 12 games. Of course, small conference schools like Asheville rarely secure at large bids into the NCAA Tournament, so their overall won-loss records usually don't come into play on Selection Sunday anyway. With that in mind, Biedenbach goes ahead and takes his lumps-and the money--that comes with tough road tests in November and December.
UNC-A is led by guard Andre Smith, who is averaging 14.9 points per game.
Senior guard Anthony Grundy (14.3 ppg.), who exploded for 26 at Syracuse, is NC State's top scorer. Powell (11.9) and Hodge (10.3) are also averaging in double figures.