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November 6, 2013

NC State ready to play in real games

NC State has practiced more than ever, thanks to new rules, and played two exhibitions, but finally the season opener is upon the Wolfpack.

NC State hosts Appalachian State at 7 p.m. Friday at PNC Arena. Both teams will be missing key players. The Wolfpack lost fifth-year senior center Jordan Vandenberg, who was expected to anchor the defense and boards with his 7-foot-1 height. The Mountaineers lost leading returning scorer and rebounder Jay Canty for the first nine games due to academics. The athletic Canty, a former Xavier player and originally from Ragsdale, N.C., averaged 14.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last year.

NC State will have only two players returning from last year's team — sophomore forward T.J. Warren and sophomore point guard Tyler Lewis — with the program going through a makeover. Former two-year LSU starter Ralston Turner, a redshirt junior, also has power conference experience.

"We were a team that needed more time," said NCSU coach Mark Gottfried on the various rules changes that have allowed coaches more times with players. "We needed to get more things in and have the guys be more comfortable. We had a lot of days, more than we ever have had.

"Now, we are at that point where the players are anxious to play somebody else. The extra practice helped our group because we were so young."

The absence of Vandenberg, who could miss six-to-eight games with an ankle sprain, will create bigger roles for freshmen post players Kyle Washington, Lennard Freeman and BeeJay Anya. Warren will also play at power forward until Vandenberg returns.

Gottfried knows he'll be learning about his team in November and December.

"There are a lot of unknowns because you don't really yet who is going to do what when the lights go on," Gottfried said. "How well will you execute the offense when the lights go on or if you are playing against somebody else and under pressure. How well can we defend?"

The revamped roster is due to juniors C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown turning professional and freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis transferred to Connecticut. A top 15 recruiting class plus Turner will be trying to fill the void and help the Wolfpack reach the NCAA Tournament for a third-straight year.

Turner's past starting experience combined with learning the Wolfpack system while sitting out last year gives the youthful team a veteran hand in knowing the nuances of college basketball.

"He knows when to help and when not to help and is really shooting the ball well right now," Gottfried said. "He is playing with a lot of confidence. He does a little bit of everything. What Ralston does, you really don't see in the stat sheet but it helps our team play pretty well."

Lewis, juco transfer Desmond Lee, Turner, Warren and Washington, started in the 87-62 exhibition win over Morehouse last Saturday. McDonald's All-American Anthony Barber, Freeman and Anya provide punch off the bench.

"As a coach, you think how can I get a team like this to the NCAA Tournament, which is a tall order," Gottfried said. "We have great spirit every day. Our guys are excited and their energy level is good. There is a lot of camaraderie in practice. I like it."

NC State currently has eight scholarship players, but Gottfried knows he'll have to turn to walk-ons Chase Cannon, Staats Battle or Jevoni Robinson, if needed. It's the nature of the beast if foul trouble or any future injuries occur.

"They have to be ready, and if you are in a pinch and you have to play somebody, I have confidence in those guys too," Gottfried said.

Mark Gottfried audio press conference (4:36)

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