RALEIGH — Ryan Harrow knows N.C. State fans already have high expectations for three freshmen who have yet to play a college game.
Coach Sidney Lowe is cautioning everyone from expecting too much right away from the newcomers on a team with plenty of experienced returnees.
“He’s not trying to put too much pressure on us,” Harrow said Friday during the team’s preseason media day. “What if we don’t live up to everybody’s expectations and then everybody comes down on us? We are only freshmen, but I think we’re pretty good freshmen.
“We’ll just have to see how we do. Then, if we do well, then all of y’all can boost us up and that’ll be great.”
No one can blame N.C. State’s fans — or Lowe — for being excited about the potential of Harrow, C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown.
Harrow brings a talent lacking at point guard in Lowe’s first four seasons, Leslie is an athletic big man and Brown is a guard who figures to be physically ready for significant minutes after spending last season at prep school as an academic nonqualifier.
That group could hold the key to whether Lowe ends up in the NCAA tournament or out of a job at the end of the season. Lowe will also count on returning all-Atlantic Coast Conference big man Tracy Smith, a veteran point guard in Javi Gonzalez and a talented long-range shooter in Scott Wood.
Lowe struggled blending a talented youngster in J.J. Hickson in with experienced returnees three seasons ago. He’ll have to do a better job this time around.
“They are talented, but they are young,” Lowe said. “There’s a learning curve. ... These guys are talented, but they do have things to learn and they’re going to play against other talented freshmen and sophomores and juniors and seniors. It’s not so much to protect them as much as it is to be realistic. Do I expect them to do well in time? Absolutely, because they have that ability.”
Smith and Wood, for their part, sounded eager about having the touted freshmen joining the program even if fans seem to talk about them more than the rest of the team. Smith is ready for some more help in attaining his goal of finally playing in the NCAA tournament.
“If you go read any article about the freshmen, you can just see the (online) views and how many people are looking at them,” Wood said. “It’s just crazy, but I think that brings an added excitement to our program this year.”
Leslie is arguably Lowe’s biggest recruiting catch since he took over the program he led to a national championship as a player nearly three decades ago. The 6-foot-8 forward verbally committed to the Wolfpack as a ninth grader, but reopened his recruitment and flirted with John Calipari and Kentucky, among others, before ultimately signing with N.C. State.
Leslie said Lowe’s loyalty, including continuing to recruit Leslie after he “kind of let them down a little bit,” was a big factor in why he decided to stay with his original choice.
“I basically made a decision to open my options because I felt I was too young for it,” Leslie said. “But at the same time, State was always in the back of my mind and they were recruiting me as hard as any other school even though I had decommitted.”
“I did owe it to myself (to look around). I felt like you have to respect that because this is my life right here. Picking the right school is important.”
Harrow, a squeaky-voiced guard who is generously listed as 6-1 and 156 pounds on the roster, figures to challenge Gonzalez for playing time sooner rather than later. Lowe described Brown’s year of prep school as a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to mature physically and emotionally to prepare for the rigors of playing in the ACC.
All three rookies should give the Wolfpack a chance to run more, which maybe will allow Lowe to loosen the reins a little bit from the sideline. And that might be enough to help Lowe’s program make its long-awaited leap forward.
“The crowd’s going to talk about the new guys because we’re new,” Brown said. “But it’s really about the team. Us three can’t do it by ourselves.”