TEANECK, N.J. – Moments after FDU defeated Seton Hall earlier this season, Greg Herenda repeated a story he shared at Northeast Conference media day. It was last Spring, the newly appointed FDU coach had a great press conference, and when it was all over stopped and thought about it.
“I was a little scared,” Herenda confessed. “We had seven players in the program and no assistant coaches.” So Herenda did what he does best. He got to work.
That day just months ago seems years removed. In winning the contest at the Prudential Center, FDU in the space of a week had road victories over the Hall and Rutgers. On their home floor.
“You go in with confidence not expecting this (victory),” Herenda said. “But when it happens you are a little surprised.”
The Knights dictated tempo against Seton Hall. They showed some pressure after scores but would fall back into a zone defense. The offense, a bit deliberate, was a mix of perimeter and attacking the basket off the bounce.
“The first ten minutes of that game were crucial,” recalled Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. It was at that juncture the Knights put their stamp on the game pace for the afternoon. “Our keys were defending without fouling, rebounding and running good offense,” Herenda said.
In his estimation jobs one and two were accomplished. The offense could have been better but proved adequate to get the victory.
Two huge victories in the space of a week made that spring day seem like a decade ago. That was the day Herenda realized the enormous work ahead. First job was to hire a staff and he got a great one. Veteran Bruce Hamburger came from St. Peter’s. Dwayne Lee, with an outstanding basketball pedigree, playing for Bob Hurley at St. Anthony’s and Phil Martelli at St. Joseph’s also came on. Zak Boisvert, a young aggressive newcomer, had been going to clinics and contributing to mensbasketrballhoopscoop.com, a coaching site, since his days as a manager at Fordham.
The assistants take a very active role in the program. Each one is given a game to scout and plan for the opposition. For instance, Herenda noted, Lee was on the assignment for the Rutgers game and Hamburger took care of the Seton Hall matchup.
Next was procuring talent. Herenda and staff worked tirelessly to add a number of newcomers to the fold. There was the ongoing process of not only attracting newcomers but getting the few returnees to buy into what Herenda was attempting to accomplish.
Through it all the new coach remembered an important item: reach out to the local coaches. Virtually forgotten during the last coaching regime at FDU, the local high school mentors were warmly welcomed by the new staff. Good move, as you never know when one of those coaches has a player who can help your program. Clinics were held at the Rothman Center, and coaches dropping by to watch practices were encouraged and accommodated. “It got to the point it was rare if we didn’t have an outside coach at one of our practices,” Herenda said.
Having the coaches visit not only reaches out to their community but lets them know what Herenda and his group realize: Fairleigh Dickinson is a great university. “The education is great,” Herenda said. “But it is also the people. The athletic department, faculty, everyone involved, you have wonderful people here.”
Herenda applied when the job was available three years ago. He did not get it. When it reopened the past spring, he did not have any reservation. He applied, pursued it and this time Athletic Director David Langford chose Herenda. It looks like a wise choice indeed.
Several weeks after the Hall game, the FDU women are facing St. Peter’s at home. Director of Basketball Operations at FDU Mike Blackgrove is in attendance. He discusses a very competitive loss at Stony Brook and an Iowa team that defeated the Knights in Iowa City. Blackgrove also added, “Princeton (another team knocking off the Knights) is very good.” The women have only one victory and are struggling. Regardless, here is Blackgrove representing the coaching staff while a number of the FDU players are in attendance in support of the women’s team. More Herenda influence. More of the ‘family’ accent.
The wins over Rutgers and Seton Hall are in the rear view mirror. FDU though, has caught attention. Somewhat of an ‘easy out’ in Northeast Conference play the recent seasons, members of this wide open group have taken notice.
Sidney Sanders Jr., a senior guard, leads in scoring at 20.4 ppg and almost every other offensive category as well. Freshman Matt MacDonald (who hit the game winner at Rutgers) and Junior Mustafa Jones, two guards, have contributed. Senior forward Mathias Seilund suffered through the last few lean years. He bought into Herenda’s philosphy, returned and has been a key player as well.
The new year opened with a nice home win over Hofstra. Following that one, a win of added significance over Mount St. Mary’s, a conference triumph. On the road they suffered a narrow setback at Sacred Heart. The NEC is definitely on notice.
No expects FDU to contend. On the other hand, they will work hard night after night and compete. That was Herenda’s goal when he signed on in the spring. Consider it mission accomplished.