Herb Sendek needs to recruit better to win
On Monday, multiple media outlets reported that ASU men’s basketball coach Herb Sendek and women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne were given contract extensions, pending approval from the Arizona Board of Regents. Sendek’s deal reportedly runs through the 2018-19 season.
Given the nature of recruiting, it’s not surprising either of them received it. College programs are not going to let a coach become a lame duck. Recruits want to know that their coach is committed until they graduate. With the extension, Sendek isn’t going anywhere. If ASU didn’t want him back, it would have already fired him. He’s survived three different athletic directors during his time at ASU.
Sendek (ninth season) and Turner-Thorne (18th season) are the second-longest tenured coaches in the Pac-12 for their respective sports, and their starts at ASU couldn’t have been more alike.
Through eight seasons at ASU, each coach appeared in the NCAA tournament twice, the NIT/WNIT thrice, and sported identical conference records (64-80). Both earned a first Division I head coaching job in 1993-94.
Turner-Thorne turned around the program in her ninth season. She guided ASU into the NCAA tournament for the next five seasons, which included two Elite Eight appearances. Is Sendek capable of flipping the switch, too?
The first thing he needs to do is land more big-time recruits. He got a verbal commitment from Markus Howard, the No. 5 rated point guard according to Scout.com in 2017. But Howard's only a sophomore in high school, which means he has plenty of time to change his mind.
It’s not a coincidence that ASU made the tournament twice and the NIT twice when James Harden and Jahii Carson ran the offense. Without the two stars, ASU went to the NIT once and finished 10th in the conference three times.
Recruiting top talent becomes a chicken and egg phenomenon because to win, a coach needs to recruit, and to recruit, a coach needs to win. It’s also difficult chasing some of these players because the best of the best typically only play one season of college ball before declaring for the NBA draft.
Sendek hasn’t won enough at ASU to land the big players, though getting Howard is a nice start. In the Pac-12, only Oregon State and Utah have fewer NCAA tournament appearances than ASU since Sendek arrived.
Additionally, one of the other concerns about Sendek's tenure is the transfer epidemic. Just this offseason, ASU players Brandan Kearney (Detroit), Calaen Robinson (Portland State) and Egor Koulechov (Rice) moved on to other schools.
It’s not an ASU-specific problem. According to Sports Illustrated, roughly 11 percent of Division I players transfer annually and a third of top-100 players end up at another school.
However, reviewing ESPN insider Jeff Goodman’s annual college basketball transfer lists, ASU’s had the second-most players (nine) in the Pac-12 depart for other schools in the last three years.
Players move on for various reasons, although highly-touted guard Kaela King was dismissed. In the last five years of transfers, only guard Trent Lockett (Marquette) and forward Victor Rudd (South Florida) became starters at decent Division I schools.
However, if transfers were viewed like a trade (they're not), then ASU has come out ahead in the last several years. Evan Gordon departed to Indiana, and in came Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall.
Marshall averaged 15.1 points for a team that went to the tournament, while Gordon averaged 5.5 coming off the bench for a team that sat home. Additionally, forward Kenny Martin left ASU for a Division II school, while JUCO forward transfer Shaquielle McKissic became a starter for the Sun Devils.
The Phoenix area may never fully embrace Sendek unless he does something big, like make an Elite Eight. It's a front-runner town with six professional sports teams and a large transplant population base.
To be a consistent winner, which the fans can get behind, he'll have to recruit better players. But the best players mainly want to attend the best programs. ASU has to hope that last year's NCAA tournament appearance was enough to change recruits' perspectives.
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