Brad Sendell is studying economics at Lawrence University, but the men’s basketball star is living a life centered in philosophy.
It was the American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson who originally coined the phrase that life is a journey, not a destination.
Sendell seemingly took that statement literally as he ventured across America, then back home to the Monterey Peninsula, and then back across the country again on his college journey. His current stop on the trek places him just 11 points away from breaking Lawrence’s men’s career scoring record and a place among the greatest to have ever played for the Vikings.
“I kind of took a leap of faith and wanted to get out of California a little bit,” said Sendell, a senior guard from Pacific Grove, California. “I’ve loved my time at Lawrence.”
When Sendell graduated from Pacific Grove High School, he ended up at nearby Monterey Peninsula College. He emailed Lawrence interim coach Chris Kellett in 2018 and a relationship started. When Zach Filzen took the reins of the program later that year, the communications continued.
“Filzen contacted me and followed up. It wasn’t necessarily the basketball stuff. I was looking for a nice area, and Lawrence is a great school,” Sendell said.
“Playing (in junior college), I kind of had an up-and-down experience. I kind of wanted somewhere I could have a consistent role. I didn’t expect to come in and be the guy right away. It kind of just happened. My teammates trusted me a lot, and Filzen gave me some free rein.”
In Sendell’s first season at Lawrence, as a sophomore in 2018-19, he averaged 18.8 points per game and earned All-Midwest Conference honors.
“Once I got comfortable, I just kind of took off from there,” Sendell said. “I didn’t come here with the mindset that I was going to be a scorer.”
Sendell, who admits he was more of a traditional point guard at Pacific Grove, returned to Lawrence for his junior season with a nice group of other returning players. He had another standout season by averaging 22.4 points per game and a team-best 2.8 assists per contest. The Vikings went 11-14 for the second consecutive season and again fell just short of reaching the four-team conference tournament.
Sendell was a first-team all-conference selection and became the first player in Lawrence history to score more than 1,000 points in his first two seasons.
Then the pandemic hit in the first half of 2020, and Sendell returned home to Pacific Grove. He took a year away from Lawrence and became an assistant to Dan Powers, his prep coach at Pacific Grove. Sendell planned to return in the fall of 2021, but there was a change at the top when Casey Korn took over for Filzen, who departed for Bethel (Minn.) University this past September.
Korn knew Sendell’s game but was even more impressed with his passion when he met him.
“When Lawrence was going good, Brad was the pot-stirrer,” said Korn, who scouted Lawrence in his role as the assistant at UW-Oshkosh. “He was comfortable in making shots and everyone else seemed to play a little bit better. We knew he could put the ball in the hole, that’s for sure.
“The thing that jumped out was how much he wanted to win, how much he doesn’t care about his own numbers but trying to win games.”
Sendell also showed support for Lawrence’s new coach, and that set a tone for this young team.
“Brad was one of the first dominos to fall and say, ‘I believe in what this new guy is doing.’ He also helped convey that message to the other guys,” Korn said.
Sendell and fellow seniors Brandon Danowski and Julian DeGuzman were back in a new environment with a raft of young, talented players like Matthew Kaznikov, Adnan Sarancic, Kyle Lillwitz and the list goes on.
“It was a weird experience taking that gap year. In a lot of ways, I felt like a freshman coming into a new team,” Sendell said.
“At open gym in the fall, I started to get a better idea. It was definitely a transition. … It’s a well-constructed team and they’re good guys and easy to get along with.”
With the young players finding their way in the college game this season, there have been many times when the scoring burden fell on Sendell.
“We ask Brad sometimes to put us on his back and make a play for us. He’d be the first to admit he’s not overly athletic. He’s not above the rim and he’s not the quickest player, but he understands defenses and he understands change of pace,” Korn said.
“He has a love of the game, and he studies it and watches it and understands. He is the focal point of other people’s defense. He has the understanding of if it’s one-on-one, he’s going to score, but if they bring that other person, he distributes the basketball.”
Sendell leads the Midwest Conference in scoring at 22.8 points per game, and he ranks second in the league at 4.8 assists per contest. Sendell has 110 assists on the season, and he’s just one assist away from tying for the third-highest season total in school history. He posted a career-best 10 assists in an 85-77 win at Cornell College this past Saturday.
The maturity of his game has shown throughout this season as Sendell has consistently hit from long range and been nothing short of spectacular on the drive to the hoop.
“I feel like it kind of depends on the game situation, how I’m being guarded. Sometimes I’ll rely on the 3 a little more, but if it’s not going in, I feel like I can get to the rim,” Sendell said. “I also feel like I have the ability to make plays for my teammates. I feel like I’m a pretty complete player.”
As Sendell has decimated defenses around the region this season, he has steadily been catching three-time All-American and Josten’s Trophy winner Chris Braier for the career scoring lead. Sendell moved into second place last weekend and now has 1,555 points and is within striking distance of Braier, who has record at 1,565.
“I didn’t really have any idea,” Sendell said of the record. “My parents are keeping me updated. I never thought about it, to be honest. Now that it’s getting really close, it hasn’t hit me yet. It’s something I never would have expected.”
Breaking the record and being in the company of Braier, the greatest player in Lawrence history, would be a great individual achievement. With two games left in the regular season, the Vikings, who are 10-13 overall and 7-7 in the league, have a shot at making the conference tournament if they can knock off Illinois College and Monmouth College this weekend at Alexander Gymnasium.
“That’s one of my goals for sure,” Sendell said of getting the Vikings back in the league tourney for the first time since 2009. “It’s a little frustrating, the first two years, we were really good but never lived up to our expectations. I wanted to give that another chance.”
Sendell admits that during the early part of the pandemic he had lost a little of the reason for why he was playing the game but found the spark during the journey.
“It wasn’t that fun playing basketball. The joy was kind of gone,” Sendell said. “That break kind of helped me. I went back to my high school and helped (Powers) coach. It really made me want to play again. I wanted to come back and play and have a fun season, and that’s the way it’s been. (Making the tournament) would be a great conclusion to the journey.”