NC State to reload around versatile group of perimeter players
Normally having just three returning players from an NCAA Tournament team would be cause for alarm, but NC State has plenty of firepower.
NC State was one of the great surprises in college basketball last year in going 21-12 overall and 11-7 in the ACC before falling to Seton Hall in its first game at the NCAA Tournament. Second-year head coach Kevin Keatts will have a new roster in place, but expectations will be considerably higher in trying to build off what the Wolfpack achieved last year.
NC State might not have players with experience wearing a Wolfpack uniform, but that doesn’t mean the team is inexperienced. Four different players have averaged in double figures at some point over the last two years, and the number jumps to seven individuals who have scored at least 8.9 points per game or higher during that time period.
The total of nine eligible newcomers (one — freshman post Manny Bates — will miss the season due to a shoulder injury) will be tasked with blending in with fifth-year senior forward Torin Dorn, junior point guard Markell Johnson and sophomore guard Braxton Beverly. Dorn is the top returning scorer at 13.9 points per game last year.
“The three guys that I have thought have done a tremendous job so far are the returners," Keatts said. "They all have been leaders.”
The availability of transfers C.J. Bryce (UNC Wilmington), Devon Daniels (Utah), Eric Lockett (Florida International) and Wyatt Walker (Samford) should bolster NC State’s scoring prowess, and allow for lineup flexibility. Add in Missouri sophomore guard transfer Blake Harris and the Wolfpack will be considerably deeper than some recent teams.
“We have a lot of versatility and a lot of guys that can play a lot of different positions,” Keatts said. “You might see a lot of different combinations on the floor that you might have never seen before.
“We will not play conventional basketball this year.”
Bryce played his first two years at UNCW under Keatts, and averaged 17.4 points per game during his sophomore year in 2016-17. Daniels tallied 9.9 points per contest during his freshman year at Utah. Bryce and Daniels sat out last year per NCAA transfer rules.
Bryce’s past history under Keatts could prove invaluable.
“No, not at all,” Bryce said when asked if he feels like a newcomer. “It isn’t all new to me, but it has been a while.”
Keatts landed both Lockett and Walker on the graduate transfer market this past spring. Lockett was the third-leading scorer with 14.6 points per game at Florida International during his redshirt junior year last year. Walker, a center, averaged nearly a double-double at Samford in 2016-17 — 12.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game — but redshirted last year due to a knee injury.
“Everyone will say that a great formula in college basketball is to stay old,” Keatts said. “When you bring in a Eric Lockett and Wyatt Walker also, I think the experience they have had at different universities and playing for two-three years at different places under different coaches, can help them out.”
Keatts warned that outside of Bryce, the other newcomers will need time to learn the nuances of his basketball philosophy on the court. He hopes to reach the point where he can utilize all of his full-court pressure defenses, and even play faster this season.
“I think we ran 75 percent of what I wanted to do in my system, the reason being, we didn’t have the depth,” Keatts said. “You look at this team, out of the 11 guys, I got seven guys that I can play at the guard position. At times, we can play four guards.”
The trio of Dorn, Bryce and Daniels should give Johnson plenty of options offensively, and help speed up the offensive attack. NC State fans will get its first glimpse Oct. 19 at Primetime With The Pack.
“That will be crazy,” Johnson said. “All guards that can learn from each other and all guys that are the same size.”
Keatts said he’ll likely go with a three-headed look at center with Walker, junior college transfer Derek “DJ” Funderburk and freshman Ian Steere. Replacing the departed Omer Yurtseven, won’t be easy — he transferred to Georgetown — but collectively the group will give NC State different looks.
“We have to figure out which of these guys will emerge,” Keatts said. “They bring something different to the table. Ian Steere is a freshman that has a long ways to go, but is very physical. DJ Funderburk is a talented young man that played at junior college, and is probably the best scorer out of the bunch. [Walker] is a veteran and knows how to play the game.”
If NC State wanted to go with a more “traditional look” then playing the 6-9 Walker and 6-10 Funderburk together could occur, but Keatts knows where the trends are heading in basketball.
“If you look at Golden State or San Antonio [in the NBA] or different programs in the NBA, nobody plays with a back to the basket center,” Keatts said. “We are going to play unconventional no-position basketball.”