RALEIGH – N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried is eager to begin working with an overhauled roster after a disappointing season.
“We’re a program that’s certainly in transition, but at the same time we’re excited about where we can get to one day,” Gottfried said. “How quick that is, I don’t know.”
Gottfried is preparing for his third season in Raleigh with a roster featuring just two regular-rotation returnees in rising sophomores T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. They’ll work with reserve senior 7-footer Jordan Vandenberg and LSU junior transfer Ralston Turner – who sat out last year – to lead a roster with five incoming freshmen and a junior college transfer in guard Desmond Lee.
The first oncourt workout with the freshmen came Tuesday afternoon, one of the first steps for a team aiming to exceed low expectations.
Last year, N.C. State failed to live up to a preseason top-10 ranking and its status as Atlantic Coast Conference favorite.
A year ago, the Wolfpack had four starters back from a team that had reached the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 and a recruiting class of three McDonald’s All-Americans.
But N.C. State was inconsistent all year and went one-and-done in the NCAA tournament.
While the 48 wins during Gottfried’s first two years are the most for the program in consecutive seasons since 1983, the coach has spent plenty of time reflecting on what he could’ve done better last year.
He said one was to push the team to play better defense, which will be more of an emphasis this year.
“Nobody can criticize me more than I criticize myself,” he said. “I’m always trying to figure out what could I have done differently or better to make that team a team that could make a deep run in the tournament. ... But the bottom line in my opinion is we did not get done what I wanted or any of us wanted to get done.”
Now seniors Richard Howell and Scott Wood are gone. Juniors Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie entered the NBA draft early, though Brown was a second-round pick and Leslie went undrafted in a draft that left Gottfried “disappointed.”
In addition, guard Rodney Purvis decided to transfer after one season to play at Connecticut.
This year’s group will rely heavily on Warren’s scoring ability, while Lewis will provide leadership while fighting for primary point guard duties with top freshman Anthony “Cat” Barber from Hampton, Va.
Gottfried said he expects that most will pick his Wolfpack near the bottom of the newly expanded ACC, which added Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame on Monday.
He said a man in a grocery store recently stopped him to say “hang in there” for what would be “a long year.”
The goal, Gottfried said, is to be a surprise team that fights its way back to the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.
“I think our guys understand that most people are going to consider us to be pretty bad this year,” he said. “I think they get that. They hear it. But I think we’ve got a real confident group of guys, too. Even though they’re young and somewhat naive, I believe they are confident.”