NC State can’t replace T.J. Warren — the ACC Player of the Year and the school’s first NBA Lottery pick since 1996 — with just one player. So the Wolfpack, coming off of a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, won’t try to. Instead, fourth-year coach Mark Gottfried will attempt to build another NCAA team from of a mix of solid veterans and exciting newcomers.
“I like our team,” Gottfried says. “I like the talent level that we have.”
The Wolfpack, who went 22–14 last season, will have more balance, Gottfried says. Warren (at 24.9 ppg) accounted for 34 percent of State’s scoring last season. Gottfried expects this team to be more like his first two in Raleigh, with four or five players sharing the scoring load.
Senior Ralston Turner, the team’s top returning scorer, understands the challenge in replacing Warren. “We’re going to have to do it as a group,” Turner says. “As a team, collectively we can get that done.”
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The Wolfpack had to break in several new parts in the frontcourt last season and did so with varying degrees of success. Gottfried believes a trio of sophomore forwards — Kyle Washington, BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman — will show improvement and more consistency with a year of experience. Washington, in particular, flashed a scoring touch (he had a season-best 14 points against a formidable Syracuse frontcourt on the road), and he could flourish with more touches.
Anya is already ahead of the curve from last season when he started the season at 348 pounds. He was down to 300 pounds over the summer, and his improved mobility and stamina should make a noticeable difference.
Freeman developed ahead of schedule and was one of the big surprises on the roster. He played 30 minutes or more in all three of the Pack’s postseason games.
Newcomer Abdul-Malik Abu, a 6-8, 230-pound freshman, is the most talented of the big men. His defensive ability will be a major plus; it will just be a question of how quickly he can make the adjustment to the college game.
“Malik has a chance to be a great player,” Gottfried says. “He’s like all young players, physically very gifted, unbelievably coachable … (but) he looks a little bit lost at times.”
NC State Wolfpack Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-14, 9-9 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Coach: Mark Gottfried (70-38 at NC State, 29-23 ACC)
ACC Projection: Eighth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
After sharing the point guard job with Tyler Lewis last season, Cat Barber will have all the minutes and responsibilities to himself with Lewis’ transfer to Butler.
At his best, Barber (who averaged 8.5 points per game) was a complementary scorer to Warren last season. At his worst, his decision-making was a huge detriment in ACC play. He finished the season strong, though, and is expected to take another step with a bigger role this season.
Turner gives the Wolfpack a reliable scoring option on the wing. The LSU transfer led the team with 77 3-pointers and averaged 12.1 points over the last 18 games. He scored 17 points in State’s NCAA win over Xavier.
Gottfried is counting on junior Trevor Lacey, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama, to have an impact similar to Turner’s. Lacey, who averaged 11.3 points in his final season at Alabama, can support Barber in running the offense but can also help Turner from behind the 3-point line.
“Trevor is an off guard who has a point guard mentality,” Gottfried says. “He’s a big, strong guard that can get into the paint and make contact and doesn’t get knocked off balance.”
Freshmen twins Cody and Caleb Martin begin the season behind Turner and Lacey for playing time but both could carve out roles, as could senior Desmond Lee.
Gottfried didn’t get enough credit for cajoling an NCAA Tournament win out of last year’s group. Juggling personalities and creating a hierarchy were Gottfried’s two biggest problems in a disappointing 2012-13 season. He adroitly managed both tasks last season in his best work at NC State.
There are parts in place for another NCAA run this season, especially if Lacey can be as good as expected. It will require more consistency from Barber and Washington, but the ingredients are there for the program to continue its forward momentum under Gottfried.
Junior Trevor Lacey, a transfer from Alabama, will be counted on to step into the lineup and help fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren. All three freshmen signees finished the year ranked in ESPN’s top 100. Forward Abdul-Malik Abu has the highest ceiling and is expected to help immediately, especially with his post defense. Twins Caleb and Cody Martin will have to work to find playing time, but the coaching staff believes in their long-term potential.