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January 26, 2013
ESPN College GameDay host Rece Davis had never been to a NC State home game at PNC Arena, but he's no stranger to Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried.
Gottfried played at Alabama his last three years and graduated in 1987, and then later coached his alma mater from 1998-2009. Davis, who graduated from Alabama in 1988, announced SEC games with Gottfried on ESPN before NC State hired him in April 2011.
Davis was looking forward to experiencing a different part of the Triangle after spending time at Duke and North Carolina in the past. No. 18-ranked NC State (15-4, 4-2 ACC) hosts North Carolina (13-5, 3-2) at 7 p.m. today on ESPN.
"He's a terrific coach and terrific face of the program," Davis said. "I think he understands enthusiasm, energy and excitement, and how to bring that to a program.
"I'm really impressed as a host and analyst and happy as a friend that Mark has done so well here and is having great success."
The "two-year sabbatical" could be one of the best things that happened to Gottfried's long-term coaching career. Some coaches believe that being in one place for over seven years isn't easy. The chance for Gottfried to work for SEC gave him an opportunity to watch what other college coaches like to do at practices and games.
"I think he's re-energized taking some time off and working with us," Davis said. "In all due respect to [former NC State coach] Sidney [Lowe, who is an assistant coach for Utah Jazz], who I think is a good basketball mind and a great guy, I think maybe the program needed an infusion of energy and who has a deep passion for the college game. He's done a very good job with it."
Davis and GameDay analyst Digger Phelps both said Friday that Gottfried always knew he would get back to coaching one day. Utah showed interest before hiring Larry Krystkowiak, but then NC State came along a few weeks later in the spring of 2011.
"We would go to practice and we would go to shoot-around and he'd be picking guys brains and watching and talking to them," Davis said. "He would say, 'That's interesting what they do.' He always had his ideas, 'I would have done this here or I would have done that there.' All coaches are like that.
'I think it was good for him. He had a lot of success at Alabama, but when you are at one place for a while and have success, maybe as virtually every program does that is not Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina or Kansas or something, most of them hit a plateau."
Davis watched Gottfried sign touted prep players such as Rod Grizzard, Maurice Williams, Gerald Wallace, Kennedy Winston and Richard Hendrix, while at Alabama. Gottfried has continued his recruiting roll while at NC State, who host the Rivals.com No. 2-ranked senior in the country, Julius Randle of Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian, this weekend.
"He's engaging and personable, and he's a friendly guy and easy to talk to," Davis said. "He's always been able to recruit. The style of ball he wants to play, putting the ball in the basket and getting out and going a little bit, you have to have good players to do that."
Davis has been to Carter-Finley Stadium and is a fan of the passion for college athletics in North Carolina. He understands the rivalry with the Wolfpack and Tar Heels, but added that the 13-game winning streak by UNC makes it tough to compare the rivalry to others around the country.
"For it to be a rivalry, one team can't win all the time," Davis said. "NC State has to win some games. It's great to have a great building [at PNC Arena], and it's nice to have fans yelling and screaming. It's great for the fans to hate every wretched breath the other sucks into their greedy lungs. That's great, figuratively speaking of course.
"Nothing makes a rivalry like beating the other side. That is the No. 1 thing that will make this a rivalry, and a true rivalry in North Carolina eyes."
The last time NC State was ranked and North Carolina wasn't, was Feb. 22, 1955. The No. 6 Wolfpack won 79-75 in Chapel Hill. NCSU was favored by 4 ? points Saturday morning.
"Big picture, and not this particular team because of their history and fan base, North Carolina expects to win this game because they have so often recently," Davis said.
North Carolina boasts the Charlotte Panthers, Charlotte Bobcats and Carolina Hurricanes, plus a litany of successful minor league baseball teams. College sports will always be able to move the meter in the state, and that will likely never change.
Davis knows what the fans of NC State and UNC will be going through Monday morning when they go to work and how they'll hear about their favorite team got defeated.
"I think when there is an opportunity to actually be apart of the North Carolina State family, whether you are a student, played a sport or pursued something else at the University, that's your school," Davis said. "That's your school, your name brand and something that was an important part of your life, sports and otherwise. That gives you a connection on an emotional level that's unmatched in other areas of fandom. That's why you see the passion."
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