ASUDevils.com recently sat down with Arizona State head basketball coach Herb Sendek for an interview about the direction of his program following heading into the off-season.
ASUDevils.com: Can you talk about the improvements that some of the post players that you've coached have made. For example Jordan Bachynski along with some other guys?
Herb Sendek: I'm really excited about the progress Jordan (Bachynski) is making. I thought about the mid point through (last season) he had a breakthrough. And he played some outstanding basketball down the homestretch of the season for us. We were really high on him when we recruited him. In fact we beat University of Connecticut and BYU to land him. But we were well aware of the fact that there was going to be a learning curve, given the fact that he hadn't played basketball in three years. But as he got more comfortable and understood what it takes,all of a sudden mid-January you see this break through. We've had a good run of post players going back to NC State. The last two post players that we coached there, Josh Powell and Cedric Simmons were NBA players, and then we had Jeff Pendergraph who is an NBA player and then we had Eric Boateng who is on the cusp. So the last four players who played the post for us have either been in the NBA or in Eric's case still hoping to make the NBA. And now we have Jordan at 7-foot-2 really coming into his own with two years left in this career. So you can see why we are so excited.
ASUDevils.com: Can you just speak to the process of developing guys and what you are focused on with regard to the big picture verses the next game and things of that nature?
Sendek: Obviously in the moment you are trying to win this game. I don't think any coach goes in ready to concede any contest. So you're always trying to win tonight. But at the same time you do have to allow guys to gain experience and sometimes play through mistakes. Not just with Jordan but with several of our guys that has been part of the process we've gone through the last couple of seasons. We've had a number of guys that we've had to baptize with fire and bring them along. If you look at our roster this past season, not only did we not have any seniors but we really only had one junior who was really playing his second year of Division I college basketball. So by and large we have been in that and ingrained in that process of allowing guys to gain experience and to live with their learning. Looking back on it could there have been some opportunities that maybe Jordan could have been afforded more minutes in that process? Perhaps, but at the same time there is nothing that motivated and sometimes helps a guy really get determined unless he understands what it takes. But I'm just really excited about his future.
ASUDevils.com: Part of it too has to be the message you are sending to your team when one guy is out performing someone else in practice but then not playing as much.
Sendek: You can't make decisions based on potential, you have to do it on performance. The guys on the team have to feel there is a very credible way that you are distributing playing time. You can't play favorites and you can't play a guy based on how he is going to be two years from now. It's whoever earns it in practice. And that is an important aspect to every program, it has to be based on Meritocracy not just some other reason. Jordan has earned the role he now has and he deserves a great deal of credit for the improvement he is showing.
ASUDevils.com: What about with Jonathan Gilling. The way Jonathan improved from the beginning to the end of his freshman year and what he has in store?
Sendek: Once again, we are really excited about Jonathan Gilling. He really came on. I think he plays with a great deal of confidence. He has that ability to make big plays in games. In fact I think some of his best performances this year came in some of our biggest games. He has a excellent basketball IQ, he is a terrific passer. Not only would we run actions for him to come off the screen but a lot of time the actions that we ran had him making the entry pass to a scoring opportunity because he is such a good passer.
ASUDevils.com: And that's a important position for passing the basketball.
Sendek: It is, especially if you are like him in a four round one set or look. But I think once again if you go back to where Jon was at the beginning of his freshman year, a learning year for any newcomer, let alone one who came from across the water -- not quite used to the speed and physicality of the American game yet -- his improvement was exponential, and it coincided with Jordan's. I just think if you just take a step back, if there is any one thing that our program has excelled at is that guys who are with us, really get better. Jon and Jordan clearly, in the short careers they've had here -- Jordan has only been here two years and Jon only one -- they've shown dramatic improvement. That's exciting. You know, guys like Derrick Glasser and Eric Boateng showed (substantial improvement).
ASUDevils.com: What is going to make next year a better team? You had three guys (Jahii Carson, Evan Gordon and Bo Barnes) sit out last year. Can you ever remember a time when you had such talent with you team but not playing, and how they are going to affect ASU basketball?
Sendek: I don't think I've ever had that many guys practicing with us but not be able to play. Maybe at most sometimes we've had one transfer that is sitting his year in residency. I don't think we've ever been a position were we've had three players that were with us everyday in practice but on game day weren't able to compete. But that's a real advantage moving forward because those guys got a feel for how we do things. They had a year to develop and improve and they're three really good players. And I think it's just exciting to me to think about our team next year when they're actually able to play on game day.
ASUDevils.com: Some of the players on the team said that the scout team hung with that first group quite easily in practice.
Sendek: It was really great because it made our practices exceptionally competitive. We had Jahii (Carson) on the scout team playing point with Evan and Bo to his right and left. Three guys who can really score, three good players. And we're excited. I think there are two aspects to our team moving forward. I think we return a solid nucleus but we also have an injection of guys who can really help us. The three guys who we've just talked about and then plus our three incoming freshmen. And I think it gives us a great balance. I think we have a good nucleus and then also some exciting newcomers.
ASUDevils.com: One of the things that plagued you guys all season was turnovers. Jahii and Evan are two of the better ball handlers that you are going to have on the roster is that going to help address that issue and can you also speak about their skills?
Sendek: Rather than focus on just those two players, I don't know if there is a more important area of improvement for our basketball team. We as coaches and every single player have to take ownership of our turnovers. Historically we've been a low turnover program and we have to return to being able to play with 12 or fewer turnovers (per game). You have to be overwhelmingly superior to have the deficit in turnover margin that we had last year and be successful. There is a number of areas, if not all areas that we have to get better at obviously but you'd be hard pressed to find one that has more attention from me as turning the basketball over. It's just goes against the grain of everything that is critical. Jahii and Evan will help but once again our turnovers came in all areas. I charted every one trying to come up with (a common them), maybe there was a preponderance in one area or a category that was overflowing, but to be honest with you we were all over the map with it. Everybody owned the turnover bug. And it all goes back to fundamentals and we have to be better in that area moving forward.
ASUDevils.com; How does the roster composition look compared to other teams you've had?
Sendek:I like our team a lot moving forward. I'm not one to make bold predictions, it's just easier to say than to do. I know no matter what I say coming off the season we just had, there is going to be people who cross their arms and cross their legs and say shut up and show me. But right now we are just chopping it up right now in the off season and talking about the prospects of the future. But as I look at our team -- and I told out team this -- I couldn't be more excited and I really like the composition of our team. And that is not in anyway to insinuate that we don't have a mountain of work ahead of us or that we don't have a lot of room for improvement. We do. But when you start to look at the pieces I think it is really easy to get excited.
ASUDevils.com: Is it hard in today's college basketball to find the right sort of place to operate in that is between having a lot of competitiveness in practice and talented guys who are not playing a lot, compared to guys that aren't playing a lot and therefore are unhappy and want to leave the program. How tough is it to strike that balance?
Sendek: It's almost impossible because in practice you would like to have as many as good players as possible -- you would love to have great competition. All the guys on the court are your guys. But on the other side of that point, as the game comes it is impossible to play 13 scholarship players. Even if some guys are playing, it may not be enough to meet their expectations or hopes. So there is that balance. We have been fortunate here to have some guys that are on our scout team who are selfless and do a great job for us like David Whitmore. And then sometimes a young man simply decides that there is just not enough opportunity for him to play the role or minutes that he desires so he goes to another school. As we've talked about in the past that probably by and large best explains the vast majority of guys who have left our program than any other factor.
ASUDevils.com: When you look at the recruiting aspect of what you guys do, it seems like you are increasingly looking to guys now like transfers and possible use of redshirt and you talk about needing players whose expectations are in line with reality. Are you looking to those areas even more significantly now when you consider who you want to bring into your program.
Sendek: Yes. But all these different variables are all somewhere on a continual and they are all a function of who is available and who you can get. It's not like we can be like Dr. Frankenstein and just like go into the laboratory and construct exactly what we might need at the moment. But all those kind of things are things we seriously take into account. The ability to get guys with experience and retain the guys that you want to retain is obviously important. But sometimes it's best for everybody if somebody moves on. I've had guys come to me and say, 'Coach I would really love to stay, what do you see my role being? I would like to be a 20 plus minute guy.' I can't in good faith look him in the eye and promise that. So I actually help them move on. If your only goal is retention maybe you have a different conversation but if you want to do what's best for the student-athlete, if you want to maintain the right level of integrity -- once again it's not just a function of recruiting mistakes because there is always somebody that wants to play more. And sometimes that somebody is willing to work harder and wait their turn and other times they figure they don't see a light at the end of the tunnel and it's time to go in a different direction. Once again if you look at the breadbox of the guys who have left us almost without exception, almost, they have been guys who say wait a second how am I going to play here? You look at a guy for example like a Kraidon Woods, we had Jeff, we had Eric, he finally came to the conclusion even if I work really hard how am I going to play the kind of role that I want to?