International Flavor: Tennis coach builds success with student-athletes from around the globe

Sunday, September 23, 2007

By Kendrick D. Lewis
Reprinted from the August 2007 edition of Focus on SC State University

The men's and women's teams have combined to win a total of six conference titles with the men winning in 2004, 2005 and 2006, along with three NCAA appearances, while the women have dominated with a three-peat in conference titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007, earning them appearances in the NCAA tournament as well.When South Carolina State University men's and women's tennis coach Hardeep Judge took over the SC State tennis program in 2001, he had only one thing on his mind -- winning.

That's exactly what this two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Coach of the Year and United States Tennis Association (USTA) Coach of the Year has done over the past six years with an impressive career coaching records in Women’s (97-24, 47-3 MEAC), and Men’s (93-35, 43-5 MEAC) while earning six MEAC titles under his belt.

His coaching style is not the only reason SC State's tennis teams are feared by its MEAC foes and Division I schools across the country. It's also the level of talent he's been able to recruit over the years to build a championship-caliber powerhouse.

The men's and women's teams have combined to win a total of six conference titles with the men winning in 2004, 2005 and 2006, along with three NCAA appearances, while the women have dominated with a three-peat in conference titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007, earning them appearances in the NCAA tournament as well.

What's unique about this team is the international flavor. Players on both teams call places like Serbia, India, Romania, Czech Republic, Russia, El Salvador, Cuba and Latvia their homes.

"Let's face it, if you want to win you have to do whatever it takes to get the best recruits to play in your program," Judge said. "When I first arrived here, I called every tennis federation I knew in the world and I also contacted some old friends to see who was the best of the best around the globe."

Is it a trend? International recruiting has become the standard for a lot of Division I schools across the country. According to Tennis Magazine, of the current top 100 female tennis players in Division I, more than 50 are from outside the United States.

"The best part about recruiting these kids is you are competing with coaches from around the world who are trying to get these kids to commit to their programs or turn professional," Judge said. "We have been lucky. It wasn't hard selling the kids we recruit on the quality of education here at SC State and the experience they would be gaining as a student-athlete.”

"The more we started winning and building a solid foundation, schools really knew who we were and athletes wanted to play for SC State and be a part of the winning tradition we have built here over the years."

Judge has found success with this recruiting style and year in and year out, SC State has produced some of the top student-athletes in academics across the country.

This year alone, of 20 SC State student-athletes named Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars – one of the highest academic honors student-athletes earn -- four were members of the tennis team, three from the women's team and one from the men's squad.

"It just speaks so highly of the University and the caliber of kids we bring here," Judge said. "I am really proud of our players and especially for South Carolina State University."

What's next for Coach Judge and the SC State tennis program?

Having beaten top-ranked programs like Marquette, Ball State and the College of Charleston, you can bet teams are looking over their shoulders. With all the success South Carolina State's tennis program has had over the years, you can certainly expect to see this team in the hunt for a national title, as well as a national ranking.

"Our goal is to win a national championship," Judge said. "We have already won six MEAC titles and the HBCU National Title, but our focus is to get better and become one of the powerhouse programs in the country. Nothing less than a national championship is acceptable here for my team at SC State, and it can be done.”

"Most teams come in a try to get an easy victory, but now they know SC State is not a pushover school and we can compete with some of the best programs in the country," he continued. "No one gave us a chance, but now we have one of the top teams in the conference year in and year out."

When asked what makes this team different from any other team he has been a part of, Judge summed it up in one word -- character.

"I remember playing in the HBCU Classic in Atlanta and it was during the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and we were staying in a hotel with some evacuees," Judge said. "The team got together, gave up their meal money and put it in a hat so a family could eat. You are talking about kids who are from different countries and don't know anyone, but their only concern was making sure that family had enough food to eat that night. That said a lot of who they are and what they represent."

Despite all the success he has had, Judge doesn't feel his job is done at South Carolina State University.

"A lot of the bigger schools come after me saying, 'coach why don't you come here? We have everything you need here to win.'" Judge said. "The administration here at SC State, from Chairman (Maurice) Washington, President (Dr. Andrew) Hugine, Athletic Director Charlene Johnson and the Orangeburg community have been nothing but supportive in everything that we have done over the years and that's really important. I tell them I want to win a national championship and I want to do it here with South Carolina State University.

"This is where my heart is and I am here to stay."

Download the August 2007 edition of Focus on SC State University.