He is known as a straight arrow, a former honors student who got an early break that he has parlayed into a successful, 15-year college basketball head coaching career. And he’s only 43 years old.
Meet Herb Sendek, Arizona State’s new basketball coach, a guy ASU officials — while not making any direct comparisons — are hoping can approach the success of Lute Olson 100 miles south in Tucson.
The former North Carolina State coach, while careful not to compare himself to the Hall of Fame icon at rival Arizona, didn’t duck away from the subject, either.
“It’s struck me that Coach Olson was successful in Iowa, then made a quantum leap at Arizona at a similar stage in his career.”
Pointing to the Phoenix area’s explosive grow th, Sendek said, “As you look at the demographics and possibilities, timing is everything.
“For all the right reasons, this is the perfect time to make the move.”
In signing Sendek to a fiveyear deal, ASU officials said the coach’s base salary will be below $1 million annually, though it will be laden with performance incentives.
Sendek went to some lengths to praise past coaches and players at ASU, saying, “Circumstances are always changing.
“Coach (Rob) Evans did the best with the circumstances he had to work with. My circumstances will be different. All of us are challenged to do the best we can with the circumstances we have.
“We’re building on the past. I don’t think any of the efforts or contributions of student-athletes or coaches who have been here before should be undervalued.’’
Along similar lines, he pledged to connect with ASU’s past by reaching out to former players.
“This should be a family for guys who have played for every coach.”
He also connected with ASU’s past by pointing out his father, a basketball coach himself, grew up in Windber, Pa., a small coal-mining town east of Pittsburgh, and would tell his son tales of the town’s sports legend: ASU football coach Frank Kush (who was on hand for Sendek’s introduction Monday morning).
He also used the Hall of Fame coach to deflect questions about his lack of experience in recruiting in the West; ASU athletic director Lisa Love had said such experience was important when she started the coaching search last month.
“Wasn’t Frank Kush born in Windber, Pennsylvania?” he joked.
More seriously, “We live in a global world. . . . The Mississippi River no longer is the great divide in 2006. . . . California and North Carolina aren’t that far apart.”
Sendek, who said he likely will keep his previous staff from North Carolina State, acknowledged attempts at recruiting in the West, without success, while working at N.C. State.
Sendek grew up in Pittsburgh, where he earned an academic scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University.
He hooked on with Rick Pitino’s staff at Providence. He later coached for Pitino at Kentucky before becoming a successful coach for three seasons at Miami (Ohio), where his team beat Arizona in the NCAA tournament in 1995.
His next stop took him to North Carolina State, where he worked for 10 seasons; his teams have made the NCAA tournament the past five years, winning at least 21 games the past three seasons.
“He’s accustomed to postseason play,” Love said. “He expects that. That’s life as normal for Herb Sendek.”
Reiterating a favorite theme about the basketball program, Love said, “We have to create that home-court environment. We can’t have an approachable home court.”
Once the program is upgraded, she suggested, “There’s no ceiling. It can be a beast with integrity.”
ASU president Michael Crow said, “He’s a natural fit for what we’re trying to do. He’s got the right personality, the right demeanor, the right drive.
“He’s in his early 40s, yet he brings 15 years of head coaching experience. It’s very unusual.”
At North Carolina, Sendek was considered popular with administrators and faculty because he was known for running a high-caliber program off the floor.
Fans, however, sometimes grumbled when Sendek’s teams would struggle on occasion against the tough competition in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Love said she interviewed “about eight” candidates for the job directly. She emphasized that Sendek, who appeared on her radar just days after Evans was fired on March 10, was “my first choice for this job.”
In seeking out candidates, ASU also talked seriously with Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon about 10 days ago, but no formal offer was made when it became apparent Dixon expected more money than ASU was willing to pay.
Love also interviewed former Utah coach Rick Majerus last week.
One candidate who was not interviewed was Lionel Hollins, the former ASU star who is now an assistant coach with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
“I’m disappointed in not at least getting an interview,” Hollins said. ‘‘But I understand the process. I’m not angry. I wish Herb and ASU the best of luck.”