N.C. State forward Abdul-Malik Abu unwittingly picked up the nickname “Sweetheart” from his coach last season.
The 6-8, 240-pound junior hopes a new nickname, one he came up with on his own, sticks.
“I’m the Bully,” Abu said. “Off the court, I’m still nice, but on the court it’s different.”
N.C. State, which plays its first preseason game on Thursday against Lynn University, will have to rely on Abu’s mean streak early in the season while forward Omer Yurtseven serves a nine-game suspension.
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Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried, who called Abu a “sweetheart” after an early-season win over South Alabama last November, has said he plans to use a four-guard lineup, with Abu as the only post player, to start the season.
Yurtseven, a skilled 7-footer from Turkey, can play in both preseason games, but Gottfried is likely to start the game with his “small ball” lineup of Abu with guards Dennis Smith Jr., Torin Dorn, Terry Henderson and Maverick Rowan.
Henderson, who’s listed at 6-5, has the reach to guard taller players. Dorn, at 6-6 and 205 pounds, is the best athlete and defender of the wing players. Rowan, who is listed at 6-7, will spend some time as a “faceup four” this season.
With Yurtseven out nine games and forward Ted Kapita sidelined indefinitely with NCAA issues, Gottfried’s options to go with a “big” lineup are limited. Forward Lennard Freeman, who started 15 games last year, is going to redshirt.
That leaves Abu and senior BeeJay Anya as the traditional bigs with playing experience. Instead of playing both at the same time, Gottfried plans to rotate the two forwards. Tucker Thompson, Shaun Kirk and Darius Hicks could also get minutes while Yurtseven is out.
Without Yurtseven, Gottfried is more inclined to take a page from the Golden State Warriors and spread the floor with a smaller lineup. That will add rebounding responsibility to the guards.
“We can handle that,” Smith said.
Floor spacing should help the ball move more, a concern last year, and will give Smith room to operate off of high screens.
“We have the personnel to be versatile and adapt to different situations,” Abu said.
Arguably N.C. State’s best game last year was its last game, a 92-89 loss to Duke in the ACC tournament. Gottfried went with a four-guard lineup with Abu in that game.
Abu had 19 points and nine rebounds in 38 minutes against the Blue Devils. He was in “Bully” mode then. Gottfried is willing to change the nickname if Abu stays in that mode.
“We’ll see,” Gottfried said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Lynn vs. N.C. State
When: 7 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
Info: Tickets are $5 and seating is general admission.