Kevin Keatts discusses season, recruiting class
NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts went on the newly launched "The OG With Ovies and Giglio" on 99.9 The Fan on Tuesday afternoon. Hosts Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio asked questions about the season, NCAA Tournament chances and recruiting to Keatts.
The third-year Pack coach firmly believed that NC State was headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in his tenure and was playing for seeding entering its conference tournament quarterfinal showdown with Duke on March 12.
Then the rumors came, and it was not necessarily at first about the ACC Tourney being canceled.
"That morning, when we were about to play Duke, I started hearing rumblings about that there was a possibility that game in particular wasn’t going to be played," Keatts noted. "Not at first that the whole ACC Tournament would be canceled.
"As we went along during the morning it started to be clear that the whole ACC Tournament was going to be canceled. I had a scheduled meeting with our guys right before we were going to leave anyway, so we kept that meeting. I went in, I really felt for those guys. I told them I thought we had done enough. … I thought we were in."
It was later confirmed that Duke University president Vincent Price was not going to allow the Blue Devils to play any further and helped lead the way on calling off the tournament. The Wolfpack arrived back in Raleigh at 3 p.m. that afternoon, and an hour later Keatts received word that the NCAA Tournament was not happening either.
In retrospect, it's a decision Keatts has come to appreciate.
"I was one of those guys that said I wish they hadn’t had come out and said the tournament was canceled, I wish they would have postponed it," Keatts noted. "But as I looked back at it I think was absolutely the right thing to do."
Keatts felt for his seniors like C.J. Bryce and Markell Johnson. KEatts added he also hurt for programs like his old rival from his days at UNC Wilmington, noting that Hofstra, a team NC State defeated last year in the NIT, had finally won the Colonial Athletic Association tourney and was headed to the Big Dance.
While Keatts was certain the Wolfpack was going to be there as well, he also said this was the "weirdest" season he has ever experienced as a head coach.
"I wasn’t a huge fan with opening the season with an ACC game for reasons being you have injuries coming out of the summer, and then a lot of times as coaches we like to discipline guys. We had the suspension with DJ [Funderburk] as you know," Keatts noted. "Going into this year I thought we would have [depth] similar to Florida State. We would have 10 guys that I could play anywhere from 25-30 minutes a game and kind of fully implement our system on both ends of the floor and get up and down and be able to full court press.
"Boy, was I wrong. That changed obviously with a couple of guys leaving and then the biggest hurdle that we had to overcome is we had a lot of injuries, more concussions than I’ve ever had in our life. I don’t even want to see those anymore.
"That being said I thought we finished the season great. When I say great, on a positive note. It’s the first year that it's 20 games in the ACC. We found a way to go 10-10, I thought we did some good things down the stretch. When you look back at our season and you look at our team, the games that we had the majority of our guys, our bulk of our guys, we were very successful.”
Keatts must replace at least two core players in Bryce and Johnson, the latter a second-team All-ACC selection after leading the league in assists. Bryce paced the Pack in scoring and rebounding.
But the coach is optimistic about a five-player recruiting class that he said he "loves." Five-star forward Josh Hall from Moravian Prep in Hickory, N.C., highlights the haul, and he is joined by four-star guards Cam Hayes from Greensboro (N.C.) Day and Shakeel Moore, a teammate of Hall. The class is rounded out by three-star forward Nick Farrar from Apex (N.C.) Friendship and three-star center Ebenezer Dowuona from Heritage School in Newnan, Ga.
"Josh Hall is a skilled, I call him a [small forward/shooting guard] guy, 6-foot-9 guy that can score in many ways," Keatts described. "He’s long. He’s athletic. He’ll remind you of, I’m not saying he is Kevin Durant, but he plays that type of basketball. He’s very talented.
"Then, Cam Hayes is obviously a point guard out of Greensboro Day that has had a tremendous career. He just got player of the year in that conference. He should be able to come in and make an immediate impact. He’s very solid, athletic, can score from the point position but also can run a team.
"Shak Moore, who is Josh Hall’s teammate at Moravian Prep, may be one of the most underrated guards in the country. He’s tough. He’s gritty. Reminds me a lot of Justin Robinson that was at Virginia Tech. Very athletic, tremendous defender. He can defend his position, but he can also play a little bit of [point] and [shooting guard].
"We took a local young man, Nick Farrar, who I think his upside is tremendous. He’s a guy who came on late and a lot mid-major schools were recruiting him, and then he played his way into a high-major offer here. Nick’s a guy who always wanted to come to NC State. When we offered it was so exciting for him and his family. Those are the types of guys that you want to recruit.
"Then I went out and got a 6-foot-10, very athletic center Ebe Dowuona. He’s from the state of Georgia. Long, athletic. He’ll put people in the mindset of Manny Bates, blocking shots. Offense will come later on in his career, but he’s going to be a very good basketball player."
Hall has the option of turning pro this year, but Keatts is optimistic that he'll end up in Raleigh unlike Jalen Lecque last year. Lecque was a guard who signed with NC State but instead stayed in the NBA Draft. Despite going undrafted he signed a guaranteed free agent contract with the Phoenix Suns.
"I would say it’s more likely that [Hall will] end up here," Keatts said. "With Jalen, from the time we recruited him there were a lot of conversations about that. I haven’t heard that on Josh’s end.
"I think Josh, he’s a young man that wants to play in college. He understands the value of having at least a year under his belt to go on and be able to go and play. He’s talented. Anytime you’ve got a guy that is draft eligible and talented, anything can happen. But I haven’t heard any of those rumblings as much as I did when Jalen was coming through."