CHARLOTTE — N.C. State expected low expectations on Wednesday at ACC Operation Basketball. The conference media picked the Wolfpack to finish 10th in the expanded 15-team league, a year after the Wolfpack was tabbed as the preseason favorite.
The change in perception is fine with sophomore T.J. Warren, who said the Wolfpack would prefer to be doubted.
I think we can surprise some people, said Warren, the leading returning scorer at 12.1 points per game.
The Wolfpack, which went 24-11 last season and finished fifth in the ACC at 11-7, has to replace five of its top six scorers. Warren and sophomore guard Tyler Lewis are the only regulars back from last seasons NCAA tournament team.
Were in a completely different situation than we were the last two years, coach Mark Gottfried said.
Warren said newcomers Des Lee, a junior-college transfer guard, and Ralston Turner, an LSU transfer, are underrated talents. He also said the teams chemistry has significantly improved over last years group.
Weve got a lot of options, Warren said. Everyones going to see that once the season starts.
Slow start for freshmen: While all four freshmen are expected to have important roles this season, Gottfried said it has been a slow start for point guard Cat Barber and forward BeeJay Anya.
Barber suffered a concussion at the end of the first practice after colliding with Warren and has missed seven practices, Gottfried said.
Barber, who has returned to practice, has impressed Gottfried with his defensive abilities, but the coach said the injury has kept Barber from learning the offense.
He is behind but hell catch up, Gottfried said. If the season were to start tonight, he would be a little bit lost.
Gottfried said Barber has a history of concussions from high school and they are being cautious with him in practice.
Anya has been limited by his physical shape. Gottfried said Anya weighs 337 pounds, about 50 more than when Gottfried started to recruit Anya as a junior at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md.
Hes behind where we wanted him to be, Gottfried said.
Gottfried and Lewis had high praise for freshman forward Lennard Freeman. Freeman (6-8, 235 pounds) was known for his work ethic at Oak Hill and that has carried over to practice at N.C. State.
Lewis compared to Freeman to former forward Richard Howell, who led the ACC in rebounding last season.
He works hard every day and never takes a play off, Lewis said. He gets like every rebound. He does the little things to help the team.
Less Warren, more Warren: Warren has lost about 25 pounds since the end of his freshman season.
Warren said he didnt realize he had that much weight to lose but he said he has noticed a difference in practice.
I feel quicker, faster and I dont get tired as much, said Warren, whos down to 215 pounds.
N.C. State will rely more on Warren this season with the loss of five of the top six scorers from last season. Warren will play both on the perimeter and in the high post. He averaged 27 minutes per game last season, which he expects to go up significantly.
Gottfried said Warren is the only proven scorer on the roster and expects him to have a breakout sophomore season.
He has put a lot of time in and he has gotten really serious about his body, Gottfried said. Hes in great condition and his stamina has been remarkably better than last year.
He has put himself in a position to have a great year.