Count me in as one of the many who was drinking the N.C. State Wolfpack Kool-Aid last offseason. With a highly touted recruiting class coming in, the Wolfpack was supposed to make some noise in the ACC. Instead, they struggled and it ultimately cost Sidney Lowe his job. Now, Mark Gottfried takes over and will try to make N.C. State a relevant hoops program.
Gottfried was not exactly the first choice to replace Lowe, but after several other potential candidates including Arizona's Sean Miller turned down the offer, Gottfried decided to return to coaching after spending the past couple years doing TV work for ESPN.
The cupboard is not bare for Gottfried. There are some talented young players on the Wolfpack roster led by former McDonald's All-American C.J. Leslie. The 6-8 forward is a gifted athlete who will look to build off a solid, but still not completely fulfilling, freshman campaign.
Richard Howell and Deshawn Painter will see increased roles in the middle due to the graduation of Tracy Smith. Howell is a load down low, a terrific rebounder, and slightly more skilled offensive player than Painter. Jordan Vandenburg (7-1) offers even more size inside. Freshman Tyler Harris is a versatile forward who should compete for playing time along with fellow newcomer Thomas de Thaey.
Part of that hyped 2010 recruiting class, Lorenzo Brown returns to his starting spot at shooting guard. Like Leslie, Brown had a productive freshman season but did not come close to reaching his full potential. He will need to mature a bit this season with his decision making and also show better shot selection.
Sharpshooter Scott Wood will take on more of a leadership role and should rejoin Brown as a starter on the wing. C.J. Williams was a solid reserve last season and will provide some experience off the bench. Jaqawn Raymond is the only other guard under scholarship and should get a chance to crack the rotation.
Ryan Harrow had a very inconsistent freshman year, but his decision to transfer left a huge hole at the point. That is where Cal State Bakersfield transfer Alex Johnson comes into play. Johnson graduated and decided to attend N.C. State for grad school and becomes eligible right away. He is more of a scoring point guard who should immediately step into the starting role. With no true backup, Brown will also see some time running the point.
This is not necessarily a rebuilding year at N.C. State but it certainly will be a transitional period. If Leslie and Brown can elevate their games and Johnson is able to make an instant impact at the point, the Wolfpack could sneak into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, especially since the middle of the ACC is rather unproven this season. More than likely though, the Wolfpack is another year or two away from reaching that level.
Player to Watch: C.J. Leslie, F
Every season, I enter the year really hyped about a few freshmen. Leslie was one of those guys at this time a year ago. It is hard to say a freshman was disappointing when he averaged 11 points and 7 boards a night, but like many N.C. State fans, I expected more. He can leap out of the gym and excels on the break, but Leslie needs to become a more well-rounded offensive player in the half court if he is going to take his game up a notch and develop into the NBA Draft lottery prospect that many think he is capable of becoming.
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