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October 8, 2012

Mark Gottfried looking for improvements this year



Everybody remembers the end of last season for NC State.

The Wolfpack enjoyed a dramatic bid announcement to the NCAA Tournament, and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 under first-year coach Mark Gottfried. However, when talking about this year's team at the school's annual media day, Gottfried looks back at last year as a whole, remembering both the ups and the downs.

"We just have to be better in a lot of areas," he said. "I go around town and people say to me a lot, 'Coach, what a great year last year.' The truth of the matter is that it really wasn't a great year, it was a great finish. It was a really fun finish and it was exceptional for our group, but our year wasn't great. We were just OK.

"We have to be a lot better than we were last year, from start to finish. We had opportunities last year in November and December — Syracuse and Indiana, we just didn't get it done. We have to be better than that this year. In general, our program has to take another step."

Last season's dramatic postseason run and returning crop of players has fueled a lot of top 10 prognostications for the Pack from media outlets around the country, but the coach is cautioning his team to handle preseason predictions the same way as last season, when they were picked to finish eighth in the ACC, but finished tied for fourth.

"They have to be able to understand that to be a great team, and they want to be a great team, the price is high," he said. "One thing we talk a lot about with our team is that regardless of where anybody else thinks you're going to finish — it's no different than last year, when we were picked near the bottom — that's not something we paid much attention to last year, so it's not something we're going to pay attention to this year.

"The only thing that counts is how hard you work each day, and how well you do your job each day. Now, can our players truly grasp that? We'll find out."

Gottfried's squad has undergone a facelift in the past few months, despite the return of four starters. Five players that helped State reach heights not seen in nearly a decade will not return this season. A pair of guards — C.J. Williams and Alex Johnson — exhausted their eligibility, while rising-senior DeShawn Painter and two rising-sophomores — Tyler Harris and Jaqawn Raymond — transferred.

"Even if you have a veteran team, every team is still different," Gottfried said. "We're different from a year ago. When you take Alex Johnson and C.J. Williams, two senior guys, and DeShawn Painter, who was fairly steady as a backup post, and remove those guys, there are some holes there."

However, a trio of McDonald's All-American's — Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis — will look to fill the gaps left on the roster that includes returning starters Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell.

"What we have is some good, young talent," the coach stated. "Can those young players provide that day-in, day-out leadership? No, they're not there yet, and nor should they be there. Our team is different from a year ago, but I think, overall, our blend has been good so far with the old and the new.

"I think all four of these guys that have played a lot have to give our team leadership. I think, at times, they have and, at other times, I think they could be a lot better. I don't think it's going to be one guy, those four guys have to be the steady Eddie's every day. They need to come in here and be the hardest workers in the gym, they need to lead by example. They've been through the wars, they've experienced some success and it's on them to set the tone every day."

Even the arrival of the three freshmen has not been without drama. There was a span of more than 40 days where Gottfried was unsure if Purvis, who is expected to immediately step into the starting lineup, would be eligible to play right away. The young shooting guard missed the team's preseason trip to Spain, where the team played five exhibition games, but in the end, justice was served, according to the coach.

"I was really concerned, I had no idea which way it would turn out," he said. "I always felt like the right thing would be that he would be eligible to play. He took all the right classes, he did everything he was supposed to do, he stayed in one high school. I was excited when it panned out that way.

"He handled it with great class in my opinion, and it showed a lot about his character.

"From an opportunity to blend in with these guys, he didn't get that, where T.J. and Tyler did. For us, we were able to watch T.J. and Tyler play in five games in our system, we haven't had that yet with Rodney. In a sense, he's behind, but we have enough time to catch up. That Spain trip did help those other two guys, it really did, so he'll just have to adjust as we go.

Free throws

- Mark Gottfried on T.J. Warren's excellent play in Spain: "I think his ability to score, I don't know if it surprised me because I had watched him do it in high school, but maybe it confirmed for me what I knew about him. He has the ability to make baskets. He was able to do that there, in the midst of sometimes having four veteran players on the floor with him. That didn't stop him at all, he just kept getting it done."

- On Lorenzo Brown's recovery from preseason knee surgery: "I think he's 100 percent. Honestly, prior to the trip, I wasn't going to play very much, if at all. Our doctors felt like it was actually better for him to play, it was almost the next step in the rehab, he needs to move and cut, get used to playing. I think it was five weeks after the surgery, so that was the natural progression, but I think he was pretty good in Spain. I think he's 100 percent healthy and ready to go."

- More on Brown: "I think Lorenzo Brown is as good as any point guard in the nation, period. I've seen the list of all of them, I watch college basketball every night, I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I think in one year, he has made that type of improvement. He's taken a step that's monumental."

- On Calvin Leslie last year: "I think he grew a lot, I think he matured a lot. I think, from when I got here in April, and you go through October and November in the beginning of practice, there were kind of stages. That early part in April, May, June, then that early part in practice when he was still trying to figure us out and learning how to practice harder, pay attention better and to do things the right way in practice and games. I thought in the last 10 or 15 games, he played as well as any forward in the nation."

- On the loss of DeShawn Painter: "I certainly would've liked to be sitting here with a veteran senior, 22 minutes per game guy that was fairly reliable. I think that loss is bigger than most people anticipated. Between Jordan and Thomas, and maybe even T.J. — T.J. may have to play inside some — we have to replace that. DeShawn surprised us when he decided to transfer, and I think he was a key guy for us last year in that rotation of seven."

- On Richard Howell: "He was the third-leading rebounder in the league last year, I think he's going to have a great year. I think he's, physically, in the best shape he's ever been in. Mentally, I think he's as good as he's ever been. I think with Richard, if you actually look at his numbers and factor in how many games he was in foul trouble — early fouls or three fouls in the first half — if he can eliminate some of that, it completely changes his game. He was effective even by being burdened all the time with fouls above the top of the screen, reaching in on a ball screen, he's putting himself behind the eight ball all the time. I think that's an area that if he improves, you'll see another whole level of production from him."


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