- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

Herb Sendek has the hangdog look of a coach whose idea of a perfect basketball game is sometimes 1-nil.

There is no hint of joy in his wan facade, no sense of elation. His is the look of a person who carries the burden of too many tough losses of the past.

There is no swagger in Sendek, just an expressed desire to play it close, keep it close, because you never know, because one possession here or there, one shot here or there, and the night can be yours.

It is a method that sometimes puts everyone to sleep, an incongruent concept for a conference that believes its worst game tops the best of everyone else’s.

Sendek and the N.C. State basketball team often live and die by the 35-second shot clock, with a repetitiveness that can be exhausting.

The playing manner of Sendek’s team is not unlike the black squirrel of the city. It does not give you a good feeling. It does not really fit with its environment.

Sendek has been at N.C. State for almost forever, no small achievement for someone whose postseason portfolio is spare and who labors in the shadows of Coach K and Roy Williams along Tobacco Road. Sendek never could be Coach H. He is Herb through and through.

Sendek and the Wolfpack have made a small career out of the NIT, five consecutive appearances broken only by a 13-16 mark in 2001.

Sendek’s thin body of work restores one’s faith in the integrity of the NCAA’s member institutions. Sendek has accumulated only two victories in the NCAA tournament in eight previous seasons in Raleigh. That is one weekend’s worth of work for Coach K or the Dean Smith disciple by way of Kansas. Yet Sendek is where he always is, almost relevant, a strong win or two short of real sizzle this season.

N.C. State basketball used to stand for Norm Sloan and David Thompson, and then it was Jimmy V. running around in a daze, looking for someone, anyone, to hug in Albuquerque, N.M., in 1983. Now N.C. State is incidental to the powers around it, the Uncle Fester of the royal basketball family of North Carolina.

Sendek is said to have another good recruiting class on the way, which puts him in a position to stifle anew. He always has another good recruiting class on the way, which still leaves him on the outside of the ACC mainstream and again studying the intricacies of the 35-second shot clock.

Sendek and the Wolfpack had reason to be up to the challenge of Wake Forest, one of the Big Three of the ACC. It was just last weekend that Demon Deacons point guard Chris Paul whacked Julius Hodge in the place that could leave a man a soprano.

Paul received a one-game suspension from the school, a preemptive measure that spared the prospect of a stronger measure from the conference.

Paul put himself in an unyielding position, even unforgivable, as the better guy: a third-team Academic All-American and one of the premier point guards in college basketball.

Hodge tries to have a way with words, a way that can be misconstrued.

As he puts it, he is “the Jules from Harlem on his way to stardom.”

So that was the asterisk to the game on Fun Street last night, the anti-Sendek game, so alive and taut, even huggable in a tournament mostly lacking so far.

It was a game that probably pushed the Wolfpack over the top with the NCAA tournament selection committee. It was a game the Wolfpack embraced with vigor following what they thought was the uncharitable communication form of Paul.

The Wolfpack dropped a bunch of shots on the Deacons, and they played in a carefree manner that served them well. That is another thing that can be said of Sendek: His teams usually show well in the ACC tournament.

The two wins in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood pushed Sendek and the Wolfpack to 19 victories and a date in the Big Dance.

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