NC State coach Sidney Lowe might be entering his fourth season coaching the Wolfpack, but feels like he is getting a fresh start thanks to a six-member recruiting class that Rivals.com ranks No. 19 in the country.
Lowe addressed the media Thursday about his new recruits, the development of sophomore guards Julius Mays and C.J. Williams as leaders, and the improvements of the other returning players, such as senior power forward Dennis Horner.
Lowe also talked about having a strong inside player like junior center Tracy Smith to build around on offense, and updated the health of redshirt senior point guard Farnold Degand and redshirt sophomore small forward Johnny Thomas.
Click here to listen to Lowe's summer press conference:
Do you like the direction of the program?
"I see it going definitely up. I see it going in the right direction. I'm excited about the players that we have coming back, the players we got coming in, and then going forward, the players that we were able to get in on early in the recruiting process. Now we're starting to get some of the top players, and it's going to continue to be that way.
"I'm excited about it. We're going to be young. Most of the guys are guys that I recruited. I think we're going to do well. I think we'll be fine."
Do you feel this is a make or break year or you need a certain kind of progress?
"For me, as a coach, you're always trying to get better. This is, my fourth year is kind of like a lot of times where coaches get in their second year, where you are able to bring in a big class. And yes, it's most of your guys, or guys that you've had an opportunity to watch as high school players. So we're, instead of being young our second year we're going to be young our fourth year. I think the thing to watch with this team right now is the progress. You got obviously six freshmen and a few sophomores on this team that are going to play major minutes.
"I think when you look anywhere around the country when you see a team like that you're looking for progress. I think we're going to be better. I think we're going to be maybe a little more versatile in a couple of positions, an opportunity to play a little different style at times. As far as I'm concerned you're look for growth. If you have a young team you're looking to get better. The guys that are coming back, you'll see improvements in those guys, but I think as a team we'll do some things well."
How you feel about your group of guards?
"I think that's one of the things that was missed just in talking about the whole thing, the year, our guards, is that we had some of the top guards in the country, not just in the conference, in the country to play in our conference, point guards in particular. When you come in as a freshman or sometimes as a sophomore, you're playing against guys that are juniors and seniors and guys that are experienced and also talented, and that's a tough haul.
"I can remember a guy named, and he's a friend of mine so I can say his name, I remember a guy named Johnny Dawkins, who played about 10 years in the NBA, and he came in as a freshman and I was a senior. He looked like he didn't even belong on the court. That's just the way it is here. Now that a lot of those guys are gone, it's still going to be tough because there is more coming in and there are some that are developing with ours, but I think certainly our guards will do well, will do fine. It's just a matter which guards in our conference now will take that extra step like the ones that just left did, like Lawson and McClinton and just on down, Douglas, those are tough guys. But I think our guys will be fine."
Have you talked to Lee Fowler about the expectations?
"I talk to Lee all the time. I know his expectations, he knows mine. It hasn't changed. The thing is, the reality is of where we are and who we are. We're a young team. You have to look, obviously winning is the most important thing, but you have to look for progress, you have to look for development. Sometimes that can translate into wins. I feel very comfortable, very confident in our guys, I do. I think the guys that are coming back have great experience of playing. I think they feel better. This is the first time really we've got guys in the gym, in the weight room at 6:30 in the morning right now doing their own thing, and to hear the conversations that we're having right now it's encouraging, it's encouraging.
"But, as far as expectations, it's always to win. It's always to win, but I think you have to be realistic, sometimes stuff or things happen, but I think we have to look, as I've said before, you have to look for progress. This is six freshmen. We know how that can be, but I feel confident in those guys and the guys we have coming back."
Duke won the ACC Championship, Carolina won the national championship, does that raise your expectations?
"I think that happened when I first walked in the door. That's just the way it is, and it's no different from what I always though. I expect us to win, which is part of why I was so disappointed sometimes in the past because I felt we should've won some games, and we didn't do everything that we needed to do. So yeah, I'm fully aware of that, and I knew that coming. I knew that coming in. I wouldn't have taken this job had I not known that, but I also know that we can get that done. But you got to have the right people in place, the right pieces. Sometimes time is a factor, not just time for us to develop and continue to get the players that we need, but also time which is happening in our conference. Time that some of the older guys, the top players, are leaving. But yeah, expectations, that's always there."
This is your fourth year, where do you think you are now versus where you started?
"I definitely know that I'm very much, very much more aware of the dynamics of this job. The most important thing, I probably should've known that before I walked in here, but the most important thing is that you go out and get the players. You got to get players. You got to get good people, guys that are committed. I think the top programs, they get the players that are committed, and it's got to be from one to 13. Not just five guys or whatever, because that's what it takes. I think when you look at the history of the great coaches and you look at their personnel, it wasn't until the get the personnel that kind of resembles them that they start to take off. Some of the great coaches that are going to be in the Hall of Fame struggled their first three years or so. You got to make sure that you have everybody on the same page and all just driving to win."
When North Carolina won the title, most coaches say it's good for the league, is that good for NC State?
"I'm going to stay away from that question. I'm just going to stay away, I'm not going to answer that. The ACC won a championship so that's great for the ACC. You're going to try to get me in trouble here."
Who do you see as the leader next year?
"It's interesting, and I've said this, I think I said this last year, I talked about C.J. Williams and I talked about Julius Mays and just how they approached things in their demeanor and those two guys in particular have stepped up this summer. They're kind of the ones that are leading this thing about working out. They're in the gym along with Johnny at times, they're in the gym at 10 o'clock at night, working individually. They're talking to guys about winning, they're talking to guys about what we have to do to win. I think C.J. and Julius will be two guys that I feel will step up, and step up in the right way. Step up in the right way, and that's something that's important."
Could Lorenzo Brown be a leader as a freshman?
"He could, he could, Lorenzo's a little quiet. He'll, as you said not vocally, but certainly in his play. I don't think he's afraid to tell a guy in his way that you're not playing hard or you're not getting it done or you got to do something. I think that he too might be a little hesitant coming in as a freshman, which again I don't agree with, but young men are who they are.
"But I think C.J., if the guys are willing to accept, and I think they will, and listen and accept each other, I think C.J. and Julius, they are going to be fine."
How do you see the point guard spot developing?
"I think it's going to be a competition. I can't say who is going to do that. I think our point guards, they're different personalities. I think Javi is just a go-getter, but Javi is not going to verbalize much. He's not going to talk much to a guy. He'll get mad at a guy, but he's a little different in his way of leading.
"Julius is more of a leader. Farnold is a little more similar to Javi. Farnold is kind of on Farnold. Julius is more of a leader. He's more in tune to really to the whole dynamic of playing that position, and part of that could be that Javi was a scorer in high school so he didn't have that strong mentality. Certainly he's capable of running a team, and he's looking outstanding right now.
"Again, I don't know which one, who's going to step out there and take over."
Whoever steps out, how important is it to come up with a consistent rotation as opposed to last year?
"It's very important, very important, but once again it's consistency in play. I don't think any coach, I think a coach likes to go into a season with a rotation, but if that person coming off the bench first in that position is not playing well, then he won't be in there long. You have to go back to your starter, or you have to find somebody else. That's been shown even with teams that win a national championship. Guys don't play well they're right back out of there and someone else is in there trying. It's important that they're consistent in their play. That's very important, and that will enable us to have a solid rotation."
How much do you get to talk with Brandon, Ben and Courtney and what's going on with them?
"They're all, they're going, I talked to Brandon yesterday actually. He just worked out for the Knicks and did Charlotte before that and did the Knicks. He felt he did well. Time will tell now. He's been going up against some pretty big guys.
"Courtney as well, I talked to Courtney three days ago. He had a second tryout with San Antonio. They called him back a second time, which we knew they liked him during the course of the year. I talked to Popovich, and they liked him during the year. We knew they were looking at him. He's been to Charlotte, he's been to Golden State. Courtney's been everywhere, there are a lot of people looking at him.
"Ben I haven't heard as much about. I think it's possible that his agent may be looking more towards the Europe situation, but I'm not sure about that."
Who are the best point guards returning in the ACC?
"Wow, they're still some good ones in there. I think you have look at the Virginia Tech, Delaney, you got to look at him as one of the top players, top point guards rather. I think Maryland, you got to go up there, he's good, Vasquez. I really, it's really, and I'm not putting the guards down, I'm just saying the well-known guys that are returning, it's not as many. The Rice, the Lawson, the McClinton, the Douglas, it's just so many of them. Thank God they're gone, I'm telling you."
Do the players now know the tradition of NC State?
"We still have to try to educate them on it and make them aware. You're absolutely right, a lot of them don't remember. They don't remember when I played, so they certainly won't remember the best college basketball player to play ever in David. But we still have to show them the history of this university and certainly our facilities, opportunities, that's the thing, opportunities to go out and play in this conference. I like players that, I want players that are willing to make a name for themselves.
"It's an interesting dynamic where players want to go where there's other All-American players so they can win a national championship, and a lot of times that still does happen. A lot of the times when I came out, you were going where you were going to get an opportunity to do something special, or you were going to get an opportunity and play and put that team on the map or back on the map or do something. That's the other thing that I talk to guys about, and if you find one of those guys then you know you got someone coming in for a reason. They're coming in to get something done. I think that we're going in that direction, because the young men that we have coming in and the year after that, they all understand, and they all have said things like that, about coming in here and doing something special."
What kind of impact will the incoming recruits have?
"Impact-wise I don't know, but they are going to play. They have to, but I feel comfortable with them. I think they all have a certain thing right now that they do well, from Lorenzo's ability to handle the ball at that two-guard position, I mean he can play two and one, but at two, the ability to run ball screens, make passes. He can defend, he can run the floor, that's who he is. Certainly he's going to make some mistakes, but when the pressure's on, he's going to revert back to what he's most comfortable with and that's what he does.
"Scott Wood is making shots, handling the ball at times, just knowing how to play. I think what I feel most comfortable with these guys is the basketball IQ of these guys is pretty good, and that's important."
This is going to be your fourth year, but does is kind of feel like your first year?
"It does, it does because it is the first time we're going to be young. It's the first time that it's going to be majority of the young men that we've recruited."
Do you feel like this is an opportunity to put your stamp down on the program?
"Absolutely, absolutely, no question about it. I've gotten that from three college coaches that talked about that. This is now where you can make the mark or you can change things."
Which three coaches?
"Tubby Smith I talked to about it. Tom Izzo I talked to about it, and Todd Bozeman."
Does having your own group of guys excite you about this season?
"I'm very excited. I'm extremely excited. I just like the way the guys are together right now. The way the guys are carrying themselves in the gym. The way they are working. I'm excited about guys that I know will be better next year.
"I really expect Dennis Horner to have a great year for us. I do. I didn't recruit Dennis but he stuck it out and stayed here. He could have left. He's bigger now. He's in the gym, working out and his mindset is good. I think Javi is going to be better. I just think the guys are going to be better. Johnny Thomas is going to play more. I'm excited and looking forward to it."
How is Farnold Degand's knee doing?
"That concerns me a little. He took some time off, and he's actually at home now in Boston. That is going to be a big key for us right there. I think we are going to have situations where we are going to have Farnold and Javi in the game at the same time. We can have Julius and Farnold at the two at the same time. We need that to have that flexibility to move guys around. We can go small and have three ballhandlers with Lorenzo at 6-4 going to the small forward and giving us a great advantage there with his quickness and things. I wouldn't be concerned about rebounding because he's a pretty good rebounder for his size. Farnold's knee is going to be crucial for us. Very, very important."
Do you see C.J. Williams at the two or the three?
"I see him as a two. I think he can play three at times, but he's a two. I think he's settling in at that. I think he knows that is his position."
What differences do you see with DeShawn Painter and Richard Howell?
"He's [Painter] longer and little more bouncier than Richard. Richard can probably face-up and shoot it a little bit better. DeShawn is long, he's long."
Was that a good break for you guys to get Painter on the rebound from Florida?
"That was a great break. It was a great opportunity to get in on a player like that so late. I think the people around him were very open and concerned about DeShawn, more than anything else. They weren't trying to get anything from anybody in the deal. They just wanted what is best for him. We got the opportunity [to get him]."
Are all six recruits eligible for next year?
"We are hoping so. They are all getting their academic stuff in. A couple of things were late coming in."
Will Lorenzo Brown be ready to go academically?
"We are ready for everybody. Two guys still need some stuff coming in. It won't be a problem because one of them has a great GPA and everything else. The Clearinghouse has to get something and the school also has to get something. The school still hasn't gotten it yet."
Are we still talking about Lorenzo or someone else?
"I'm not talking specifically, I'm just talking about two guys."
What is your take on John Wall going to Kentucky?
"My only thing was that I wanted what was best for him. He is a young man that certainly is a very talented player. I think the media attention came quick, fast, and a lot of it. I hate that he had to go through certain things. I think he's going to be fine. He's a good young man. I just hope the best for him."
Is Jordan Vandenberg going to be a project or someone that will help next year?
"I think in some areas with his size, defensively, he can help us out. He has a nice shot, 15, 16 feet out. He has good footwork, good hands, but he needs to get a little bigger. We know how that can be in this conference. I wouldn't call him a project. He does have some skills. A project is a big guy that has no skills and you are trying to hope that in year three or four [he contributes]. I think Jordan will advance quicker than that."
Is this a good year to be young in the ACC because of the turnover at the other schools?
"Yes it is. If there is ever a time, yes. It is just the way it is. Around the country, but certainly in our conference, but when you play against experienced guards, it's hard. When you are young and are playing against an experienced guard, it's hard to beat them unless you have a lot of help behind you. I think this is a great time for us. If there was ever a time to be young, this is the time. Hopefully, we can advance and that we can have the guards that is experienced and can play. Certainly, Javi has had his share. He opened up against Clemson and at North Carolina his freshman year, but he's learned a lot."
With the SAT fraud at Memphis, do you think that is a wide-spread issue in college basketball, and is that a result of a one-year rule set by the NBA?
"I'm not at liberty at what other schools are doing, so I'm going to stay away from that. I'll try and make sure we do things the right way here. Different people [players] have different agendas. I'm talking about players, and people that are handling these players. I can't speak on other universities and what they do, and I wouldn't try to."
What would you like for rules against NBA early entry?
"We certainly would like to keep them more than one year. Maybe that is best. If they are going to go, let them go. I think what happens is the ones that are thinking one year, they'll choose a school, and I won't say the wrong reason, but just because they want to go somewhere for whatever reason. They know they are going to leave anyway. At least if there are two years, they'll think a little more about it. They'll think about everything that is involved. I don't think as many players look at schools and look beyond school or beyond basketball. What am I going to do when it stops bouncing? Am I going to live in that city? Will I be loved in that city? Are they still going to love me? It is kind of like when you are home, just like playing at home. People know you when you are young and growing up and starting things. I don't think a lot of them look at that."
Did you have handlers when you were coming up?
"I don't know when that started. When I came out, it was my high school coach and my mother. Those were my handlers, and that was it. I think it makes it more difficult on the kid, I really do. We also didn't have AAU. We had AAU, but it wasn't like what it is now. We had one team that came out of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Just one, and you had to make that team. It was that team that I was on when [NC State coach] Norm [Sloan] saw me. He saw me in high school, but then he came down to Jacksonville to see me play in an AAU event.
"I think it is too much going on with some of these players. You have players that are excellent players in high school as a sophomore, and then as a junior. Then all of a sudden when they become seniors, these people come in and try and develop them. They've already been developed. They've already been the best player in the 10th grade, the best player in the 11th grade. Now, you are going to make them the best player their senior year? They probably are already en route to that anyway. But exposure, I think the young men like the exposure, the AAU scene and traveling around. They like being courted by coaches. I think that is appealing not only to players but the people that are handling them. That is where it is today. You just have to get involved and get in the game. It's a lot different now."
What will it be like for Tracy Smith to be the focus now of opposing defenses?
"He'll have to continue to improve and get better. I think he needs to also get smarter and recognize when teams are doing things, be unselfish and sacrifice. If they are going to double team him down there, then he'll have to make the appropriate pass out and allow his teammates to make shots or pump it back in and he can make his move quick.
"It might be a little frustrating for him at times. I think he'll get through it. He'll get through it because, one, we'll teach him to get through it, and two, his teammates will help him. They will understand that they are keying in on him. They are either going to have to make shots or get him the ball where he is in position to go up and score."
Could he be an All-ACC type of player?
Who do you see playing small forward?
"Johnny and Scott Wood. Scott Wood is a solid, solid basketball player, he is. I'm saying that he'll still be a freshman and make some mistakes, but he is a solid basketball player. I think he needs to get a little bigger and stronger, and he will. As far as understanding the game, how to play the game, how to win, he knows how to win.
"We know with Johnny, he's going to play hard. He just plays so hard. I feel very comfortable with those two guys. It's just a matter of through practice who is going to start. I feel comfortable with both of those guys."
Will Dennis Horner be a 3 or a 4?
"Dennis is going to be a four. I think he can play some three, but once again, that is the thing about our team. I really think we'll have a team that can move guys around. That will be a luxury for us. Hopefully have at least two or preferably three guys that can handle the ball and make decisions for us on the floor at all times. I think I see Dennis playing more at the four because he has been more effective for us there. He gives us that luxury of pulling the fours out on the floor when he can get out there and make shots."
What are the strength and conditioning goals for next year under coach Wright Wayne?
"Just to get better at everything. I feel very comfortable with that, very confident with that. I think if you see some of our guys, if you see them, you'll see they are different, just different. Their expressions are different and their minds are different. Their bodies are different. Dennis wants to walk around with his shirt off for the first time, so that's interesting. He feels good about his work. Julius, when you see our guys, you'll see a difference in their bodies. It's because of the work they put in, the extra work.
"No one told them to get in the gym at 6:30 a.m. or go lift and work out. That is what they are doing. It is kind of the same thing that J.J. [Hickson] did."
What are some of the non-conference games this year?
"Well, we are still looking at playing Florida, Arizona, Marquette, and we are working on a tournament [in Daytona Beach, Fla.], but we don't know if we are going to be in it or not yet. Auburn is in that, and would be one of the teams we'd play. We are away at UNC Greensboro. We have a pretty tough schedule."
Is Johnny Thomas still not completely healthy with his knee?
"Johnny is a go, he's a go. It is what it is. He's going to be sore and it's going to swell at times, but he's able to bounce right back and go. He's looking at his being a big year for him. He kind of needs to get in their and either go after it or get out. He's definitely in. He's ready to go."
Will the ACC be more of a frontcourt league next year?
"It could be. When you look at a lot of the teams, their frontcourt becomes their strength. Part of that is because you have the guards leaving. Teams are used to shooting the threes with the two guards or the point guards running the show and creating for them. Now, you are looking at the post players."
Will that change how you approach this season?
"I think we are going to have to be more creative with what we are doing [on defense]. We want to, without talking too much, we'd like to be able to change up our defense at times. That depends on whom we are playing personnel wise. If there is a team that is strong inside and not as good on the perimeter, then we'll pack that thing in and go zone and do some things. That depends on who we are playing."
How confident does that make you feel with Tracy Smith growing into that post player position?
"I feel very comfortable with that, very confidant. We made our nice run in February when we put Tracy in the starting lineup. I think he is confident and feels good about himself. Any time you can have a little success in this conference, it has to give you a little confidence. Teams might key in on him, and if they do that, then that tells you he is doing a good job down in there. If we can play inside, and as you know, I like to play inside-out anyway, then hopefully, that will open up some opportunities for us on the perimeter as well."
Were you surprised that the NBA tried to lure you back as an assistant coach?
"It didn't surprise me at all. Those are guys that I know and work with. They are trying to put together a staff. I guess they are wondering if I am enjoying what I'm doing. It wasn't long conversations at all. He [Washington Wizards new coach Flip Saunders] knew when we talked about it. He just said that he to call me anyway. It didn't surprise me.
"I have a job to do here. I have a few more years on my contract. I want to live that out."