You don’t lose the ACC Player of the Year without missing a beat.
The exit of T.J. Warren, and his ACC-best 24.9 points per game, to the NBA leaves a hole in the Wolfpack lineup for next season.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, who has led the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament in each of his first three seasons, understands that.
He also sees a chance for the returning players, and a talented group of newcomers, to continue the momentum of the program.
“Our team is probably going to be much more balanced,” said Gottfried, who has a 70-38 record at N.C. State.
“I like our team. I like the talent level that we have.”
No one meant more to their ACC team last season than Warren, who accounted for 35 percent of State’s 71.1 points per game.
By the second half of the 2013-14 season, Warren was carrying the Wolfpack offense, with guard Ralston Turner in the main supporting role.
With Turner, a senior, and group of four sophomores back from last season, Gottfried is confident a group effort can offset some of Warren’s production.
“It will be difficult to replace a guy like T.J.,” Gottfried said. “Last year’s team started to rely on him so much offensively. This year’s team, you’re going to have different guys step up and step forward and better offensively.”
Turner, the only other player besides Warren to average double figures (10.5 points per game) is the top returning scorer. The shooting guard finished the season strong.
He will be helped on the perimeter by sophomore point guard Cat Barber and fellow SEC transfer Trevor Lacey, who averaged 11.3 points in 2012-13 for Alabama.
Lacey practiced with the team last season and earned the respect of “everyone in the gym,” Gottfried said.
Lacey, who’s listed at 6-3 and 205 pounds, can handle the ball and will be counted to run the offense some with Barber. Gottfried is excited about the prospect of Barber and Lacey playing together.
“We have two guys who think like point guards and play like point guards,” Gottfried said.
Lacey has a combination of size and smarts and a variety of skills and experience, which should provide an immediate impact for the Wolfpack.
“He makes the game easy,” Gottfried said. “He makes the right pass at the right time. He can give us some 3-point shooting which we desperately need. He’s a big, strong guard that can get into the paint and make contact and doesn’t get knocked off balance.
Gottfried also said freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu, the highest rated incoming recruit in the class (No. 32 in the country by ESPN), has a chance to be a great player.
“He’s like all young players, physically very gifted, unbelievably coachable — he’s anxious and ready every day — but we’ve put him in some of our live drills and he looks like a guy three months out of high school,” Gottfried said of the 6-8, 230-pound power forward. “He looks a little bit lost at times.”
Gottfried’s first two teams had more scoring balance than last year’s version. He thinks this team could be more like those that featured five players with double-figure averages.
But without Warren, how it will work is still a question mark.
“Can we put it all together and become a really good team? That’s going to be the question for us,” Gottfried said.
More notes from Tuesday’s press conference:
SCHEDULE HIGHLIGHTS: The nonconference schedule will include a return game with Cincinnati (in Raleigh) and a December date with West Virginia at Madison Square Garden in New York, in addition to the previously announced Big Ten Challenge game at Purdue.
Gottfried said there will be home games with Louisiana Tech and Boise State, a pair of strong mid-major programs.
SHAPING UP: Following in the footsteps of Richard Howell, Warren and Jordan Vandenberg, sophomore forward BeeJay Anya and jLacey have taken advantage of the offseason conditioning program with strength coach Bob Alejo.
Anya, who tipped the scales into the 340s last season, is down to 302 pounds. His goal is to get to 280 pounds by the start of the season.
Lacey, who was up to around 230 last season, is down to 205, Gottfried said.
TIME OFF: Freshman wing Caleb Martin will be shut down for about two months, Gottfried said, after Martin had surgery recently on his right foot.
Martin had a previous injury which required a screw to fix a broken bone. Gottfried was confident Martin would be ready for the start of the season.
The coach also said he thought Martin and his twin brother Cody would push the returning wing players for playing time.