NC State’s Keatts: ‘I am excited where we are at right now’
When you watch N.C. State’s basketball team this season, there’s going to come a moment — and pretty quickly — when you ask: “Who’s that guy?”
The roster is almost completely different from last season. Torin Dorn, Braxton Beverly and Markell Johnson are the only holdovers from Kevin Keatts’ first Wolfpack team. There are 10 new faces on the roster, eight are healthy and eligible to play right away.
Here’s a primer:
0 D.J. Funderburk
Height: 6-10. Weight: 210 pounds
Position: forward. Year: sophomore.
Previous school: Ohio State. Hometown: Cleveland.
A top-100 recruit out of high school (Hargrave), Funderburk spent a season (2016-17) at Ohio State and then left for Northwest Florida State junior college. He averaged 11.5 points and 5.0 rebounds at the juco level last season.
Funderburk showed a good shooting touch in the exhibition win over Chowan (7 of 7 from the field, 19 points). He looked more comfortable on the wing than in the post. With his slender build (he’s impossibly skinny for 210 pounds), defending the post will be difficult in ACC play but he could be a matchup problem on the other end.
1 Sacha Killeya-Jones
Height: 6-11. Weight: 220 pounds
Position: forward. Year: junior.
Previous school: Kentucky. Hometown: Chapel Hill.
A McDonald’s All-American in 2016, Killeya-Jones started his college career at Kentucky. He struggled to find playing time with the Wildcats. He averaged 6.4 minutes per game as a freshman and 13.7 as a sophomore. He averaged 3.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 49 career games at Kentucky.
He transferred to N.C. State in May and will have to sit out this season. He has two years of eligibility left.
2 Torin Dorn
Height: 6-5. Weight: 210 pounds
Position: guard/forward. Year: senior.
Previous school: Charlotte. Hometown: Charlotte.
One of three returning regulars, Dorn had his best season with the Wolfpack as a junior with 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He excelled in Keatts’ system, as an undersized “4.” He will fill a similar role this season, with fewer options at forward.
A fifth-year senior, “TD” will be counted on as much for his rebounding (he had 80 offensive rebounds last season) as his leadership.
4 Jericole Hellems
Height: 6-7. Weight: 198 pounds
Position: guard/forward. Year: freshman. Hometown: St. Louis.
A three-star recruit from St. Louis, Hellems has a good frame and a good shooting stroke. He can play the wing or spell Dorn at the “stretch 4.” He has stood out in preseason practice, Keatts said.
“He’s going to be good,” Keatts said. “He’s a guy that can play some ‘4’ and the ‘3.’ He can shoot it. We can switch a lot of screens with him. I’m excited about him.”
5 Eric Lockett
Height: 6-5. Weight: 193 pounds
Position: guard/forward. Year: graduate. Previous school: FIU. Hometown: Warner Robins, Ga.
A bigger guard, Lockett is a graduate transfer from Florida International. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season for the Panthers.
He’s not a 3-point shooter like Sam Hunt (last year’s grad transfer guard off the bench), but he adds another experienced guard who can spell Devon Daniels and C.J. Bryce on the wing.
10 Braxton Beverly
Height: 6-0. Weight: 180 pounds
Position: guard. Year: sophomore. Previous school: Ohio State. Hometown: Hazard, Ky.
The sophomore 3-point ace (60 of 156, 38.5 percent) will miss the early part of the season with an injury to his left (non-shooting) hand. He will play more off of the ball this season and will be on the floor at the same time as point guard Markell Johnson. Keatts has praised his leadership but his 3-point shooting will be an important part of this team’s ultimate success.
“We expect to see, especially early on with Braxton out, a good dose of zone,” Keatts said.
11 Markell Johnson
Height: 6-1. Weight: 175 pounds
Position: guard. Year: junior. Hometown: Cleveland.
The ACC leader in assists (7.3 per game), just quietly goes about his work. He is slightly undersized but might be the best athlete on the team. His scoring more than doubled (8.9 ppg) last season and he could add a few more to his average this season but his strength is sharing the ball.
12 Manny Bates
Height: 6-11. Weight: 221 pounds
Position: forward. Year: freshman. Hometown: Fayetteville.
The four-star recruit from Fayetteville will redshirt this season with a shoulder injury.
13 C.J. Bryce
Height: 6-5. Weight: 195 pounds
Position: guard. Year: junior. Previous school: UNCW. Hometown: Charlotte.
Bryce was Keatts’ best player at UNCW in 2016-17. He led the Seahawks with 17.6 ppg and to a Colonial Athletic Association title. He was not recruited by any ACC schools out of high school.
When Keatts took the N.C. State job in 2017, he followed his coach to Raleigh. He sat out last season, under NCAA transfer rules, and will be counted on to score from the wing. He also has the added role of being something of a Keatts “whisperer.”
“He’s the only guy that I have on my roster who’s played for me for a couple of years, even though he didn’t play last year,” Keatts said. “So he knows a little bit more about our system.”
21 Ian Steere
Height: 6-9. Weight: 261 pounds
Position: forward. Year: freshman. Hometown: Sanford.
A strong, top-150 post player definitely adds some size in the middle. Steere might not get consistent minutes his first season but he could be useful in mix-and-match situations.
24 Devon Daniels
Height: 6-5. Weight: 200 pounds
Position: guard. Year: sophomore. Previous school: Utah. Hometown: Battle Creek, Mich.
This is the proverbial “bus driver.” “Super aggressive,” is how Dorn describes Daniels, a transfer from Utah who practiced with the team last season. Daniels has great size for a wing and knows how to use it to get to the basket. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds as a freshman in 2016-17 for the Utes.
He can shoot the 3, and it will be needed on this roster, but he’s best suited for attacking the basket.
“You’ve got to watch him,” Dorn said. “You have to be on alert at all times.”
33 Wyatt Walker
Height: 6-9. Weight: 240 pounds
Position: forward. Year: graduate. Previous school: Samford. Hometown: Jacksonville, Fla.
The hair (think Thor) will get your attention but Walker will do a lot of little things to help this team. The grad transfer from Samford has to rebound for the construction of this roster to work but he can pass, set screens and defend the post.
He missed all but two games last season with a knee injury. As a sophomore, he led the Southern Conference in rebounding (9.7 per game).
His claim-to-fame for local fans is his connection to former Duke star Grayson Allen. He was high school teammates in Jacksonville, Fla., with Allen.
“I think he did a really good job late in his career leading that young Duke team,” Walker said of Allen.
55 Blake Harris
Height: 6-3. Weight: 190 pounds
Position: guard. Year: sophomore. Previous school: Missouri. Hometown: Chapel Hill.
A four-star recruit out of high school (Word of God), he started his career at Missouri. He left after the first semester of the 2017-18 season and enrolled at N.C. State.
He received a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play this entire season. He will mainly backup Johnson at point guard but can also play off of the ball.