- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

Winters in North Carolina are supposed to be mild, but for the last decade N.C. State has experienced ones of harsh discontent. The Wolfpack's seasons have been plagued by turmoil and defeats. The once-proud program, which produced national championships in 1974 and 1983, finished last season with a 13-16 record and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for a 10th straight season.
"It seemed liked every day it was raining," said senior guard Anthony Grundy, recalling how the Wolfpack lost 13 of their final 17 games. "It felt like it got harder and harder to wake up. Playing basketball was like a 9-to-5 job. It was tough."
Coach Herb Sendek was on the hot seat by being unable to win more than six ACC games in his first five seasons. The coach's job was constantly in jeopardy as N.C. State endured the longest NCAA tournament drought of any team in the ACC.
This season, however, welcome warmth has reappeared. The Wolfpack bring a 16-5 record into today's game at No. 3 Maryland. N.C. State is 5-3 in the ACC, mainly because of Grundy and senior point guard Archie Miller. The Wolfpack start three freshman, led by blue-chip recruit Julius Hodge.
N.C. State, which has posted road victories over No. 8 Virginia and No. 14 Syracuse, is looking to pull its biggest stunner of the season against the Terrapins and further its NCAA credentials. Maryland (17-3, 7-1) needs a win to tie Duke for first place in the ACC, and keep alive its collision course with the top-ranked Blue Devils two weeks from today at Cole Field House.
The Terps have won four straight and nine of their last 10. They have a five-game winning streak over the Wolfpack, including a 72-65 win in Raleigh on Dec. 30. N.C. State has not won in College Park since Gary Williams took over at Maryland. Its last win was in 1989, a span of 12 games.
"We have versatility," said Grundy, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard who leads the Wolfpack in scoring (16.4 points) and rebounds (5.5 ). "We have a lot of guys that can shoot, pass and dribble. In the past, we were a stationary team. Now we have a lot of guys that can slash to the basket. We have an entirely different demeanor."
Williams compares Grundy with Duke's Mike Dunleavy, a guard who can play inside or outside and can make 3-pointers. Grundy is averaging 19 points in ACC play and also is a top defender. Today he will be asked to neutralize Maryland star Juan Dixon.
"N.C. State is a young team but they have a very veteran backcourt," Williams said. "I think any time you have experience in your guard positions where the other players look up to, you can have a very good basketball team. I really like Grundy. I think he is nationally not given enough attention because of some of the other people in the league. He demands that the players play a certain way."
Sendek, whose best ACC record has been 6-10, has heard rumors that he likely would be fired if the Wolfpack don't reach the NCAA tournament this season. Grundy believes State has improved not only because of the influx of talent but because Sendek has lightened up.
Though Sendek still looks like he belongs in an Ivy League classroom and not on a basketball court, he has given his players the freedom to be more creative with dribble-penetration on offense. There are also signs that he may not be taking himself quite as seriously.
"I think he's has been looser than he ever has," Grundy said. "He's laughing and cracking jokes more. Sure, winning has something to do with it. The mood is just a lot better than last year. There was one day in practice when he tripped on the sideline. Some guys started laughing. Last year he would have yelled at us for something like that. He just kind of laughed it off."
Sendek claims he hasn't given much thought to the dramatic turnaround that looks like it will save his job.
"There are always going to be things that you can't control," said Sendek, who had a 26-54 record in ACC regular-season games before this year. "The more you concern yourself over those things, chances are the greater your frustrations are going to be. No matter what you do, there is going to be elements you can't control. My focus has been to really try to center on the things I can control on a daily basis."
Hodge, a 6-foot-6 swingman, narrowed his college choices to N.C. State and Maryland before joining the Wolfpack. The Bronx, N.Y., product is the team's second-leading scorer at 10.7 points. The other two starting freshmen are Josh Powell, a 6-10 center who had a game-winning, last-second tip at Clemson, and 6-7 forward Ilian Evtimov.
N.C. State was in a similar predicament two years ago, when it brought a 15-4 record to College Park, only to blow a 16-point lead and start a seven-game losing streak that landed it in the NIT.
"It hasn't been fun the last two years," said Grundy, whose team is coming off an 82-81 loss to No. 24 Wake Forest on Wednesday.
"This year has been a little bit different."
Notes
Maryland is 10-0 at home this season and has won 13 straight overall at Cole. N.C. State is 3-0 on the road in the ACC, with wins at Virginia, Florida State and North Carolina.

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