For men’s basketball Coach Herb Sendek and crew, summer is a time to build the program for the future.
The recruiting trail is a figurative term. A time, not a place, when coaches like SCU’s Herb Sendek build their program. But for a three-month stretch each summer, it becomes more literal. Coaches head to cities like Dallas, Atlanta, and Indianapolis, bivouac in motels with continental breakfasts, and cram into gyms for amateur tournaments full of high school-aged players.
But the effort pays off. Take one of Sendek’s recruits at N.C. State: Julius Hodge. Sendek doesn’t exactly remember the first time he saw him, but he knows how many times he watched him play the last summer of his recruitment—64. “Basically, I saw all of his games in the July recruiting period except one.”
It doesn’t always take 64 games to land a commitment, but Hodge was worth it: five-star player, McDonald’s All-American, gritty competitor, moxie for miles. Not only was he good, but tough—a mentality changer for your program. “He was a great competitor and really had tremendous self-confidence,” Sendek says. “Those two in conjunction allowed him to almost impose a certain will on the contest.”
Today, Hodge is an assistant coach at Santa Clara. He, along with Sendek and assistants Jason Ludwig and Justin Gainey, hit the road this summer. So, what do they look for? There’s no hard and fast rule. “We want guys who have a great feel for the game,” Sendek says. “Guys who have a good skill set, can make shots, put the ball on the floor, pass. Guys who know how to play.”
Sendek has gotten big fish—Hodge and James Harden. But more important, he has a knack for finding guys who fit his system. Like Cedric Simmons in 2004—a top-35 recruit who became a first-round NBA draft pick. Or Josh Powell in 2001, a top-65 player who played seven seasons in the NBA.
The summer isn’t 64 games long anymore—more like 40—but that makes opportunities more meaningful. Sendek and his assistants divvy up the schedule. Games start as early as 8 a.m., don’t wrap until after 11 p.m. Lunch is a quick snack from concessions or hospitality if you’re lucky. And it isn’t just X’s and O’s. Sendek watches potential recruits interact with teammates, reporters, fans, support staff: “You want as much information as possible,” Sendek says. Ultimately, it’s about fit, a cross section of who can play and who wants to come. Sendek just wants to be open-minded.