It started with BeeJay Anya surrounded by his teammates in an emotional Senior Day ceremony, and it ended with Dennis Smith Jr. removing his N.C. State jersey before he even left the PNC Arena floor for the final time.
Saturday’s 70-55 loss to Virginia was the final appearance at the arena for so many, Anya and Smith and outgoing coach Mark Gottfried and Terry Henderson and Chris Brickhouse. That much was certain. It was also the final appearance for others, some of whom may not even know it yet.
Smith is gone to the NBA, obviously, and Henderson would be unlikely to get a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA if N.C. State applies for one for the Raleigh native after the season. But there will almost certainly be others with the inevitable roster turnover that accompanies any coaching change.
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“I’m trying not to focus on that,” Abdul-Malik Abu said. “We still have the tournament. We could still make a run. But the team could be very different next year, with a lot of the changes that already have been made.”
Not to mention a lot of changes that haven’t been made, but could be made.
Omer Yurtseven did not play Saturday and played only two minutes in Tuesday’s win at Georgia Tech, which seems to bode poorly for his future. (An N.C. State spokesman said Yurtseven was healthy and available.) While his NBA stock may have plummeted during a season in which he was overwhelmed by ACC-level basketball, it’s not hard to envision a big-money offer to return to Europe.
Nor would it be a surprise if Maverick Rowan or Markell Johnson or both transferred in the wake of the coaching change, and Abu flirted with declaring for the NBA draft last summer before deciding to return. All of them will have big decisions to make once N.C. State’s season is finally over, and that was an inescapable reality Saturday.
“It was emotional for me because who knows what is ahead,” Abu said, “but you just have to go out there and try to have fun.”
In the case of a mass exodus, it’s very possible the Wolfpack could be left with Torin Dorn, Lennard Freeman, Ted Kapita, Shaun Kirk, Darius Hicks and incoming freshman Thomas Allen as scholarship players going into the summer. Even the best-case scenario – wherein Abu and Yurtseven decide another year at N.C. State would improve their draft stock and Rowan and Johnson both come back – leaves N.C. State with only five players who saw regular action this season.
The new coach, whoever that turns out to be, is going to have a lot of work to do right off the hop just to put a working roster together – which may lead to a long first season, but one without any expectations and plenty of scholarships to leverage.
So there were all kinds of farewells said Saturday, some knowingly, some privately, and in the case of Gottfried, some less than willingly.
“I’m not really thinking about that, honestly, I just wanted us to win today,” Gottfried said. “I wanted to win. We gotta go play at Clemson on Wednesday, and then we’ve got the tournament – who knows? Great things could still happen for us. Our fans have been great. It’s amazing. Everywhere in town I go it’s been great. People are so positive and appreciative and all that. I just hope we can somehow do some more positive things like we did in Atlanta a couple nights ago.”
This presumes N.C. State doesn’t win at Clemson and go on some kind of a run in the ACC tournament and plays its way into the NIT, and while the university would accept a bid if offered, that seems like an exceedingly unlikely eventuality.
Gottfried, though, still believes. His players still believe. Even at this late date, .500 overall, 4-13 in the ACC, with a Tuesday slot booked in Brooklyn, they think there’s still time to turn this sour season around.
At this point, that’s the only way to keep Saturday from being the final home game for an uncertain many. This was the end of something. The only question is how much.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock