Without a coach in place, Lennard Freeman figures he can do his best to help N.C. State out over the next couple of weeks.
The Wolfpack forward, who sat out this season with a leg injury, will do his best to keep the team together while the search for Mark Gottfried’s replacement plays out.
Freeman, who will be a fifth-year senior, said he’ll talk to his teammates and try to keep as many as possible in the fold for next season.
“I’m going to recruit and make sure we have the best team possible,” Freeman said. “I’m going to stay on it because I want to win.”
N.C. State’s loss to Clemson on Tuesday was the last game for Gottfried, who was fired on Feb. 16 but coached the final five games. The Wolfpack finished 15-17 to post back-to-back losing seasons for the only the second time since the ACC was formed in 1953 (N.C. State had five straight losing seasons, from 1992 through 1996).
The roster is likely going to look different for the next Wolfpack coach, even with 10 of the 12 scholarship players on the team eligible to return.
Freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr., the ACC’s freshman of the year, is headed to the NBA. A projected lottery pick, Smith will make that decision official in the coming days.
Forward BeeJay Anya and guard Terry Henderson are seniors. Henderson, who was second on the team in scoring (13.8 points per game) and the top 3-point shooter, is in the process of filing his paperwork with the NCAA for a sixth-year waiver. Henderson, who transferred from West Virginia, has been in college for five years but only played 7 minutes during the 2015-16 season before suffering an ankle injury.
The odds are against the waiver from the NCAA, which usually grants an extra year for athletes who miss two seasons with an injury, but Henderson said he will make the appeal.
“I definitely want to get my sixth year,” Henderson said. “Hopefully the NCAA will grant it and I’ll have some options.”
Junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, the team’s top rebounder (7.0 per game), said he wants to see how the coaching search plays out, and how many of his other teammates decide to return, before he makes a decision.
Abu, an athletic 6-8 big man, entered the NBA draft last summer before deciding to return for his junior season.
“I’m interested to see in what takes place and what they decide and which teammates will be here,” Abu said. “When all the pieces are together, the answer should be pretty clear by then.”
Freshman forward Omer Yurtseven was noncommittal about his future. Yurtseven, a raw 7-footer from Turkey, was considered a potential first-round pick before the season but he struggled to adjust to the college game. Yurtseven averaged 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22 games.
The NBA drafts on potential so it’s possible Yurtseven could still opt to pro or return to play pro in his home country.
“I’ll try to find out which option is best,” Yurtseven said.
Neither freshman forward Ted Kapita or sophomore wing Maverick Rowan would say if they were definitely coming back next season.
Kapita, a strong 6-8 power forward from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, averaged 4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in a limited role. He had a breakout game in N.C. State’s best win of the season, 14 points in an 84-82 win at Duke on Jan. 23, but could never find a regular role in the rotation.
Rowan averaged 11.9 points per game and has been a two-year starter. Freshman guard Markell Johnson, freshman forward Darius Hicks and sophomore forward Shaun Kirk are also eligible to return.
One player definitely coming back is sophomore guard Torin Dorn. Dorn has already transferred once in his career (from Charlotte after his freshman year). Dorn started the season quickly but had his role changed in ACC play when Rowan returned after missing seven games with a concussion.
For the season, Dorn averaged 9.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. With Freeman, Dorn will be counted on to be one of the leaders for next year’s team.
Dorn said the process to improvement starts now in offseason workouts, even before the next coach is hired.
“We have to refocus and the guys who are going to stay, we have to be all-in together,” Dorn said.
Gottfried lamented Freeman’s absence after Tuesday’s loss to Clemson. Freeman, a strong rebounder and post defender, was a key cog in the Wolfpack’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2015.
The 6-9 forward doesn’t score a lot, his career average is 3.6 points per game, but he does a lot of the little things that this team was missing.
After the 2014-15 season, Freeman had a 14-inch steel rod inserted into his lower right leg to repair a fracture. Freeman wasn’t 100 percent for the 2015-16 season but tried to play through the consistent pain. He had a second surgery, last spring, to repair the damage.
He redshirted this season and tried to be a vocal part of the team, which struggled on defense and with rebounding.
“I’ve been trying to do that all year but it’s just talk,” Freeman said. “It’s different than if I was out there. If I’m out there, and doing it, everyone can see and then it translates.”
Dorn said the only way any of the chaos and disappointment from this season could be worth it is if the returning players use it as motivation next season.
“We have to learn from everything we went through this year so that next year we don’t have the same fate,” Dorn said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio