ASU athletic director Ray Anderson announced Tuesday that the University had fired head basketball coach Herb Sendek after nine seasons at the helm.
It was time, and everyone involved, including Sendek, knew it.
Sendek, by almost all accounts, was a success at ASU. While a 159-137 record and 68-86 conference mark was not eye-popping, it was a significant improvement from where the program was when he first took over.
The former NC State coach accomplished a lot of good for the school: rose a downtrodden program to respectability, inched closer to an even playing field with Arizona, helped increase student engagement with the creation of the 942 Crew and overall encouraged a strong academic environment with his players.
He also brought along the greatest Sun Devil basketball player of all time in James Harden, who in his two years in Tempe brought ASU to one of Sendek’s two NCAA Tournament appearances.
But it wasn’t enough. After bringing the program closer to respectability during the Harden era, Sendek’s Sun Devils became stuck in an endless cycle of roster turnover. The teams consistently over-performed with underwhelming rosters, never seeming to move the needle even after a 2013-14 NCAA Tournament bid.
Every year, once-promising players transferred away from the program, leaving the fate of the program in the hands of players who were unready and unprepared to take the reigns.
While nobody wanted to stay on the roster, Sendek also faced the issue of drawing the talent to Tempe in the first place. Outside of getting Harden, the only big-name prospect to come and thrive under Sendek has been Jahii Carson.
Recruiting continued to be a problem for Sendek, who saw five-star 2017 point guard prospect Markus Howard de-commit from the program just this past week. While he said the de-commit had little to do with Sendek’s status, Howard could be yet another swing and miss for the Sun Devil program.
Another recurring issue under Sendek came in winning games on the road. ASU won just three games outside of Wells Fargo Arena in the 2014-15 season, and struggled to win games without the so-called “home court advantage.” Some of the Sun Devils’ performances in crucial road games this season:
1/4/15: 73-49 loss to then-No. 8 Arizona
2/26: 83-41 loss to then-No. 13 Utah
3/11: 67-64 loss to No. 12 seed USC in the Pac-12 tournament (neutral site)
Even his record against Arizona, rather impressive compared to his predecessors, comes with the fact that his big wins against the Wildcats in recent years have all come on his own home floor.
Despite his involvement in the 942 Crew and the national attention garnered by the “Curtain of Distraction,” overall attendance and interest in the Sun Devil basketball program remains low. Part of it can be attributed to mediocre game day experience, but a large part could be attributed to Sendek, who at times lacked the charisma or energy that many hope for in a college coach.
Sendek, who by almost all accounts is humble, qualified, well-serving and respected in his field, is a good college basketball coach. He’s proved that in each of his stops, and will likely do the same in the next job he gets. But it’s time to move on.
While programs such as football, baseball, women’s basketball, hockey and others are all on the upswing since Anderson took over, men’s basketball has remained mediocre.
Under Anderson, this can not be the case.
“The status quo and being mediocre is not acceptable here,” Anderson said at Tuesday’s press conference. “We didn’t come here to be ordinary; we came here to be extraordinary.”
That has been represented from the top of the athletic department down during the Anderson era, and I expect nothing but the same from the next man in charge of ASU’s men’s basketball program.
With the University’s location and current standing, there is little to no excuse for an inability to recruit and develop high-quality talent to put a championship-level quality product on the floor. While I understand that it is not something that can happen overnight, I would not be surprised to see ASU reach the level and prestige that Arizona, Utah, Oregon and UCLA have reached within the competitive Pac-12 conference.
In fact, I’d be disappointed if they didn’t.
Anderson is focused on one thing with this hire: conference and national championships.
“We’re going to better the program,” he said. “We’re going to give this basketball program a chance to compete consistently for championships. That’s one of the things we promised that we wanted to accomplish here.”
Music to my ears.
Anderson elaborated on the type of guy he wants for the job Tuesday, saying he wants a guy who brings “electricity” to the job.
I would love to see this program get a shock.
Sendek was the stepping stone to return to respectability. It is now in Anderson’s hands to find the person who will help the Sun Devil men’s basketball program take the next step: to championship-level basketball.
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