Somehow, Kevin Keatts pulled it off. N.C. State left for its tour of Italy on Wednesday with 13 scholarship players on its roster, only seven of whom were around at the end of last season, only four of whom played any kind of a significant role for the Wolfpack.
Anyone in Keatts’ position would have had to do the same thing, and it’s easy to imagine different coaches having varying degrees of success. Time will tell on that. But with the addition of two graduate transfers, two regular transfers and two incoming freshmen, the most recent added on Friday, the Wolfpack will have enough players to actually get something done on its trip, even without Omer Yurtseven, who’s on international duty with Turkey’s under-20 team.
Adding six players isn’t uncommon in college basketball – Duke has a six-freshman incoming recruiting class that could yet grow to seven with the addition of Marvin Bagley – but it is unusual to be done during a period of time that’s usually pretty quiet other than the odd transfer here or there. There was no guarantee Keatts would be able to keep the ratio of ACC players to warm bodies high enough to field a roster. It looks like he got that done, although the exact degree of success remains to be seen – and will depend somewhat on whether Braxton Beverly, who enrolled in summer school at Ohio State before Thad Matta was fired and then was granted a release, will be given a waiver to play immediately.
Keatts’ task was complicated by Terry Henderson being denied a sixth year of eligibility and made somewhat simpler by the decisions of Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven to come back to school, when either could have turned pro and joined the wave of departures after Mark Gottfried was fired.
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“The challenge was, when I first took the job, we didn’t know who was on the team right away,” Keatts said. “Obviously, waiting on Terry’s situation, and then obviously the guys who put their name in the draft and everything else, for me it’s been fun, trying to piece some guys together. I like what my staff has been able to do in a short amount of time, and I like the pieces that we have.”
That left Keatts trying to put a roster together for next season in less than five months at the worst point in the recruiting cycle – and without snagging a late-deciding top recruit, as might have happened in a best-case scenario. So Keatts went just about everywhere for players, from close by – C.J. Bryce, who moved with him from UNC Wilmington, N.C. A&T’s Sam Hunt and Concord’s Lavar Batts – to as far away as Baylor and Utah and Kentucky via Ohio State.
It’s exactly the kind of last-minute, summertime roster juggling that played a role in N.C. State making a change from Gottfried to Keatts, although the circumstances are obviously diametrically different. And this would have had to happen no matter who the coach was, given the inevitable departure of so many regulars from last season and a one-player incoming recruiting class (Garner’s Thomas Allen, who was released from his letter of intent after the coaching change).
For Keatts, it provoked flashbacks to his days at Hargrave Military Academy, where he’d put together a roster consisting largely of post-graduate players every summer.
“It’s the world that I’ve lived in before,” Keatts said. “It’s weird, because most coaches in the country would probably be panicking about the fact they had to bring in four, five, six new guys. My 12 years at Hargrave we had to bring in 12, 13 new guys every year, so I’m kind of used to it.”
Real success will be judged on how the roster performs this fall, but merely having enough players on the roster to make the Italy junket worthwhile qualifies as an interim success, allowing the Wolfpack to be more than mere tourists on the trip.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock