It’s rare when you can pinpoint exactly when a coach wins a news conference.
But minutes after new N.C. State basketball coach Kevin Keatts introduced his wife, Georgette, and family to the assembled crowd at Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday afternoon, he started to list the virtues of N.C. State.
He extolled the winning tradition, the strong academics of the university and the quality of the facilities.
“Why not N.C. State?” Keatts asked.
Everything after on Sunday was a victory lap for Keatts, 44, who comes to Raleigh after three successful seasons at UNC-Wilmington.
There were the usual remarks about being the right fit and the new coach’s bona fides as a recruiter. There was a customary review of the new coach’s resume, too.
Keatts inherited a UNCW program with six straight losing seasons and won 72 games in three years, including a school-record 29 this season. His last two UNCW teams won the Colonial Athletic Association title and played in the NCAA tournament.
In three seasons as an assistant at Louisville, the Cardinals went to the Final Four twice and won the national title in 2013.
In 12 years at Hargrave Military Academy, as a head coach and assistant, he built a prep program that won a lot (263-17 as the head coach) and served as a launching pad for future Division I and NBA players.
Given authenticity and authority to Keatts’ delivery, and how comfortable he looked in a red-and-white tie and block “S” lapel pin, it was easy to believe chancellor Randy Woodson when called Keatts a “transformative hire.”
“He has the type of demeanor and presence that it takes to be highly successful in a somewhat competitive athletic conference,” Woodson said, with a touch of sarcasm on his latter point.
Keatts grew up in ACC country (Lynchburg, Va.) and said he was a Wolfpack fan. He is already well-versed in N.C. State’s tradition. He has a firm understanding of the majesty of David Thompson in 1974 and the importance of Jim Valvano’s magical March run in 1983.
Keatts specifically mentioned the closeness of the ’83 team and their mentality to refuse to lose, even when the odds were against them.
“That’s what N.C. State basketball is all about,” Keatts said. “That’s what I want to bring back to N.C. State basketball.”
The search to hire Keatts was efficient and “quiet,” to use N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow’s word. There’s a reason it didn’t take long to land Keatts, whose UNCW team lost in the NCAA tournament on Thursday and then agreed to a six-year contract worth $2.2 million annually on Friday.
“The value systems simply aligned,” Yow said. “He loves hard practices. He expects the best out of our players. He’s going to maximize whatever abilities they have.”
Keatts promised the team would play hard and there would be a lot of running, pressing and 3-pointers.
“We’re going to pride ourselves on being the best conditioned team in the country,” Keatts said.
That point was made in his meeting with the players on Saturday.
“I’m tired already just thinking about the conditioning,” junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said. “But you know what, it will be cool.”
That was one way to describe Sunday’s optimism. N.C. State has won nine ACC games the past two seasons, which led to Yow’s decision to fire coach Mark Gottfried on Feb. 16.
After consecutive losing seasons, there will be an element of starting over, and patience will be required in a league that produced nine NCAA tournament teams — and with Triangle neighbors Duke and North Carolina on a collision course for the Final Four.
But Keatts was undeterred by the task at hand. He said he already sold his first recruits, sons K.J. (13) and Kaden (8), on N.C. State.
There will be doubts, Keatts said, but he’s used to those.
“No matter where you see us ranked next year, no matter what they say about us, no matter what they think about us, understand with time and a lot of hard work — and commitment and the fan support and the alumni and the backing of the school — we will be champions again,” Keatts said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio