Wolfpack basketball packing heavy expectations on trip to Spain

Five-game tour will give team a head start on a season full of promise

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJuly 25, 2012 

— A minor knee injury has turned Lorenzo Brown into a spectator as N.C. State’s basketball team prepares for its trip to Spain.

The time on the sideline in practice has given Brown, one of four returning starters, a new perspective on State’s chances in coach Mark Gottfried’s second season.

“I’ve been watching and I’m like, ‘Wow, we’re going to be pretty good,’ ” Brown said Tuesday.

But just how good?

Expectations already are in “Big Foot” territory for the Wolfpack, which went 24-13 last season and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005. ESPN put the Wolfpack No. 6 in its early preseason rankings.

With the return of Brown, forward C.J. Leslie and the addition of three McDonald’s All-Americans, there’s a chance State could be tabbed to win the ACC. Even North Carolina coach Roy Williams suggested as much earlier this summer. The Pack hasn’t been picked to win the league since 1974.

Nobody works to dampen expectations better than Gottfried, who understands the desire for fans, and the media, to talk about the league race, but does not put much value in predictions.

“I’m excited about our team’s potential, but I’m not real into or caught up in where others think our team might be,” Gottfried said. “That to me is dangerous, to get into all that.”

Gottfried pointed out the Pack lost 13 games last season, including seven in ACC play, and really didn’t gain momentum until the final week of the regular season.

“We have to take the next step, and we haven’t done that yet,” Gottfried said.

With three players missing from a seven-man rotation, the Pack will be different, despite the returning core of talent. That’s where the five-game trip starting Aug. 5 through Spain will help the Pack get a head start on the much-anticipated season.

Gottfried lavished praise on his three freshmen — point guard Tyler Lewis, combo guard Rodney Purvis and forward T.J. Warren. He’s only been able to work with them for two hours a week during the summer but said Lewis’ passing ability was “as good as anybody as I’ve had.”

Purvis, who spent part of the summer with USA Basketball on the under-18 team, has the potential to be a “great college player,” Gottfried said.

The coach also noted Warren’s value on the wing, as a scorer, and for depth at forward.

Normally, three McDonald’s All-Americans would be viewed as program saviors, but with a solid core in place, Lewis said the freshmen are here to learn.

“We want to do what we can to help the team win,” Lewis said.

Even with the optimism, there are unknowns to this team, Gottfried said, which is why he’s trying not to get caught up in the hype.

“We still have the four guys that played a lot, but then around those four guys the dynamics of our team changed dramatically,” Gottfried said. “Our team really is the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ ”

It’s impossible for the players to avoid the talk and increased expectations, but after years of being overlooked or picked to finish near the bottom of the league, they welcome the change.

“It’s obviously better than not being talked about at all,” senior guard Scott Wood said.

A year ago, the Pack was picked to finish eighth in the ACC and finished tied for fourth. If they’re picked first this year, Gottfried said it wouldn’t really matter.

“It’s fun for this time of the year, but the reality is, I’ve been doing this long enough to know it’s really insignificant when you start playing games,” Gottfried said.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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