RALEIGH — As the most decorated freshmen class in N.C. States history, there is pressure on Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis to perform this season.
Theres no doubt about that, junior forward C.J. Leslie said, but no ones asking the trio of McDonalds All-Americans to carry the program, not yet anyway.
We are already on the right steps, Leslie said. We are looking to keep going forward from here.
Leslie was comparing this class to his, with guards Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow, who has since transferred to Kentucky.
Leslie, Brown and Harrow entered the program in the midst of a four-year NCAA tournament drought and with the challenge of saving coach Sidney Lowes job.
Purvis, who will likely start for departed guard C.J. Williams, Warren and Lewis enter a program coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and with four returning starters.
All of our freshmen are going to help us in some way at some point of the season, Leslie said.
But they wont be asked to be the focus of the program, which is fine with the three newcomers, who each bring a distinct need to this years roster.
Without Williams, who as a senior started every game and averaged 10.6 points, Purvis will be needed to provide perimeter scoring and defense. At 6-foot-2, Purvis is slightly undersized as a shooting guard, but he is strong with the ball and quicker than Williams.
Purvis already has been through the NCAA wringer. He missed the teams trip to Spain in August while his high school in Raleigh, Upper Room Christian Academy, was under extended review by the NCAAs clearinghouse.
Purvis was ruled ineligible for the season and then won his appeal with the NCAA. The process, while difficult to go through, might end up being a positive.
I think it made him stronger, said Lewis, who was friends with Purvis before the two got to N.C. State.
While Purvis will likely be on the only new starter, Warren and Lewis will play important roles off the bench. Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried usually only used forward DeShawn Painter and guard Alex Johnson off the bench last season. Warren and Lewis will basically fill those roles this season, with some minutes going to forward junior Jordan Vandenberg.
Warren is 6-8 and 233 pounds but prefers to play on the perimeter. Like his dad, Tony, who played guard for the Wolfpack in the late 1970s, Warren can shoot. The freshman from Durham also has an unconventional ability to score, a la Tyler Hansbrough.
Thats not to predict Warren will break the former North Carolina forwards ACC scoring record, but theres an ugly-yet-effective quality to his game. (Also, like Hansbrough, both Warren and Lewis have already turned 19 before their first college game.)
While Warren will do most of his scoring from the wing, he will have to defend the post, especially if Leslie or Richard Howell, the starters at forward, get in foul trouble.
Im fine with that, Warren said. Whatever coach Gottfried wants me to do, Im going to do.
Lewis, listed at 5-11, is a pure point guard who will be used as both Browns backup and to spell Purvis or wing Scott Wood. Just like Johnson a year ago, who was also undersized, Lewis will have to overcome of his deficiencies on defense, but his value will be in setting up the Wolfpacks scorers.
Lewis, who led Oak Hill to a 44-0 record and high school national title last year, has always been in charge of his teams. That will be an adjustment for the freshman, who was integral in the recruitment of Purvis and Warren, but its one hes willing to make.
Lewis, who got a head start on the season in Spain, said Brown is one of the best guards Ive ever seen, so he has no problem deferring to Brown, when the two are on the court together.
Its a little bit different, Lewis said. Whenever hes out on the court, I try to let him run the show. I can take care of the ball and just let him score.
The heralded trio has adopted the mindset of the apprentice for this season.
Were just trying to learn from what they did last year, Warren said. And hopefully help them take the next step.