After back-to-back disappointing basketball seasons, Herb Sendek knows he has to be ‘locked and loaded’ and ready for the wars that will begin again in a couple of months.
The Arizona State head coach is still locked and loaded. But some of his ammunition walked out the door yesterday when assistant coach, Scott Pera, accepted an offer to be the top assistant with the University of Pennsylvania program.
Pera has been at ASU for the past six years, moving onto the bench as an assistant coach in 2007, and then being named as recruiting coordinator the next year. He has become recognized as one of the better recruiters in the college game; he was instrumental in bringing James Harden to the Sun Devil program before Harden moved on to the NBA as the No. 3 overall pick in 2009, and played on Team USA at the London Olympics.
The departure is significant since it comes so late in the off-season. Plans are already in motion for the November start of the college basketball season, and now Sendek suddenly must devote part of his focus to finding a replacement for Pera.
(*Update: Apparently, Pera was just the first one to the door. Lamont Smith is right behind him, announcing today that he is leaving for the University of Washington, where he will join the staff of Lorenzo Romar, the head coach at St. Louis when Smith was just getting started in coaching. He has been on Sendek’s staff since 2008.)
Pera, who enjoyed a very successful run as a high school coach in Pennsylvania and California, acknowledged that this job came out of nowhere and was an unexpected offer. “All this happened in a very short period of time,” he told the Arizona Republic‘s Doug Haller. “It’s crazy how this business works.”
Penn has been another struggling program, going 39-43 over the three years since Jerome Allen took over as head coach. But last year the Quakers posted a 20-13 mark and appeared to be on the move. Then, Allen lost all three of his assistant coaches during the off-season.
But, basketball opportunity aside, it’s also a move back home for Pera, who grew up in Hershey, Pa., and graduated from Penn State.
Meanwhile back in Tempe… Sendek is trying to right a listing ship. When he first arrived at ASU from North Carolina State, he enjoyed success that helped revive a stalled program. He won 20 games each of his first three seasons, earning the 2010 Pac-10 Coach of the Year award.
The Sun Devils dropped to 12-19 for the 2010-11 season and then managed just 10 wins last year.
Sendek had a big hill to climb last year. Jahii Carson, the 4-star point guard he had recruited to run his offense, was ruled academically ineligible before he could get into the game, and Sendek was also working with a roster that didn’t include a single senior. Those two factors combined resulted in Sendek using 11 different starting line-ups throughout the season, as he looked for a solution.
But there appears to be a little sunshine on the horizon for the Devils this season. They will open the Pac-12 schedule with a home game for the first time since the 2007-08 season and will have 19 regular-season home games for just the second time in school history.
“We have some new faces and could have a lot of changes in what we do, both subtle and obvious, and the schedule is appropriate for this team right now,” said Sendek when the schedule was announced.
That’s just coach-speak for “We’ll take any advantage we can get this year.”
But being short an assistant is not an advantage – particularly so close to the opening tip-off. So expect Sendek to be filling that hole on the bench very quickly.