Butch Pierre has received plenty of congratulatory words on his new job at N.C. State.
The veteran assistant coach and respected recruiter has also heard a few warnings at the coaches’ convention at the Final Four in Houston about competing with heavyweights North Carolina and Duke.
His response is the same each time.
“That’s what I’m all about, I like a challenge,” Pierre said Thursday night in a phone interview.
Pierre has spent his coaching career recruiting against Kentucky, Texas and Oklahoma. He’s not afraid to go after the best players and recruit against the best teams. He landed his share of NBA talent in 19 seasons at Oklahoma State and Louisiana State, which is why N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried pursued and hired Pierre.
“Hopefully I can help Mark and we’ll be successful,” Pierre said. “They’ve already had a lot of success and hopefully history will repeat itself.”
Gottfried actually tried to hire Pierre 16 years ago at Alabama. The timing didn’t work out.
The timing was right this time. Pierre, 53, was hired to join the Wolfpack staff on Thursday. Pierre was an assistant at LSU when Gottfried was the head coach at Alabama in 2000. The timing wasn’t right for Pierre’s family to make a move then.
LSU was happy Pierre, an ace recruiter, stayed on John Brady’s staff. Pierre helped put together the Tigers’ 2006 Final Four team. The Tigers’ roster featured four future NBA players.
In the Sweet 16, LSU beat a Duke team, with J.J. Redick, that spent much of that season at No. 1 in the country.
“We had such an incredible run,” Pierre said. “That was after Hurricane Katrina and we were Louisiana’s team. We had a lot of momentum. It also helped that we had four NBA guys.”
Pierre spent 11 seasons at LSU and was the interim head coach in the final 10 games of the 2007-08 season.
A native of Darrow, La., Pierre spent seven seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette from 1989 to ’96. He already had one connection to N.C. State. The head coach at Lafayette (then known as Southwest Louisiana) was Marty Fletcher, a former Wolfpack assistant for Jim Valvano.
Pierre also worked one year at Charlotte for coach Melvin Watkins in 1996-97. Current N.C. State assistant Bobby Lutz was on the same 49ers staff.
Pierre has spent most of his career recruiting in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. He said he will continue to work his strengths for N.C. State but also felt he would be able to branch out.
“There are very few schools that can recruit nationally but I think N.C. State can do that,” Pierre said.
Pierre comes to N.C. State after coaching the past eight seasons with Travis Ford at Oklahoma State. Pierre helped the Cowboys put together five NCAA teams in eight years.
Ford’s best team featured future NBA guards Marcus Smart and Markel Brown in 2012-13. That team went 24-9, and beat N.C. State by 20 points in Puerto Rico, but lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Smart, a lottery pick of the Boston Celtics in 2014, was a five-star prospect coming out of high school.
Pierre has also had success finding unheralded players. LSU forward Tyrus Thomas was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft.
“(Marcus) could have played anywhere in America and (Tyrus) wasn’t even ranked in the top 100,” Pierre said. “Not everyone has to be a McDonald’s All-American to make it.”
Ford was fired after the Cowboys went 12-20 this past season. N.C. State had an opening. Rob Moxley was Gottfried’s primary recruiter before a health scare last May. Moxley moved to director of player personnel when this season ended after the ACC tournament in March.
Pierre will have to get to work quickly for the Wolfpack with the evaluation period starting after the Final Four. N.C. State has eight players on scholarship on the roster, including forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who has entered the NBA draft without hiring an agent.
“There are not a lot of (high school) seniors out there,” Pierre said. “One of the things that has changed about college basketball is the number of fifth-year transfers, so there will be opportunities out there. Hopefully, we can get a couple.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio