Seven years ago, Greg Herenda had a difficult career decision to make. He was offered the associate head coaching position by Bill Herrion, who had been recently hired by New Hampshire to revive their program. To an outsider, this position was a no-brainer to accept, especially for a career assistant who had spent over 20 seasons traveling up and down the east coast. But Herenda didn’t see it that way.
Instead, he politely declined Herrion’s offer and accepted his first head coaching position at Elgin Community College. As Herenda explained in his introductory press conference at Fairleigh Dickinson last month, he knew he wanted to become a head coach. So he turned down a top assistant position and opted to live in his in-laws basement in Chicago while he guided Elgin CC to a 18 win season and a Skyway Conference championship.
Seven seasons and three stops later, Herenda has become the seventh head basketball coach in Fairleigh Dickinson’s history. After taking a Division II program in UMass-Lowell to the NCAA Division II tournament four of the past five seasons, Herenda feels that he’s ready for a new challenge.
“I think it was time. I had a great run at UMass-Lowell; we won a lot of games and won a championship,” said Herenda who begins his 30th season of coaching college basketball. “I just think this opportunity is a difficult one, but it’s an exciting one.”
Herenda has never had a problem accepting a challenge. When he came to UMass-Lowell in 2008, the River Hawks were picked 12th out of 15 teams in NE-10 conference. It only took two seasons for Herenda to propel UMass-Lowell to a conference championship. Prior to Umass-Lowell, he guided both Cabrini College and Elgin CC to improved seasons as well. The past success gives Herenda the confidence to take on a Fairleigh Dickinson program that hasn’t had a winning season since the 2005-06 campaign.
“I’ve never been handed jobs that are great silver platter type jobs and this is certainly not one of those,” said a candid Herenda.
To make matters even more difficult, Herenda is only inheriting six players from last season’s roster. That’s because two players, Sekou Harris and Yves Jules, will not return to Fairleigh Dickinson for the 2013-14 season. The diminutive, yet quick Harris, who was projected by Big Apple Buckets as an upper level NEC prospect last season, never quite found his way into the rotation as a freshman under former head coach Greg Vetrone. And with the new coaching regime coming in, Harris decided it was in his best interest to transfer to a junior college, sources said.
Nevertheless, Herenda is excited about what he has seen in his first month as the Knight’s head coach. “What I sense is there are some guys that are very, very hungry, that want to work, that want structure, discipline and want to win. So I was pleasantly surprised at our workouts in the spring.”
In addition to those six returning players – Sidney Sanders, Jr., Myles Mann, Mustafaa Jones, Mathias Seilund, Xavier Harris and Kyle Pearson – Herenda has also received commitments from four others. 6’8” center Michael Owona and 6’3” guard Jayde Dawson will both follow Herenda from UMass-Lowell. In addition, 6’5” swingman Scott Kingsley and 5’6″ point guard Malachi Nix are also pegged as future Knights. Currently, Fairleigh Dickinson has the ability to fill up to three more scholarships.
It’s shaping up to be an incredibly young roster in his inaugural season in the NEC, but Herenda is eager to discover what kind of team he has.
“The key is to get these guys to play really hard, and together and play with a purpose,” said Herenda. “I think if those three things come together then you can have an opportunity to make a big bounce.”
One thing working in Herenda’s favor could the Knights’ style of play. The head coach plans to implement an up-tempo attack that includes defensive pressing. Last season, NEC teams averaged more possessions per game than any other conference in the nation, so it sounds like the Knights could fit right in.
Herenda explained, “We’re going to defend, turn people over, try to create some easy and early offense. And then spread people out.”
“We play man, zone, we trap. We have a number of different offensive sets. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for our guys to do different things to keep (opponents) off-balance.”
It’s shaping up to be an exciting time for what has been a beaten down fanbase at Fairleigh Dickinson. After averaging 22.5 losses the past four seasons, there really is nowhere to go but up. Despite the mammoth challenge ahead, Herenda is confident that he’ll eventually achieve his ultimate goal for the program.
“One of these Marchs, I’m going to take Fairleigh Dickinson to the dance.”
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride