NC State head coach Mark Gottfried likes to say every college basketball team is different every year. He said that several times at his annual summer press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
His 2014-15 Wolfpack squad will be drastically changed from last year's NCAA Tournament team that featured first-round draft pick T.J. Warren, who averaged 25.5 points per game. The only other Pack player to average double-digit points was redshirt senior Ralston Turner, who checked in with a clip of 10.8 points per contest.
The coach expects his newest team to feature the balanced scoring that was the hallmark of his first two editions with NCSU, which also qualified for the Big Dance. Only 6.5 percent of schools in the country have reached the tournament in each of the last three years, including the Pack.
"Those first two years, we had five guys in double figures with a sixth guy close to that scoring," he said. "I think this year's team is going to be a little more similar to that.
"I like our team, I like the talent level that we have, but those four freshmen from last year are now sophomores and have to take a big step. The young guys that we have, we think they're going to contribute and they have to take one pretty quick from where they are in their development.
"Can we put it all together and become a really good team? That's going to be the question for us."
In addition to Turner, the squads boasts a sophomore class of point guard Anthony Barber and forwards BeeJay Anya, Lennard Freeman and Kyle Washington, while former Alabama transfer guard Trevor Lacey will be added to the mix after sitting out last year.
"We've got a group of guys that tasted the NCAA Tournament; they were able to win a game in the tournament," Gottfried noted. "We've got young players that need to really improve this offseason and get better. A lot more will be expected of them than last year. It's going to be a fun time to watch these young guys take the next step and develop a little bit more than last year.
"We're still going to be pretty young, the majority of our roster will be freshmen and sophomores this year. But we're further along [than last year], in terms of those guys understanding what we're doing, our terminology, trying to run our system; they've got a year under their belt."
The team also adds one of the nation's top recruiting classes in Rivals' No. 21 class of newcomers in wings Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and forward Abdul-Malik Abu; all three were ranked among the top 81 players in the class of 2014.
Caleb had foot surgery in late June for a nagging injury from his senior year, but Gottfried expects him back in about two months, and the other two have wasted no time in impressing their new mentor, although he is quick to caution that like all young guys, they still have improvements to make.
"They're like freshmen; they'll make a great play and then they'll look around the gym like they're looking for a lost ball in the tall weeds," he said. "But that's not atypical.
"In practice, Cody has made a couple of great plays; he goes to the glass and gets offensive rebounds. He uses his length. Malik looks the part walking in the gym, he just has to catch up. He'll get your heart started just walking in the door, he looks good."
Competition inside of the practice gym should be at an all-time high, and that's exactly what Gottfried wants.
"Competition is what makes you better," he stated. "Cody and Caleb are going to push our wing players for playing time, which makes everybody better. I think Malik is going to come here and push some guys; I think he already has. He jumped up there in a couple of pick-up games, then next thing I know, I walk in here and some of those returning guys are in the gym a little bit more than they used to be."
Transfers Bolster Pack
Although he will sit out this year per NCAA rules, another new name on the Wolfpack roster was West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson, who will be a redshirt junior when he returns in 2015-16.
Gottfried talked at length about the rise of college transfers during his availability, but said he feels the Pack has benefitted from the players they have added previously during his tenure - graduated guard Alex Johnson (Cal State-Bakersfield), Turner (LSU) and Lacey (Alabama).
"We've been fortunate where I think we're going to get some guys on the back-end of the transfers, coming this way, that can really help our team," he said. "[The key is getting] good players that take a year - Ralston did it the first year, then Trevor last year did it - and maximize that year.
"We talk to them every day about maximizing the year off."
He noted that Lacey went from a coach-estimated 230 pounds last year to 205 now, while improving his conditioning and stamina.
"The level of personal attention for that year becomes really valuable," he noted. "I thought it really helped Ralston a year ago and then we'll see how Trevor does this year.
"If it's the right guy and the right fit, you get a guy to transfer in and you can sometimes end up ahead of where you would with maybe a freshman, but it's got to be the right fit. All of the guys we've taken we've felt were needed at the time, so it's been good for us."
Henderson, a Raleigh native, is a guy who Gottfried watched in high school and was always impressed with his ability to shoot.
"You can always find a place for guys that can make shots, and he can make them," the coach said. "He shoots the ball well from the perimeter, but I don't think that's all he does - he scores, he's long, he can be a good defender and he's done a nice job with his body over the last couple of years. When I first got the job here, he was like 163 pounds and he's done a nice job filling out; I think he can be an impact guy, as well."
The coach was also excited about what Lacey brings to the table this winter since he is finally eligible. The redshirt junior earned the entire squad's respect last year while practicing on the scout team, in addition to transforming his body.
"My expectations are going to be high for him, I think he can be an impact guy in this league," Gottfried said. "He's got a high basketball I.Q. and a great feel for the game, he really does. He makes the game easy, makes the right pass at the right time, he gives us some three-point shooting which we desperately need, he's a big, strong guard that can get into the paint and make contact, but doesn't get knocked off balance."
He gives the team the ability to play with two strong ball handlers at the same time when teamed up with Barber as the off-guard, and he's likely to take over the lead role when the sophomore needs a break.
"I'm hoping that's going to be a real advantage for our team," the coach said, "having two guys that have that type of capability."
Gottfried noted that the non-conference schedule is, "pretty much done," and that it should be announced soon. He is always sure to schedule tough since one year at Alabama his squad was left out of the NCAA field because of a soft schedule.
The coach admits he didn't pay much attention to strength of schedule before then, but now he looks to play quality squads from fellow BCS leagues and other teams that will win at least 20 games and be in contention for their conference title. His tough scheduling philosophy has helped get the Pack into each of the last three NCAA Tournaments.
"No doubt, this past year, that's what made the difference," he said. "I've talked with three or four people that were on the committee, and who we chose to play separated us from a couple of other teams and winning away from home separated us, too.
"I think you've got to play a great schedule to become the best team you can be."
The non-conference dates that have been reported so far:
• Nov. 23 vs. South Florida
• Dec. 2 at Purdue
• Dec. 17 vs. Tennessee
• Dec. 20 vs. West Virginia in Madison Square Garden
• Dec. 30 vs. Cincinnati
• On Barber: "I think he's a lot more confident, and I think the confidence comes from how hard he has worked, he has put a lot of time in...The college game is a little different, and he had to learn the position a little bit more, learn how to run a team. I think he's done a pretty good with that through the offseason. He's spent a lot of time in the gym and he knows it's his position to lose so he needs to play well. All of that combined has made for a much more confident guy."
• Gottfried joked when informed that the roster had Anya listed at 300 pounds, "I don't know who wrote that roster up, that must have been a guess.
"Our goal for BeeJay is 280, that's what I think is his best weight. At one time at the end of this past season, he was at 349. He's made a great deal of progress and I'm very proud of him for doing that, but he's not there yet. He's making good steps."
• On the Martin twins: "I think both these two guys have a chance to be really good. They're a little different. Caleb was a little bit more of a standstill shooter, Cody was a little more of a driver but he has improved his three-point shooting. They look identical, but I can tell them apart.
"They're a little bit different but similar, too."
When asked how he can tell them apart, the coach quipped, "it's top secret," because he joked if one gets in foul trouble during the first half of a game, but is playing well, he can just have them switch jerseys.
"They're in on the CIA/FBI plan," he said.