In just 14 months Coach Keatts has built a potential powerhouse
By Mychal Hunter
All programs in the ACC are not created equal. There are public universities and private universities. There are schools that are rich in tradition and those that are seemingly happy with maintaining horrifying mediocrity. Some are rebuilding, some are restocking.
North Carolina State is always interesting to me. As part of the prestigious “Triangle” with two blue blood programs, their expectations are typically astronomical even if their program’s success hasn’t quite warranted such lofty aspirations.
When Coach Mark Gottfried was fired I was very public about how ridiculous NC State had handled the entire situation. Firing a coach who made four NCAA tournaments and two Sweet Sixteens in 6 years? That takes titanium balls. Not to mention how it would look to potential replacements who might see the program as a bit of a rebuild. How much leash could they possibly be given? Is it final four or bust for a program that hasn’t seen an Elite 8 since 1986?
Hindsight being what it is, the firing of Gottfried now seems perfectly timed as he continues to look filthier by the day, leaving State facing possible sanctions for his role in the Dennis Smith Jr. recruitment. But, the true story here is that the man they tapped to replace Gottfried has turned out to be a home run.
North Carolina State rolled the dice and won.
Kevin Keatts took over a 15-17 team and in one season turned it into a 21 win team with an at large bid. After 14 months, only one player remains from the Gottfriend era, that being junior point guard Markell Johnson. Torin Dorn could make it two if he decides to return to school, he is currently testing the NBA waters. He also graduated last week.
Keatts has built a 2018-19 roster using all recruiting avenues successfully. JUCO? Yup. Derek Funderburke, who started at Ohio State before heading to the JUCO ranks will be the Pack’s center this year. Traditional transfer? Yes sir. Coach brought CJ Bryce, a 17 ppg scorer, with him from UNC-W. He also landed Devon Daniels (9.9 ppg) from Utah, Blake Harris from Missouri and Sacha Killeya Jones (who is required to sit out 2018-19) from Kentucky. Keatts has also taken advantage of the grad transfer market. This past season he had Al Freeman. During the upcoming campaign he will be deploying Eric Lockett (FIU 14.3 ppg) and Wyatt Walker (Samford 9ppg), continuing the trend of mid-majors simply being AAA affiliates for the power 6.
Yes, but building a program through transfers cannot be sustainable, right? I said all avenues my friends, including traditional recruiting. Coach Keatts is also bringing in three 4 star freshman. Immanuel Bates, Ian Steere and Jericole Hellems are all players ranked inside the top 150.
So what does all this mean? Well, it means a couple of things. The North Carolina State program has quickly and successfully put a toxic situation firmly in their rearview, while concurrently putting themselves in a position to finish in the top third of the ACC. Wolfpack fans have to be pleased with their current situation. Having attended one of their home games this year myself, I firmly believe that they are. The place was packed and they LOVE Kevin Keatts.
Without giving too much away, I will say that my expectations for this year’s program are very high. How high? You will have to wait until my pre-season rundown comes out this summer for all that.