Herb Sendek arrived in Tempe in 2006 to take over the Arizona State men’s basketball program. Three years later, Sean Miller was hired as the head coach at rival University of Arizona across the state in Tucson.
But it seems like Sendek is the one constantly trying to catch up as the Wildcat program has been on a meteoric ascension since the 45-year-old Miller took the reins of the program Lute Olson had built into a national power.
That irony came to mind last week when Dominic Green, a 6’7″ guard/small forward from Renton, Wash., gave his verbal commitment to play for the Sun Devils. Green is a three-star recruit who was ranked by the Seattle Times as one of the top 40 high-school players in the state last season.
He’s the first and only commit to ASU’s 2015 recruiting class.
Meanwhile, down in the Old Pueblo… Miller just lassoed Allonzo Trier, a five-star recruit that makes it four players already on board for the 2015-16 season.
And three of the four are five-star prospects. The fourth player is a transfer from Boston College, Ryan Anderson, who will be ready to play in 2015.
So impressive is this class that the recruiting website 247Sports last week positioned the Arizona class of 2015 as the No. 1 group in the nation so far. And that lofty ranking came after the Cats had already lost a five-star recruit when Tyler Dorsey reneged on his verbal commitment to become a part of the 2015 class.
Ironically, the unparalleled success that Arizona is enjoying on the recruiting trail worked against the program in this instance. Dorsey, a point guard ranked as the No. 12 player in a 247Sports composite, realized he had a couple of other five-star recruits who would be vying for the same position. Parker Jackson-Cartrwright is taking the floor this year as one of the most heralded recruits in recent years, and could challenge senior T.J. McConnell for playing time this season, while Justin Simon will be coming in next year.
Simon is one of the top-ranked guards in the nation and brings a versatile game to the party as a quality passer who excels at the transition game, while also contributing on defense. The 6’5″ point guard from California was ranked as the No. 29 player in the class of 2015 by 247Sports.
The other five-star in the class is Ray Smith, a 6’8″ small forward from Las Vegas who averaged 24.7 points and six rebounds as a high-school junior, but will likely miss his senior season after tearing his ACL at a summer camp in mid-July. He was ranked by Scout.com as the No. 3 small forward and No. 22 player overall in the 2015 class.
Sendek will work with a roster sprinkled with local recruits (five from the metro Phoenix area) to try to get the Devils back to the NCAA tournament next March. Last season, their 21 wins was enough to get the program back to the tourney for the first time since 2009, but they were bounced by Texas in the first round.
Miller no longer has to rely on local talent since his recruiting classes have consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally for most of his short tenure in Tucson. And the one in-state player on the roster, 6’10” forward Matt Korchek, will be transitioning out next year. The senior, who averaged 4.6 minutes a game last year, transferred into the program as a junior after a year at Cochise College, a JUCO program in Douglas.
But Sendek gets a couple of chances each season to even the playing field, so to speak, when the two teams meet up for the Territorial Cup rivalry. Last year the teams split the series, with Arizona winning in Tucson, 91-68, and ASU coming back a month later to win the Feb. 14 match-up in Tempe, 69-66.
Sendek may still have a way to go to catch up to the streaking Arizona program. But when the two bitter rivals meet each season, anything can happen.
You have to wonder, however, if Sendek isn’t getting tired of being the underdog every time.
Maybe that’s a problem that a couple of five-star recruits of his own would go a long way toward solving.