Basketball recruiting: N.C. State, Gottfried have 'street cred' with top players

jgiglio@newobserver.comNovember 14, 2012 

  • Top recruiting classes nationwide Three of the nation’s top basketball recruiting services (ESPNU, Scout.com, analyst Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports Report) rank the top 20 classes entering Wednesday’s NCAA early signing period, which runs through Nov. 21.
    ESPNUSCOUT.COMBOB GIBBONS
    1. Kentucky1. Kentucky1. Kentucky
    2. Memphis2. Indiana2. Indiana
    3. Kansas3. Memphis3. Kansas
    4. Indiana4. Kansas4. Memphis
    5. Florida5. Florida5. Florida
    6. Louisville6. LSU6. Louisville
    7. LSU7. Marquette7. LSU
    8. Michigan8. Louisville8. Michigan
    9. Marquette9. Duke9. Marquette
    10. Notre Dame10. Notre Dame10. Notre Dame
    11. North Carolina11. Arkansas11. North Carolina
    12. Arkansas12. Michigan12. Duke
    13. Duke13. N.C. State13. Baylor
    14. Baylor14. North Carolina14. Arkansas
    15. Syracuse15. UCLA15. UCLA
    16. Brigham Young16. Syracuse16. Syracuse
    17. N.C. State17. Arizona17. N.C. State
    18. Arizona18. California18. South Carolina
    19. Florida State19. Tennessee19. Florida State
    20. Missouri20. Baylor20. Arizona

Mark Gottfried only knows one way to recruit: identify the best players and go after them. Hard.

If that means recruiting in the same circles as North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas, so be it.

"I’m not going to back down from anybody just because somebody else is recruiting them," Gottfried said in October. "We feel like we have a lot to sell at N.C. State."

There have been other N.C. State coaches, and others around the ACC and country, who have made a similar pitch and challenged the elite teams on the recruiting trail. Few elsewhere, if any at N.C. State since Jim Valvano, have had the success of Gottfried and his tireless staff.

In the classes of 2012, ’13 and ’14, N.C. State has added or has commitments from six top 50 recruits, according to ESPN’s rankings. That’s one more than Duke and three more than UNC over the same span.

In the three classes, Gottfried has mined a total of seven top 75 recruits with an eighth, class of 2013 forward BeeJay Anya, expected to commit Friday.

"N.C. State has quickly earned street cred with the best players in the country," ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. "They view State as a viable option, which in recruiting, is half the battle."

Gottfried believes in a holistic approach to running a program. Recruiting is part of what he calls "the system," and the results of "the system" attract recruits.

Gottfried’s system is based on the principals of John Wooden’s dynasty at UCLA. Gottfried, who began his coaching career as an assistant at UCLA for eight seasons, uses Wooden’s high-post offense.

The players Gottfried inherited from former coach Sidney Lowe excelled in Gottfried’s system last season, notably forward C.J. Leslie and guard Lorenzo Brown.

Leslie and Brown, the top two scorers on the team last season, got better as the season went along and carried the team into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.

"The way that we finished the year last year, gave everything that we’re doing credibility," Gottfried said.

In turn, Gottfried has used the growth of Leslie and Brown as an example of how recruits can fit into the system and develop their game.

Anthony Barber, the No. 14 prospect in the class of 2013 who is expected to sign Wednesday, fits the same mold as Brown, an athletic point guard. Gottfried and assistant Orlando Early have pitched prized recruit Julius Randle by showing him the freedom Leslie has to use his face-up game in the high post.

While Gottfried is always quick to credit his assistants — Early, Rob Moxley and Bobby Lutz — he has undoubtedly become the face of the program’s renaissance.

The combination of the on-court success, Gottfried’s media experience, and the coach’s confident persona has brought N.C. State more exposure nationally.

The national media never paid much attention to Lowe, who went five seasons without an NCAA bid, and mostly ignored Herb Sendek until he left after the 2005-06 season for Arizona State. Sendek’s exit, after five consecutive NCAA appearances, became a referendum for everything that was supposedly wrong with the Wolfpack program and its fan base.

N.C. State wasn’t supposed to be able to recruit against UNC or Duke, but Gottfried quickly changed that nation.

Gottfried, who worked two seasons at ESPN as analyst before he was hired in April 2011, has never backed down from public-relations opportunity, from his zip-line entrance at "Primetime with the Pack" to letting TV cameras into the locker room for his pregame speeches last March.

Gottfried’s lines from the ACC and NCAA tournaments — "There’s a plane waiting for you to take you to St. Louis," and "They gotta guard us, too, pal!" — have already entered Wolfpack lore.

So as much as "the system" is the selling point to Gottfried, recruits are responding the coach’s personality.

"Coach Gottfried is a guy you can’t help but to feel comfortable with," Randle told USA Today after Gottfried made an in-home visit with the prep star in September. "They’re definitely a program that’s on the come up."

Gottfried added three McDonald’s All-Americans in this first class last year, something only UNC and Duke have done in the ACC.

He has commitments from Barber (No. 14 in the class of 2013) and forward Kyle Washington (No. 69). Anya, a 6-9 power forward from DeMatha High outside of Washington, D.C., is ranked No. 32 in the class.

Twin small forwards Caleb and Cody Martin are No. 32 and No. 33, respectively, in the class of 2014.

But maybe Gottfried’s best recruiting job has been with Randle. Randle is a program-changer, even as a one-and-done NBA prospect. The fourth-rated prospect in the class of 2013 is a small forward in a power forward’s body (6-9, 235 pounds) with the skill set of a point guard.

Every team wanted Randle and 10 got in-home visits in September. Randle and his family gave USA Today access to the recruiting pitches made by Kentucky, Kansas, N.C. State, UNC and Duke.

Randle’s mom, Carolyn Kyles gushed about Roy Williams and his connections to Michael Jordan, according to USA Today, and Kyles, a self-admitted Duke fan, referred to Blue Devils assistant Jeff Capel as "my boy."

Yet, when Randle whittled his list to six teams, only one ACC team made the final cut.

Making Randle’s final list was a small win over UNC and Duke that could lead to a bigger one for Gottfried and the Wolfpack. Either way, Gottfried took his shot, just as he promised.

"We were fortunate to get some good (recruits), we missed on some good ones, too," Gottfried said. "That’s part of the process but if you don’t make a run at guys, you’re not going to get them anyway."

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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