By John Crumpacker
For a lifer in the coaching game like Herb Sendek, the best thing this basketball coach did was to not coach basketball for a year. There’s a Zen approach in there somewhere, I suspect.
Relieved of his duties as head coach at Arizona State following the 2014-15 season, Sendek took a break from the game. A year well spent, he said.
“It turned out to be a blessing in many ways,’’ the new Santa Clara coach said. “I had additional time to spend with my family and get renewed and refreshed and continue to develop professionally. All those things turned out to be positive.’’
In March, Santa Clara tabbed Sendek to be the 15th head coach in school history, a school whose basketball history was largely written by the esteemed Carroll Williams and Dick Davey. Sendek’s Broncos are off to a 3-4 start to the season, with a game at the Leavey Center against UC Irvine upcoming on Saturday.
In the eight months since he was hired, Sendek said the response he’s received from the Santa Clara community has “been overwhelming. People have been so nice, so friendly. It’s made the transition as easy as it possibly can be.’’
Sendek, 53, is one of those sneaky-good coaches in college basketball. You don’t win more than 400 games (416-299) by just showing up in a suit and a smile. He’s something less than a legend, certainly not a colorful character but better at what he does than most people might think.
In 22 years as head of Division I programs, Sendek was named coach of the year in three different conferences, the Pac-10 (Arizona State), ACC (North Carolina State) and Mid-American (Miami of Ohio). He took all three schools to the NCAA Tournament. In nine years at ASU, Sendek’s teams won 20 or more games five times.
His most recent claim to fame is he recruited and coached The Beard, James Harden, when he was a Sun Devil.
Now he’s trying to elevate Santa Clara’s program and make it more competitive in the top-heavy WCC as one of four new men’s coaches this season.
“There clearly has been a top tier in the WCC the last few years,’’ he said. “We’re blessed to have really high character, good people on the team. I enjoy our team togetherness immensely. We have a group that is eager to learn. They’re fun to be on the court with and fun to be with off the court with.’’
Sendek is enjoying coaching star guard Jared Brownridge in his final season as a Bronco. Although the team has a better supporting cast around him this season, Santa Clara will ultimately go as Brownridge goes.
“He’s a guy who’s easy to cheer for,’’ the new coach said. “Being in his presence is enriching and he is one of the best performers in all of college basketball.’’
What We Learned
It looks like it will be a lively contest to see who ends up as the conference’s leading scorer at the end of the season. There does not appear to be one dominant scorer like Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer last season. Instead, there are several players scoring in the 20’s. As November gives way to December, San Francisco’s Ronnie Boyce is at the top of the scoring column at 23.4 per game, followed by Pepperdine’s Lamond Murray Jr. at 23.0. After that it’s Portland’s Alec Wintering (22.8), Saint Mary’s Jock Landale (21.0), Santa Clara’s Brownridge (20.7) and BYU’s Eric Mika (19.7).
Unless Utah Valley is the second coming of Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount teams of a quarter century ago, BYU will come to rue its 114-101 loss at home to its in-state non-rival. That’s one of those results that likely will look bad at the end of the season when 64 teams are picked for the NCAA Tournament. In a word, ouch!
Conversely, two teams already scored meaningful non-conference wins and have a chance to do the same again this week. No. 12 Saint Mary’s beat Dayton, an NCAA Tournament team a year ago, on its home court while Gonzaga rose to No. 8 in the rankings after winning the AdvoCare Tournament in Orlando with a 73-71 decision over No. 19 Iowa State. The Gaels go to Stanford on Wednesday in an attractive game for Bay Area fans. Gonzaga faces No. 16 Arizona on Saturday in a tournament at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Forward Brett Bailey is off to the best start of his career in his senior season at San Diego. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists for the Toreros and in three of the last four games he’s scored 22, 26 and 24. Makes you wonder how this Spokane native slipped out of his Gonzaga-centric town for sunny San Diego.
How about that?
Matt Hauser (36.7), Brownridge (36.7) and Jarvis Pugh (35.4) of Santa Clara are 1-2-3 in the conference in minutes played. Didn’t take new coach Herb Sendek long to figure out who his best players are.
Quote of the week
“We are just embarrassed.’’
That’s BYU’s Nick Emery, in the Salt Lake Tribute, summing up his team’s reaction to losing at home to Utah Valley 114-101.
Stat line of the week
In a 91-85 home loss to Portland State, Pepperdine senior forward Chris Reyes did all he could to stave off defeat at Firestone Fieldhouse. He scored 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, secured 11 rebounds and had 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. Well done, and well-traveled. Reyes, a Southern California native, started out at Saint Mary’s in 2012-13 but did not play as a freshman and redshirted; he spent a year in junior college (Citrus) in 2013-14 before moving on to Utah, where he played in 2014-15 and 2015-16. As a graduate transfer, this is Reyes’ last year of eligibility.
Follow the three dots...
In this first month of the season, WCC teams are torching the nets in non-conference games. BYU (90.2), Gonzaga (83.7), Portland (82.5), Saint Mary’s (81.8) and San Francisco (80.6) are all scoring better than 80 points per game. Let’s see if those averages stay that way once conference season begins Dec. 29. … Speaking of scoring, 14 players around the conference are hitting at least 50 percent of their 3-point attempts. … Although it lost its last two games, BYU as a team is averaging 5.0 blocked shots per game. Rejected! … Portland teammates Wintering and Jazz Johnson both recorded career highs in scoring in their team’s 96-78 defeat of Cal State Northridge. Wintering had 36 points and Johnson 26. … Theft-worthy describes Loyola Marymount and Gonzaga on the defensive end of the court. The Lions are averaging 8.5 steals per game, the Zags 7.2.
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.