For the last decade or so, Herenda has taken his family – namely wife Jill and son Trey -- to the Final Four, soaking up the festivities that coincide with the National Association of Basketball Coaches convention that takes place during the last weekend of the college basketball season.
Herenda, the North Bergen native, has spent most of his adult life coaching college basketball. For the last six years, Herenda, a coaching nomad for most of his 35-year career, has found a home literally in his backyard, serving as the head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck.
It was always Herenda’s dream to return to his roots to coach and now he has entrenched himself firmly with his own NCAA Division I program just a stone’s throw from where he grew up and where he currently lives in Bergen County. The 57-year-old Herenda is living the dream.
So the sojourn to San Antonio in April was a way to enjoy the end of another season, a campaign that wasn’t as successful as hoped. But for Herenda, being with Trey and Jill in a great town like San Antonio was going to be a perfect retreat.
Or so he thought.
Herenda had a sense that something was wrong even before he arrived in the Lone Star State.
“Before I got on the plane, I was at the airport with [former Villanova and New Jersey Nets star] Kerry Kittles,” Herenda said. “And my leg didn’t feel very good. I joked with Kerry that I was going to stay home. But when I got off the plane, I felt fine.”
The first day in San Antonio, Herenda began to do basketball activities with his teenage son.
“We went for a walk on the Riverwalk,” Herenda explained. “I walked about 100 yards and told Trey that I had to stop for a second. I walked another 100 yards and I had to stop again. I noticed that my leg was really swollen and felt heavy. I told Jill that if I didn’t feel better, I was going to have to go to the ER [emergency room].”
Sure enough, a few hours later, Herenda was indeed in the emergency room of Metropolitan Methodist Hospital in San Antonio.
“I couldn’t pick the heel of my foot off the bed,” Herenda said. “I knew something was wrong.”
Doctors performed an ultrasound of Herenda’s entire body. They found two blood clots, one in his thigh and another in his abdomen.
“I never had been in the hospital for anything, not for even a day,” Herenda said. “And now they were admitting me.”
And he wasn’t about to leave, either. Herenda remained in Metropolitan Methodist for 15 days, including April 2, his 57th birthday. He wasn’t able to attend the Final Four games with his son. Jill and Trey went to the semifinals, while Rev. James Hamill, the priest that married Greg and Jill almost 25 years ago and is now a resident of San Antonio, took Trey to the national title game to see Villanova soundly defeat Michigan.
Herenda was not only battling the blood clots, but also had a dangerously high fever, reaching 104.5 degrees at one point.
“I was lying on a bed of ice for a day,” Herenda said. “They were trying anything to break the fever. It would go down and then go right back up again.”
Through the odyssey, Herenda naturally thought of his own mortality.
“It was scary,” Herenda said. “Of course, I had those thoughts. I thought that the clot could possibly break off and hemorrhage.”
Part of the reason why Herenda was concerned is that his father, Anthony, died in 1977 of an apparent heart attack when he was only 50. Anthony Herenda’s true cause of death was never determined, but it was sudden, while Anthony, an accountant, was on his way to work one morning.
“Naturally, I thought of my father,” Herenda said. “I thought of a lot of things. I thought of my team a lot. Every time I got the fever down a little, I thought it was like a TV timeout and I was coaching my team.”
Through the ordeal, Herenda and his family were well cared for.
“The hospital was incredible and the people were awesome,” Herenda said. “We eventually sent Trey home because he had to go to school, but Jill stayed with me. She was awesome and tough through it all. I made so many new friends. The people there were incredible, magical.”
Greg Seiler, the chief executive officer of Metropolitan Methodist, became a regular visitor to Herenda’s bedside.
“He’s a huge basketball fan and a [San Antonio] Spurs season ticket holder,” Herenda said. “He came to check on me all the time. I got great care. I knew that I would eventually be okay.”
After 15 days, Herenda was given the medical clearance to fly back home to Newark. He thought about taking a train home, but eventually was able to get on a plane.
“I just wanted to get home,” Herenda said. “Every day, I felt a little better.”
But recovering from blood clots is not an easy task. Herenda is taking blood thinner medication, so he has to monitor his daily activities.
“I’m able to swim and walk now,” Herenda said. “When I first got home, I was in a wheelchair, then walking with a cane. It’s a process. The doctors said it’s going to take like 3 to 6 months. But I’m on the road to recovery.”
And Herenda had solid motivation.
“I just wanted to get back out on the floor again and be with my team,” Herenda said. “It was definitely a jolt. You learn to cherish everything.”
Herenda’s staff of assistant coaches has been doing most of the grunt work while the head man recovers. But Herenda misses the recruiting trips, the pursuit of players. He knows he cannot rest on the trip to the NCAA Tournament that Herenda’s team took two years ago. After two sub-.500 seasons, that trip to the NCAAs and all the attention that came with participating in March Madness, has almost all vanished.
“Maybe this was God’s will, sending me a message that I have to take better care of myself,” Herenda said. “I’m strong enough to recover, but this hit me hard.”
So Herenda’s back at work, trying to find players to come to Teaneck and play for him. Most of Herenda’s team, including former St. Peter’s Prep and St. Anthony power forward Kaleb Bishop, return for the upcoming season, so the expectations are high.
“Every day is a blessing,” said Herenda, who also has a weekly talk show on WFDU-FM (89.1 on the dial every Saturday at 12 noon. “It sounds like a cliché, but I treat every day like it’s a gift. I mean, this was scary. Sure, my wife and son were with me, but my team, my friends, my family were all 2,000 miles away when this happened. The people at that hospital made me feel a lot of love and they got me through it. I was where I needed to be. It was a team effort.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.