Firstie Feature: Josh Herbeck

Josh Herbeck

March 4, 2014

Everyone in Christl Arena on Jan. 19, 2014 will remember Josh Herbeck. With one minute left on the game clock, three seconds left on the shot clock and Army ahead of Bucknell by two points, Herbeck took the ball from the official near halfcourt and prepared to trigger an inbounds play. A cutting Kyle Wilson, the Black Knights’ first option, was blanketed by the Bucknell defense so Herbeck found center Travis Rollo, immediately looped behind Rollo who threw the ball back to the Army sharpshooter. Herbeck released the 35-footer as the shot clock expired, and the ball found its way through the bottom of the net. The Black Knights maintained a two-possession lead for the remainder of the game, defeating the Bison by seven. The basket was just one of his six three-pointers in as many attempts, including one that gave the team the lead for good.

“It’s definitely the deepest shot I’ve ever made, so I’ll remember it in that regard,” Herbeck said. “It’s definitely one that will stick out in my mind when I reflect on my career at Army.”

While the shot will certainly go down as one of the most memorable plays in recent Black Knights’ history, Herbeck’s impact on Army basketball goes much deeper than just one three-pointer. As the program’s lone senior and a two-time captain, Herbeck has been charged with leading a talented, but extremely young group of Black Knights. That expectation of leadership has been exceeded.

In 2012-13, Herbeck helped mentor to Army’s first winning season in 28 years. Last season’s success led to high expectations, but when the Black Knights got off to a 1-6 start, Herbeck’s leadership helped get the team back on track. Army got off its best start in Patriot League history, winning its first four conference games for the first time. Entering the 2014 postseason, the Black Knights’ 30 wins in his two years as captain stand as the winningest two-year period since the Mike Krzyzewski Era.

“When you’re dealing with younger guys who are just coming in, you really have to think about how you interact with them because you don’t want to just shatter someone’s confidence,” Herbeck described leading Army’s youngsters. “It’s been a good challenge, and definitely has made me aware as a leader of the different types of people and personalities you have to deal with as a team. There is not one leadership style that works for everyone. You have to vary it. You have to know the people on your team personally and know what works for them.”

Herbeck’s ability to read his teammates and provide just the right direction has not gone unnoticed.  

“Sometimes there are different ways to lead,” Army head coach Zach Spiker said. “You can use either negative reinforcement or positive reinforcement, and he has a tremendous feel for knowing which one will work best. He uses it in the right way and in the right manner. He’s grown in his second year as a captain. When he speaks, the guys respond. He’s a leader worth following, and that’s exactly what you want from a second lieutenant. “

It was Spiker’s coaching connections that led Herbeck to the opportunity to become a second lieutenant. A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., home to the University of Michigan, Herbeck attended several of the Wolverines’ camps and drew the attention of the coaching staff. Michigan head coach John Beilein passed his observations along to Spiker, his former administrative assistant at West Virginia University, who had just become the head coach at West Point.

“I got a call early on in my senior year, and we started the dialogue,” Herbeck recalled. “I don’t think they saw me play on the AAU circuit or anything, it was mostly based on the recommendation.”

Herbeck and his family visited the banks of the Hudson during the winter of his senior season and committed to the Black Knights shortly after.

As a member of Spiker’s first recruiting class, Herbeck has had a front row seat to the Black Knights’ climb up the Patriot League standings.

“It’s a unique perspective,” he explained. “It’s something I’m proud of, being one of the first people to buy into what Coach has and believe in his system. Speaking as someone who has been here from the beginning, it’s almost night and day from where we were to where we are now. It’s been fun to watch and help grow.”

While Herbeck’s off-court contributions have been vital to the program’s growth, his on-court production can’t be ignored. A key contributor since his plebe season when he was named to the Patriot League All-Rookie Team, Herbeck will finish his Army career ranked among the program’s all-time top 10 in three-pointers made and three-point field goal percentage. He made 113 three-pointers in his first two seasons, more than any other Army player in history, including 75 as a sophomore, the sixth-best total in program history.

“Those things are nice, but I’m really focused on our team goal of making it to the NCAA Tournament,” Herbeck said. “Having your name in the record book is nice, but doing something that no other team has ever done would really solidify it for me and be more gratifying than anything else.”

Herbeck has produced those numbers despite missing more than one-third of his junior season with injuries. The injury bug took a bite out of his statistical portfolio, but enhanced his attitude.

“Sitting out and not being able to help was one of the most miserable experiences,” Herbeck recalled. “It definitely gave me a greater appreciation when I’m on the court. You never know when you could roll an ankle or get injured and miss games so you have to make the most of it when you’re out there.”

As the season enters its final stretch, Spiker has started to realize his time with Herbeck is winding down.

“Josh’s attitude has been awesome,” Spiker said. “He’s been in every position in the program.  He’s been a role player, a starter, a follower and now he’s a leader. He’s a big-time leader. He’s a dynamic leader for us. I’m very proud of how he helps get the guys focused and makes sure we’re dialed in on the right things every day. He’s very much an extension of the coaching staff, and I love coaching him. It stinks that he’s a senior.”