NC State’s Keatts building for ‘long haul’ with Wolfpack

Published 1:29 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

RALEIGH — New North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts is getting to know the players he inherited and pursuing recruits who can thrive in his style of play.

He’s prepared to wait, too, instead of loading up the roster with recruits or transfers who aren’t the right fit just to add numbers.

“I think it’s the long haul,” Keatts said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Taking this job, I want to build a program. And my thoughts are to build a program that will stand the test of time as opposed to having just one great team.

“There’s a possibility we may have nine or 10 scholarship guys next year that may be available if we’re not able to find guys.”

The school announced Keatts’ hiring from UNC-Wilmington on March 17 to replace Mark Gottfried, who was fired after six seasons. He quickly emphasized conditioning for his up-tempo offense and a version of the fullcourt press from his time under Rick Pitino at Louisville — an approach that helped him lead the Seahawks to the NCAA Tournament in the last two of his three seasons there.

Keatts wants players who can defend, he loves shooters and he looks for players “with some type of toughness.”

“I will be a recruiting head coach,” Keatts said. “Some head coaches are not recruiting head coaches. They don’t like to do it. I love to recruit. And so for me, with the guys I have on the staff, I’m heavily involved in every recruit we deal with, whether it’s phone conversations, text messages or obviously having a chance to watch them for an evaluation.”

Keatts has hired two assistant coaches in former UNCW assistant Takayo Siddle and James Johnson, the former Virginia Tech head coach who spent two seasons as Miami’s director of basketball operations. Keatts has also hired former UNCW assistant Thomas Carr as the Wolfpack’s director of basketball operations, leaving a vacancy for a third assistant coach.

“Whirlwind, buffet-style,” Johnson said of the past few weeks, “there’s a lot of stuff out there that you have to touch.”

There are still roster questions, too. Freshmen Ted Kapita and Omer Yurtseven have declared for the NBA draft but haven’t hired agents, while it’s unclear if guard Terry Henderson will get a sixth year of eligibility after missing nearly all of the 2015-16 season with an ankle injury following his transfer from West Virginia.

N.C. State has added Baylor guard Al Freeman as a graduate transfer for next season and signed guard Lavar Batts, an AP all-state pick for North Carolina earlier this month.

Keatts inherits a program that went to four straight NCAA Tournaments, then slid to 9-27 in the Atlantic Coast Conference the past two seasons while plagued by near-constant turnover from players leaving early for professional careers or transferring in and out of the program.

“My biggest thing is I’ve been trying to get them into a routine to understand what I’m looking for, and we’ve got a long ways to go,” Keatts said, adding: “I want them to kind of understand how hard we have to play, and the biggest thing is getting those guys to learn how to compete.”