Arizona State officially introduces Sendek

TEMPE, Ariz. -- At first glance, it seems hard to understand why Herb Sendek would leave North Carolina State to take over at Arizona State.

He's moving from a storied Tobacco Road program with two NCAA championships to a school better known for its success in football and baseball. But as Sendek was introduced as the Sun Devils' 13th men's basketball coach Monday, he said the timing was right for him to build a winning tradition at ASU.

"I see great potential here," Sendek said. "It makes you say, 'Hey, wait a minute, what's possible here?'"

Sendek, 43, received a five-year deal, athletic director Lisa Love said. She would not disclose his salary.

Sendek said he did not consider his job change unusual. He cited Arizona coach Lute Olson's midcareer move from Iowa to Arizona, which he transformed from a lightly regarded program to a national powerhouse, winning the national title in 1997.

"Not that I'm trying to put myself on the same plateau as Coach Olson, but it struck me that he was very successful at Iowa, a well-established program in the Big Ten, and he made a quantum leap to Arizona at a similar stage in his career," Sendek said.

Asked if Sendek might become "the next Lute," Love replied, "No. He's going to be our next Herb."

The Sun Devils have been looking for a coach since March 10, when Love announced that Rob Evans would not return. Her first target was reportedly Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, who spoke with Sun Devils officials before accepting a contract extension.

ASU officials later met with former Utah coach Rick Majerus but did not make him an offer.

Love said Sendek had "entered my radar screen" three days into the search. Sendek said his first conversation with Love came by telephone last week.

Love said she had face-to-face interviews with at least eight candidates but said Sendek was "my very, very first choice."

Love said Sendek's NCAA Tournament resume -- he has led the Wolfpack to five consecutive NCAA appearances -- made him the best candidate. The Sun Devils have been to the NCAA Tournament three times in 28 years.

Perhaps coincidentally, Sendek's most noteworthy NCAA tourney victory came in 1995, when he led 12th-seeded Miami of Ohio to an upset of fifth-seeded Arizona. That gives Sendek as many wins over Arizona as ASU has in the last 11 seasons.

"Ultimately, all roads led to Herb Sendek, no question about it," Love said.

Sendek is 253-158 in 13 seasons as a college coach and was 191-132 at North Carolina State.

Despite his success in Raleigh, Sendek had come under fire from some Wolfpack fans, who were discontent with his 17-54 record against rivals Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

Sendek was named Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year in 2004, when the Wolfpack finished second in the highly competitive conference. A year later, he led the team to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, its deepest foray in 16 years.

This year, the Wolfpack struggled at times to replace leading scorer Julius Hodge but still finished 22-10 and made it to the NCAA tourney for the fifth straight time. North Carolina State drew a No. 10 seed, defeating seventh-seeded California before losing to second-seeded Texas.

As she launched the search, Love said she was looking for candidates with college head coaching experience, NCAA Tournament success and familiarity with the West Coast. Sendek was born in Pittsburgh and has not worked west of Lexington, Ky., where he served on Rick Pitino's staff at the University of Kentucky from 1989-93. But he said he didn't believe his lack of West Coast ties will hinder him.

"It's not West Coast, East Coast, United States," he said. "We live in a global world. Our neighbors are everybody. We don't have arbitrary lines like the Mississippi River drawn, like we used to back in the cowboy days. We're in 2006. California and North Carolina aren't that far apart."

Sendek said he had met with ASU players Monday. He said he expects to bring his assistant coaches from Raleigh.

Sendek faces a difficult job here. The Sun Devils, who often play in front of sparse crowds at Wells Fargo Arena, went 11-17 overall last season and finished ninth in the Pac-10 with a 5-13 record.

ASU has never won a Pac-10 title and has one NCAA tourney victory since 1995. But Sendek said he's excited about the challenge.

"The Pac-10 is as competitive as any league in the country," he said. "We're going to have to battle tooth and nail to continue to get better."