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May 1, 2012Here's the second part of our interview with Arizona State coach Herb Sendek, who is looking to rebound from his first-ever back-to-back losing seasons as a head coach.
ASUDevils.com: How do you put into context what has happened the last couple of years, where you had your first back-to-back losing seasons of your career and how that's different from all these years of success prior to that, where you had five NCAA tournaments in a row and things of that nature. Was it a combination of things from bad luck to recruiting misses? How do you look at it?
Herb Sendek: I think there are parts that we have to own and take responsibility for and say, 'hey we need to be better in those areas.' And then I think there is also, if you really look at it -- I'm not trying to be defensive or make excuses-- we've also had a litany of things the last two years go against us, almost any one or two of which go the other way we are having a different discussion. I think if you really want to have an honest introspective look at things, you almost have to draw a line down the page and unemotionally and analytically say okay, where do we have to be better, where have we made mistakes that we can better prevent in the future, and then you draw a line down the other page and on the other column you say listen, sometimes things happen, lets not panic, lets keep our value system in place stay with the course: we have a good plan, we have a good track record and not let those things create negative energy. So I think there is balance and really I think that's no different coming off a winning season. After we win 25 games I do the same things because it's still not a perfect season. There's still ways you can get better. You're still making mistakes. So you're always asking the same questions.
ASUDevils.com: So, fans didn't see this on the court last season but as part of that process you're talking about, you already for quite sometime have been taking some corrective action by adding Bo (Barnes) and Evan (Gordon) as transfers and then recruiting the three local guys. Is that accurate?
Sendek: Even with the best blueprint, evaluation in recruiting dealing with prospects as young as we are, is never going to be an exact science. Michael Jordan wasn't a first round pick in the NBA draft, Kevin Durant wasn't the a first round pick in the NBA draft. It is not a perfect assignment. You are always going to have some guys who don't fit as well as you had hoped or as you thought they would. But you are always trying to get the best fit possible and you're always asking yourself important questions like what can we do to be better?
ASUDevils.com:You have changed the offense that you guys have run substantially from year to year sometimes or even within a season and you were going to run a different offense this past season until you found out about Jahii (not being eligible) and then you saw what your team was like on the court. What can we maybe expect moving forward with what you have to work with as far as how the team will look?
Sendek: I'm excited about working on that right now. I don't have all the final answers yet, that's a work in progress but what I try to do is always take inventory of the guys we have, look at their strengths and put them in the best position to be successful. You look at Kentucky who just won the championship obviously and how different their offense was this year compared to other years. If you look at a program like Duke and how the offense changes based on Greg Paulus being the point guard or Jason Williams being the point guard. So I think the key for a coach at any given moment is, who do we have, how do they play best, what are they most comfortable with, and then put them in that position to the best of your capability. But what you ultimately decide a couple of things have to hold true it's still going to come down to fundamentals. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. The second things it's going to come down to when push comes to shove against the best competition can you guard and can you score in the half court. As the NCAA tournament shows every year and we are about to witness it again in the NBA playoffs. For as much as fans and media and everybody even coaches and players love to rally around pace of play to ultimately be successful those things have to be in place. If you watch most teams, when the other team scores, how they inbound the ball, almost everybody walks it up at some pace and gets some type of call from their coach. Some teams will run more on misses and turnovers than others. But I think very few teams right now are inbounding quickly and attacking constantly for 40 minutes. And that's what I've said all along as much as we've had to have commentary about our style of play, when you take away the fact that sometimes teams take a little longer to probe our defense, if you look at our ball movement, the number of passes we make before we shoot, the kinds of shots we take, are utilization of the 3-point shot, in all those areas our style of play is as fluid and as fast as anybody's We've been sometimes a little bit slower because of our defense, and the other thing is we've had couple times like my first year and I would say the two-thirds point of this year where we literally were trying to play possession basketball. This year became much like our first year in that we can't make any bones about it, we were trying to shorten the game and lower the possessions.
ASUDevils.com: You don't think it will be like that next year?
Sendek: I know it won't be like that next year.
ASUDevils.com: Defensively your match-up zone initially drew a lot of praise from coaches all over the country but is there a possibility that we might see some change to the defense given that it's a little more familiar at this point and also with your personnel.
Sendek: Yes. Just like we've considered that each and every year we will continue to do that. Just like on offense to be fair and consistent, at the end of the day it will still come down to fundamentals. But we are going to give that a lot of careful consideration. With Jordan really coming into his own and as much as we've talked about him, I think Ruslan (Pateev) should have a really solid senior year; he is great physically right now. To best help those two guys I think we have to reconsider what we ask them to do defensively.
ASUDevils.com: Is that going to be hard to figure out while also keeping the integrity of it?
Sendek: No because I think ultimately it will come down to the same kinds of things which will be fundamentally based. But I think we as coaches, no differently than we do on the offensive end of the floor, have to look at our personnel and how we best can help them. That is a bigger question now as you see Jordan emerge, you see Ruslan improving, you see a Kyle Cain go out of our program that presents us with another opportunity to really examine that.
ASUDevils.com: If you were to have some sort of a check list and say these are the main areas that we need to hit on in order to improve our standing as much as possible, next season, what would those main things be?
Sendek: I could have a long list. The first thing I would say is fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. We have to teach, emphasize, and execute the fundamentals of the game. I've never been more sure of anything in coaching as I am in that. Some of the sophistication, the schemes, are irrelevant. A lot of time is spent on that when it is a game of fundamentals. I always talk about football not that I know anything about football, you want to play a 4-3 you want to play a 3-4 (defense), you better tackle either way. On offense you want to do A, B, or C you better block. My focus for myself and my staff are on the fundamentals of the game. The second thing is I think our team really needs to grow in terms of mental and physical toughness. I would say those are the two areas.
ASUDevils.com: In what was do you foster those things?
Sendek: By me identifying those two things it would be a wrong assumption to say in the past we never talked about fundamentals or we weren't trying to get our guys to be tough. All I'm saying is those are two things that we are amplifying moving forward.
ASUDevils.com: As you consider those two things are there changes in the structure or approach?
Sendek: I think the one thing is we've been caught in any number of instances like we were this past year with a pretty thin roster. That sometimes affects the decisions you make. I would like to go into next season with the expectation that obviously we're going to carve out our practice schedule looking for every possibility to be teaching and emphasizing fundamentals, but at the same time making sure our pace and our competitiveness in practice is at a all time high.
ASUDevils.com: The guys you are adding Bo Barns and Evan Gordon those are the guys that have a lot of that stuff, no?
Sendek: You have asked me about guys who have improved like Jordan and Jon and the guys that had to sit out, but I think what else is important to add is a guy like Carrick (Felix) coming back. A guy like Ruslan coming back because the track record for guys who stay with us like this is they really get better.
ASUDevils.com: Carrick obviously has so much more ability that is untapped. How does it realize that moving forward?
Sendek: I think the key for Carrick is for him to have the mindset like he did when he played against Arizona. He is a high energy player, and he has to play with that kind of midset where he can impact plays on both ends of the floor. If he's aggressive and with high energy, if he is playing like that, he is at his best.
ASUDevils.com: Is he enhanced by Jahii and maybe the higher tempo?
Sendek: No question. I think when Carrick gets out and runs in transition that plays to his favor. When he's making hustle plays on defense that's his game. He is a high energy guy.
ASUDevils.com: Your deflections were down a lot this year. Was there any theme there?
Sendek: Once again that is just something we have to own as a team. Just like we talked about turnovers you could point to a particular player or position and say, but I think that would be a misrepresentation. I think across the board we have to do a better job on defense and I think we have to do a much better job taking care of the ball. Those two things. But in the most general sense we have to be fundamentally driven and we have to be toughness based.
ASUDevils.com: Are you more willing to redshirt guys who are incoming freshman?
Sendek: I think it's to our players advantage and to our advantage if we can affectively use redshirts. We can't redshirt everybody but if there are certain instances where we can take advantage of it, I think in the long run it will help certain players and in the long run it would benefit our program. It's not nearly used as much today as it was at another time in history because we live in a microwave, fast-food, drive-thru society. Guys in a lot of ways expect instantaneous gratification. So I think that sometimes that is a harder promotion today than it was at some point. But there are some programs that are better at doing it than others. Obviously you have to be able to do it given the composition of your roster.
ASUDevils.com: At NC State you often had only 10 or 11 guys on scholarship (to promote roster stability). Is that something we may see more of here moving forward?
Sendek: We went to a model where my last few years we only had 10 guys on scholarship. I think you have to have the right composition of guys, depending on the place you are with your program. But it's a moving target and once again the needle has moved again on trends. I honestly don't know if it would be better to do it or better not to do it because there are so many variables that are really outside of your control.
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