Senderoff’s journey includes return to Kent
After seven years as Kent State University’s associate head coach (2002-2006, 2008-2011), the school promoted Rob Senderoff, a member of Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson, to head coach on April 7, 2011. His predecessor, Geno Ford, held the position for three years before becoming head coach at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.
Senderoff inherits a team that finished second to Akron in the 2011 Mid-American Conference Tournament following a 66-65 loss. Despite that, the Golden Flashes were voted as preseason favorites by league media for the 2011-2012 season.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Senderoff, who belongs to the Jewish Coaches Association. “To have a chance to be named the head coach here with a school with great tradition, it was a great honor.”
Senderoff played basketball in high school and initially had no coaching aspirations, but he said his lack of talent helped guide him to his current profession.
“I was a bad player who was a lot like a bad actor,” he said. “I kept hearing, ‘Cut, cut, cut!’ from my coaches when I tried out … I tried to play in college at a Division III school. I wasn’t good enough, but I still loved basketball. I knew at that point I wanted to coach for a living.”
Senderoff has coached at six schools in 15 years. His résumé reads like an indecisive transfer student’s nightmare: two years at Miami University in Oxford, two at Fordham University in New York, two at Yale University in Connecticut, one at Towson University in Maryland, four at KSU, and two at Indiana University.
Despite his lengthy stint as an assistant coach, Senderoff takes things one day at a time in his new position. “I’ve been through a lot of situations, but none of them as a head coach,” he said. “Each day, whether it’s ‘Are we practicing too long, too short, have we got enough stuff in? How are our kids’ legs? Are they tired?’ There’s something new that I’m facing. I feel like I have a really good staff of assistants that help me get through it.”
Senderoff left Indiana in 2008 to return to KSU. The most difficult part of being back in Northeast Ohio? “The winter,” Senderoff said, laughing. “I’m from New York. it’s not like the winters are great there. But it’s a different level of winter here … and a different level of snow.”
He lives in Stow with his wife of 10 years, Lauren, and his two daughters, Samantha, 8, and Rachel, 3. His home is three miles from campus and about four miles from his synagogue.
“The temple has been really, really good for both of us, my wife in particular,” said Senderoff, whose wife is from Long Island, N.Y. “We grew up in large Jewish communities. There’s less of a Jewish population where we live now. So it’s nice for us to have the temple so close for my wife and for my daughter to be able to have that connection to their heritage. That’s obviously really important to both of us.”
Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Sheldon Ezring, who brought his family to Senderoff’s games in the past, said he was a “very lucky rabbi.”
“I was lucky enough to have Dolph Schayes, one of the top 50 NBA players in the first 50 years of the league in my congregation (Temple Concord) in Syracuse (N.Y.),” said Ezring, who was a rabbi at that synagogue for 20 years. “I’m equally honored to have Rob Senderoff, one of the up-and-coming basketball coaches and his family in my congregation in Hudson.
“Rob is a fine young man who is genuinely a good person. … I’ve seen him actively participating with his wife Lauren and their daughters in the synagogue, and I know that he will be a fine role model for young Jewish people and young people throughout this country.”
Senderoff said he felt honored to have the job, especially in light of his Jewish heritage. “The fact that because of my religious background, you’re calling to talk to me, that’s an honor in itself … I (coach) to represent my university and my school and my family, but to know that there’s something greater to that as well, it’s certainly an honor and a privilege.”
Dambrot rebounds at Akron after hiatus
After Keith Dambrot, who was the head coach of Central Michigan University’s men’s basketball team at one time, used a racial epithet with his players in January 1993, Athletic Director Dave Keilitz opted not to bring Dambrot back for the 1993-1994 season.
Dambrot then lost a wrongful termination lawsuit he filed on April 19, 1993, and spent five years on hiatus before becoming head coach of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. Dambrot coached LeBron James in his last two seasons in high school, but the two first met at the Shaw Jewish Community Center in Akron when James was 13 years old.
“Basically, I opened up the Jewish center and let any kid in Akron pretty much come and work out every Sunday evening,” said Dambrot, who held basketball clinics at the Akron JCC during his coaching hiatus. “LeBron was a sponge. He was with a group of boys who had been coming for a year or so. He’s the type of guy that learned quickly, just wanted to be taught.
“Just a bright kid. Obviously, he had a pretty good basketball reputation, really wanted to be taught, really wanted to please you, really wanted to do the right thing on the court, become a better player.”
Dambrot left St. Vincent-St. Mary in 2001 for an assistant coaching spot at his alma mater, The University of Akron. Promoted in 2004, his tenure as head coach has all but washed away the tarnish of his Central Michigan past.
Dambrot, who is in his eighth season with the Zips, amassed a 173-81 record. He has won two Mid-American Conference titles in the last three seasons.
While he doesn’t wear his Judaism on his sleeve, he said religion plays a constant role in his life.
“I still try to get over to the Jewish (Community) Center as much as I can,” Dambrot said. “Last year, I read to little kids for national reading week. … I pretty much grew up there.”
Although his wife of 21 years, Donna, is Catholic, their daughter Alysse, 20, and son Robby, 17, followed in their father’s footsteps and attended the Akron JCC preschool.
Dambrot’s Jewish accomplishments extend internationally. He convinced Ben Braun, now the head coach at Rice University in Texas, to coach the men’s basketball team at the Maccabiah Games in 1989.
“I filled out the application for him, and he ended up being the head coach,” said Dambrot, who worked under Braun as an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan University from 1986-1989. “Coach didn’t want to do it, and I said, ‘Nah, you need to be doing this.’”
Time constraints prevented Dambrot from coaching the Maccabiah team. Despite his busy schedule, he remains active in the Jewish Coaches Association (JCA), where he’s been nominated for the Red Auerbach Coach of the Year Award the last two years.
Jason Belzer, executive director and founder of the JCA, said Dambrot is a valuable member of the 400-person association, which includes men and women in different games across different age levels of play.
“I’ve known Keith for a while now, and he’s accomplished a great deal,” Belzer said. “He’s on the cusp of taking a bigger and better job. … When we need something from him, particularly if it’s something going on in Ohio … having a bit of celebrity power certainly helps us when we need to get something done.”
Dambrot said he doesn’t let his celebrity status change his worldview.
“I view the world a little more pluralistic than most people,” he said. “I don’t view it as black, white, green, yellow, Jewish, Catholic. I just kind of view it as people.”