March 11, 2008
RALEIGH It's been only two seasons since Herb Sendek left N.C. State for Arizona State and Sidney Lowe became the coach of the Wolfpack, but some Herb-backers in Wolfpack Nation (yes, there really were some) already are playing the "See, I told you we'd regret losing Herb" card.
It's still too soon to do that, even though Sendek has made the Sun Devils relevant and may well get them into the NCAA Tournament, while Lowe's second team and the word "underachieving" have been frequent partners in the same sentence.
But it is interesting to play the "what if?" game with the Wolfpack roster. What if Sendek had stayed around and completed the recruiting class he was working on before he left for Tempe?
Here's what we do know. Sendek's final completed recruiting class the 2006 group would have brought three players to Raleigh, instead of just one, Dennis Horner. After Sendek left for Arizona State, 6-8 forward Dan Werner and 6-4 guard Larry Davis asked out of their commitments and went elsewhere. Werner wound up at Florida, where he is now a sophomore starter for the Gators, averaging around nine points and seven rebounds per game. Davis is a top reserve for Seton Hall, averaging 6.1 points per game.
After losing those recruits, Lowe took a chance on 7-3 center Bartosz Lewandowski, who never contributed before suffering a career-ending injury during his freshman year. Lowe also used two scholarships on transfers, taking Farnold Degand from Iowa State and Marques Johnson from Tennessee.
Degand looked solid at point guard before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Johnson, so far, looks like a bust at point guard. His offensive skills are limited, and he clearly lost the battle for the point guard position to unheralded freshman Javier Gonzalez.
Speaking of this year's freshmen, that's where the "what if Sendek had stayed" parlor game gets much more intriguing.
It's been well-documented that Chris Wright, a McDonald's All-American point guard from Washington, D.C., had committed to State before Sendek left. When Lowe failed to get Wright to re-commit, losing out to Georgetown, he eventually decided to offer Gonzalez in the spring. It was a huge recruiting loss for State, but short-term it hasn't made a big impact, because Wright played only 11 games this season before suffering a right foot injury that likely will keep him out for the rest of the year.
There was additional fallout, though, from Sendek's departure. At the time he pulled up stakes in Raleigh, Sendek was the clear frontrunner to add another point guard to the roster, Seattle's Jamelle McMillan the son of former Wolfpack great Nate McMillan.
So far this season, McMillan has been a minimal offensive contributor, scoring 2.0 points per game. But the role he's filling at Arizona State would have been the same Sendek would have asked of him at N.C. State being a steady backup at the point.
At the time McMillan was pondering a pledge to the Wolfpack, the State staff also had been set to add another top-50 commitment, 6-6 swingman Evan Turner from Chicago.
"I think I was close to committing to N.C. State," Turner told Pack Pride at the time. "I was supposed to go visit over Memorial Day weekend, and if I liked it, I was going to commit."
Turner instead signed with Ohio State. He moved into the starting lineup early in the season and is now a key contributor for the Buckeyes, averaging more than eight points per game. He recently scored 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds in an upset of Purdue.
Speaking of Purdue, one of the key contributors to the Boilermakers' surprising season may well have been playing at State this season had Sendek stayed. Robbie Hummel, the versatile 6-8 forward from Valparaiso, Ind., was very high on the Wolfpack during the spring of his junior season. When Sendek left, his disappointment was evident.
"I really liked (N.C. State). It's a good area, and they play in the ACC," he told The Bootleg, a Stanford fan site, at the time. "Hopefully, they find a coach who is interested in me."
A lot more coaches nationwide became interested in Hummel when he blew up during the summer circuit. He eventually chose Purdue over Indiana and now is averaging almost 12 points and six rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from three-point range.
Would Hummel have chosen State? That's not clear. But for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume he did. And let's assume that Wright wouldn't have injured his foot when he came to Raleigh. Also let's assume, even though assistant Larry Harris was recruiting current Wolfpack center J.J. Hickson hard when he was still on Sendek's staff, that it was Lowe who likely clinched the signing of the 6-9 center.
Here's the current Wolfpack rotation, under Lowe. Starters: PG Javier Gonzalez, WG Courtney Fells, WF Gavin Grant, BF Tracy Smith, C J.J. Hickson. Bench: Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley, Trevor Ferguson, Marques Johnson, Dennis Horner.
Here's the potential Wolfpack lineup, had Sendek stayed. Starters: PG Chris Wright, WG Fells, WF Robbie Hummel, BF Dan Werner, C McCauley. Bench: Costner, Turner, Grant, Jamelle McMillan, Larry Davis, Horner, Ferguson.
Not a bad group, huh? The Wolfpack would have loads of versatility, with players such as Hummel, Werner, Turner and Grant, allowing Sendek to give opponents multiple looks. There would be shooters galore, as well, with Hummel a major outside shooting upgrade over Grant in the starting lineup. With this group, it's hard to imagine State having to revisit the grind-it-out days under Sendek that drove many Wolfpack fans to distraction.
Granted, the hypothetical Sendek squad doesn't have nearly the inside presence that Lowe's squad has with Hickson. But given the choice, the nod here would go to Sendek's lineup, which has a major upgrade at point guard and with wing scoring and versatility.
O'BRIEN REWARDS WALK-ONS
It wasn't a move that grabbed headlines anywhere. It was just another subtle way in which football coach Tom O'Brien continues to improve the Pack.
Recently, O'Brien and his staff awarded scholarships to four walk-ons: kicker Bradley Pierson, receiver Koyal George, and defensive linemen Keith Willis Jr. and Jamaine Clemmons.
It was a move that lifted team morale by rewarding the hard work of several unsung players. But it also was a move that helped State with its academics. Walk-ons are typically solid in the classroom; after all, they're not in school purely to play football. Now that those four are on scholarship, they can count toward the Wolfpack's APR number.
Meanwhile, in the quarterback race, the hype over incoming QB Mike Glennon may well be justified, but don't assume that the job will be his this fall. Nor should it be assumed that the incumbent Daniel Evans will hold the starting spot until Glennon is ready.
This spring could mark the coming-out party of redshirt freshman Russell Wilson. He got the attention of the coaches throughout the fall by repeatedly burning the Wolfpack defense when he ran the scout team.