RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Keatts had a promising start at North Carolina State, from beating nationally ranked powers to getting the Wolfpack back into the NCAA Tournament.
His second team will have a very different look.
N.C. State lost a high-scoring guard in Allerik Freeman, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference performer in 7-footer Omer Yurtseven to transfer, and experienced forwards in Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu. But there are five transfers who will figure into this season’s rotation as Keatts aims to run more of his fullcourt pressure system in Year 2 of his tenure.
Keatts figures his past experience coaching at Hargrave Military Academy, where there was constant roster turnover year to year, has him ready for it.
“Every year I lost my whole roster,” Keatts said. “So I’m not saying I’m the only one in college basketball that can withstand a new roster. But if anybody’s equipped to do it, it’s me.”
The most immediate help is likely to come from Utah transfer Devon Daniels and C.J. Bryce, an all-Colonial Athletic Conference performer under Keatts at UNC Wilmington. Both worked out with the team all last season while sitting out due to transfer rules.
Daniels is a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore who averaged 9.9 points while shooting 57 percent and starting 26 games in his lone season with the Utes. The 6-5 Bryce averaged 17.4 points with the Seahawks.
The Wolfpack also added Missouri transfer Blake Harris at midseason last year, as well as graduate transfers Wyatt Walker from Samford and Eric Lockett from Florida International.
“Any time you’re bringing in so many new guys, it’s important that you have some older guys,” Keatts said. “Everybody will tell you a great formula in college basketball is to stay old. … They know what helpside (defense) is. They know how to talk. They’re great in the locker room.”
Here are things to know about the Wolfpack for the 2018-19 season:
Braxton Beverly, a 6-0 sophomore, had surgery this week for a broken left hand. It’s unclear exactly how long he’ll be out, though Keatts estimated until roughly midway through the nonconference schedule. Beverly brought ballhandling and outside shooting to the Wolfpack, averaging 9.5 points while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range.
“It certainly changes our team a little bit,” Keatts said.
JOHNSON’S ON POINT
Junior point guard Markell Johnson thrived in Keatts’ system last season, ranking fifth nationally while averaging a league-best 7.3 assists per game. His opencourt speed and unselfish play certainly helps push the tempo for the Wolfpack, who averaged 81.3 points to rank third in the league last season.
Torin Dorn, a 6-5 senior, struggled in his lone season under former coach Mark Gottfried after transferring from Charlotte. But like Johnson, he settled right in with a more confident look under Keatts. He’s the team’s top returning scorer (13.9 points) while also hitting the boards (6.3) and shooting well (53.1 percent).
He’s focused on showing more leadership to go with the better numbers.
“I think myself stepping out of my comfort zone and being more of a vocal leader is probably the next step for me,” Dorn said. “Just cutting down on small things like turnovers, defensive mental errors and things like that. It’s not all about scoring.”
The Wolfpack’s personnel losses are concentrated up front. Yurtseven was a skilled big man who could shoot from outside, while Freeman and Abu provided rebounding and a physical presence inside.
Walker’s arrival could help on that front. The 6-9 forward averaged 7.8 rebounds in 68 career games at Samford and understands he doesn’t need to be a big offensive threat to most help here.
“I know kind of that thing I bring to the team is just energy and passion,” Walker said. “I’m not a guy that’s really enamored with stats or anything like that.”
Keatts said several times that last year’s team was able to do maybe about 75 percent of what he envisions for the long term with its fullcourt and pressure style of play. Yet it was still good enough to beat nationally ranked Arizona , Duke and North Carolina teams. His second team might be better equipped — on the perimeter, at least — to show more in chasing a second straight NCAA bid.
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