Pac-10 honors Sendek for ASU’s best hoops finish in 30 years

Score one for the over-achiever.  Herb Sendek was just selected the Pac-10 basketball Coach of the Year.

Score one for Lisa Love.  She looks like a genius right now.

Sendek, the ASU head coach hired away from North Carolina State four years ago to resurrect the basketball program, has just led the Sun Devils to a second-place finish in the Pac-10, the school’s highest conference finish since the 1980-81 season.  The Devils were picked pre-season anywhere from a seventh-place to a tenth-place finish.

Love, ASU’s V.P. for University Athletics, is the person who hired Sendek.  Within a month after firing Rob Evans, she engineered a major coup by pirating an ACC coach.  It was a bold stroke by Love, who was in her own job less than a year.

Love gets a share of the credit.  Sendek gets the honors… and $22,000.  The money is one of the bonuses written into his coaching contract.  The CofY award is not his first.  He won similar honors while at Miami of Ohio in 1994-95 and then again at NC State, just before leaving for the desert.

He also picked up District IX Coach of the Year honors, voted by the college basketball writers from California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Arizona, and Alaska.  This is the second time for the district award, which he received for the 2007-08 season, when the Devils went 21-13.

It’s not surprising that Sendek is being showered with accolades for his work this season.  But the first year of the Sendek reign was disastrous. Fans were in agony and Love was looking like anything but a genius.  The Devils went 8-22 in that 2006-07 season.  Then the turn-around began.  It’s been nothing but 20-win seasons ever since; this is the third straight.

To put that into the proper perspective, prior to the three straight 20-win seasons of the Sendek era, ASU had accumulated just three 20-win seasons in the previous 26 years.

The 47-year-old coach got his first college head coaching job when he was 30 years old and built winning programs wherever he went.  His style is very detail-oriented, he hires great assistants, is an effective recruiter, and is able to get the most out of the players he has on roster.

He knew what had to be done when he arrived at ASU.  He worked to make the players he inherited better, recruited good talent as quickly as possible, worked hard to build community support and fill the seats in Wells Fargo, and improved the facilities.  He was a driving force in securing donations to build the new basketball practice facility that was completed last May, a prime recruiting tool now.

A couple of the players that are testaments to his ability to develop talent also received Pac-10 honors, along with their coach.  Ty Abbott, a junior guard who finished ninth in the conference in scoring with 14.7 ppg and fourth in three-point shooting (.411), was named to the Pac-10 First Team.  And Trent Lockett, who scored in double digits in five games this year, was selected to the Pac-10 All Freshman Team.

Abbott almost didn’t make it to ASU.  He’s a local product, from Desert Vista High School, but was headed for New Mexico.  When the Lobos changed coaches before he could get there, he changed course and decided to stay at home in Tempe.  He set a school record for freshman starts (34) and three-pointers (76) and was off and running in the Sendek system.

Derek Glasser earned honorable mention honors and Eric Boateng received honorable mention on the all-defensive team.

Glasser and Boateng will graduate this year, but Sendek will begin next year’s quest for yet another 20-win season with Abbott and Lockett in his pocket – assuming Abbott hangs around for his senior season.  He’ll round out next year’s roster with what has been considered a great recruiting class.

But right now the Sun Devils are focused on a different mission.  They need a run deep into the Pac-10 tournament that starts for them with a game against seventh-seeded Stanford tomorrow night.  Maybe even win the whole thing to guarantee a ticket to the NCAA tournament.

When you look at what Sendek has accomplished so far, a tournament crown would only seem fitting.

(Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty)