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November 8, 2012
NC State coach Mark Gottfried wasn't sure whether to answer that this past offseason passed by fast or slow when he was asked how it went at his first weekly press conference of the season.
One thing he was sure of, though, is that it is time for the offseason to end and his second campaign in Raleigh to start.
"I think we are ready," he said. "I think we have practiced, like most teams, a lot and it's time to play a game.
"We're all anxious to play — coaches and players alike. That's kind of where our team is now, we're just excited to play a game."
Gottfried and his team are coming into the season with a different look and much higher expectations than last year, the coach's first in Raleigh. The Wolfpack, who open the season ranked No. 6 in both The Associated Press and coaches' preseason polls, lost three key contributors off of last year's roster, but return four starters.
Each of those players — seniors Scott Wood and Richard Howell, along with juniors Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie — are also different from last year.
"I think they've all gotten better in different areas, whether it's Scott Wood putting the ball on the floor once or twice and looking for more opportunities to get to the foul line; or Richard becoming a much better 12-15 foot jump shooter — and we saw it late in the year, go back to the San Diego State game," Gottfried said. "Calvin has improved certain parts of his game, and Lorenzo, as well. I think they've all sharpened up and improved different aspects of their game."
The team has also added a trio of McDonald's All-American's — the first such recruiting class in the program's storied history — and the coach is not sure who will join the quartet of returning starters for the first minute of the season.
"I'm still debating it," Gottfried said. "I don't know that's something we've determined or that I've decided yet. And I'm not sure that it's really that important to me. We'll see tomorrow."
The fifth starter will almost certainly be either rookie Rodney Purvis, Rivals.com's No. 12 overall player in the class of 2012, or classmate T.J. Warren, who checked in at No. 17 in the national rankings.
Purvis was not cleared by the NCAA in time to accompany the team on its international tour to Spain and the Canary Islands at the beginning of August. However, he was eventually determined eligible to play and he has impressed the coach in his two chances of game situations, a scrimmage against East Carolina and an exhibition contest with Belmont Abbey.
However, the coach admitted that it's near impossible for Purvis to be on the same level, experience-wise, as his classmates who went on the trip.
"I don't know if you can catch up because those other guys have played in those games with the veteran players," Gottfried said. "They actually had that experience, but I think he is where he needs to be as we get ready to play a real game.
"I think, at time, [he has played] very well. I think he brings a lot to our team."
Gottfried noted that the rookie must mature and not allow things to bother him so easily, but that's part of the process that every first-year player in college basketball must go through.
"Most older players, like Calvin or Lorenzo, can relate because they can look back and say, 'that's kind of where I was a few years ago — if coach yells at me, if I turn the ball over or if I'm not playing real well,' you can get down real fast," Gottfried said. "I think, as we get into games, he'll begin to see and learn all of the different things that will get throw at him. T.J. as well, and Tyler [Lewis] for that matter. Those guys just haven't seen all of the things they're going to see throughout the year.
"When you're young, like Rodney, T.J. and Tyler, those are things you're learning on the go. I think they've done pretty good so far. We've tried to throw a lot at them and expose them to a lot of different things. Again, it's just going through that when the lights are on, as opposed to just doing it in practice."
Those rookies will get their first chance on the big stage tomorrow night at PNC Arena, when Miami (Ohio) comes to town for a 7 p.m. tip.
"They're a team that has some experience," Gottfried said. "They're not going to rely on a lot of freshmen and sophomores. Most of their players have played college basketball. I think they have a new coaching staff that has done a tremendous job at Tennessee State, prior to being at Miami.
"You've got a new staff, a ton of energy and veteran players that have played college basketball, so we're anticipating that they're going to come in here and be a very, very good basketball team."
Friday night is just the first step in what the Pack hopes can be an improvement on last year's trip to the Sweet 16. Gottfried will be attempting to become just the second coach in school history to take his second team to the NCAA Tournament, joining the legendary Jim Valvano.
"I'm going to learn about our team as we go through these first six, eight or nine games that will force us to make decisions on how we sub or who starts, all of those kind of things," Gottfried said. "All of those things take time, it doesn't always end the way it starts."
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