The first quote was typical and anticipated.
"I don't have any great need to compare," Herb Sendek said. But he must've known that wasn't going to prevent me from trying to make him. If not, he was about to find out. Because four seconds later I tried again with a slightly different approach.
"It's important to stay in the present and really not spend a lot of mental energy trying to compare and label and categorize different things," Sendek said, and now I was taking it as a challenge.
You know, like a game.
|Things are good for Herb Sendek at Arizona State. (US Presswire)|
North Carolina State hasn't returned to the NCAA tournament since Sendek exited, in case you didn't know. Meantime, Sendek has transformed ASU into a relevant Pac-10 program -- proof being how he won 25 games last season, took the school to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003, had one player (James Harden) selected third in the NBA Draft and another picked 31st (Jeff Pendergraph).
Translation: Things are good at Arizona State.
At N.C. State, not so much.
And that's all I wanted Sendek to say.
I wanted him to tell me about how it was obvious given his record (more on that in a minute) that he was a good coach doing good things at N.C. State, and how he now looks back and laughs at those fans who just knew they deserved better. And I wanted him to tell me all this while dropping in various remarks about how nice the weather is in Tempe and how the new practice facility is off the charts, and if he wanted to comment briefly on the quality of ASU's student body, I was ready to listen to that, too.
In other words, I wanted Herb Sendek to say what I'd say.
To be like I'd be.
And probably how you'd be, too.
"It's human nature to be that way," Arizona State senior Derek Glasser said. "But one of the things Coach Sendek always talks to us about is how to not worry about the last play or the last game or anything like that, how to just let it go. So I really don't think he focuses on N.C. State at all, because he's not the type of person to focus on the past."
Well, then allow me to do it for him.
Because Sendek really has pulled off a rarity.
He's not only doing better than the previous coach (Rob Evans) at his new school (ASU), but he's also doing better than the coach (Sidney Lowe) his old school (N.C. State) hired to replace him after his old school -- and its fan base -- decided it no longer appreciated his talent. The way Sendek was treated looked silly then, and it looks even sillier now considering the Wolfpack have finished 10th, 12th and 10th in the ACC standings the past three seasons with zero NCAA tournament appearances and 15 league wins.
How does that compare to Sendek?
The Wolfpack finished third, fourth, second, sixth and fourth in the ACC in his final five seasons with five NCAA tournament appearances and 46 league wins. So it's not even a comparison, really. And to all the N.C. State fans who like to highlight Sendek's not-so-great record against in-state rivals North Carolina and Duke, I would just remind you (for the 487th time) that almost anybody would have a not-so-great record against UNC and Duke, and to judge Sendek at N.C. State against those two monsters would be like me judging myself against Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
I'm finishing a distant third in that race every time.
Because I'm not Brad Pitt or George Clooney, that's why.
Just like N.C. State isn't North Carolina or Duke, and that N.C. State didn't realize that three years ago now has the school picked by many to finish last in the ACC this season (that would make four consecutive 10th-or-worse finishes) while the coach it ran off spends his days being appreciated 2,100 miles west. To be clear, I can't tell you Sendek will return to the 2010 NCAA tournament because he lost his top two players from last season's team. But what I can tell you is that he won't finish last in his league or get fired come March, and that, by definition, means he's doing better than the guy hired to replace him at the school he left behind when said school's fans wouldn't get off his behind and just let him win.
N.C. State wanted more.
But now it's accomplishing way less.
And Herb Sendek couldn't care less, best I can tell.
He could be bitter and arrogant, and it would be justified, for sure. But Sendek honestly doesn't seem to think about N.C. State at all, instead choosing to focus his energy on a present that's enjoyable and a future that seems bright given that he's already committed three prospects from the Class of 2010 -- among them Keala King, a 6-foot-5 guard whom Rivals.com ranks as the nation's 25th-best recruit.
"There's no question that we've made considerable progress on every front and that there's a very different perception of Arizona State basketball on a national level," Sendek said. "We have a fair amount of momentum right now."
At N.C. State, not so much.