Visitors to the N.C. State women’s basketball locker room are often surprised when they see the hometowns listed with each player’s name above the lockers.
“We’ve had recruits come in there and families, their parents and whatever and say, ‘Wow, you’ve got a bunch of people from North Carolina,’ ” N.C. State women’s basketball coach Wes Moore said.
Indeed, the Wolfpack (17-0, 4-0 ACC) has relied on a rich crop of homegrown talent en route to the No. 8 ranking in the nation as the last remaining undefeated team in Division I. Eight of the 14 players on the roster are from North Carolina, including:
Kiara Leslie of Holly Springs, a senior guard who leads the team in rebounding and is the team scoring leader among players who are not out for the season due to injury.
Grace Hunter, a graduate of Raleigh’s Athens Drive High School, who was the team’s leading scorer when she suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 3 against Duke.
Elissa Cunane, a 6-foot-5 center from Summerfield, N.C., who averages 12.4 points per game.
DD Rogers from Charlotte’s Myers Park High School, a starting forward who anchors one of the top defenses in the nation with her athletic ability.
Kai Crutchfield, a guard from Raleigh’s Millbrook High School who replaced Hunter in the starting lineup after the injury.
“You’ve got to start there,” Moore said. “That’s your footprint. That’s where your footprint starts.”
Moore was hired by N.C. State in April 2013 after the Wolfpack struggled to a 50-50 record (including 16-32) in their final three seasons under Kellie Harper. It wasn’t long before Moore established his interest in in-state talent.
By August of 2014, Rogers, Crutchfield and Kayla Ealey all were committed to the Wolfpack. Ealey is a senior guard who’s out for the season with a knee injury .
In some cases, Moore has capitalized on family ties to N.C. State to recruit top talent. Leslie is the sister of former Wolfpack men’s basketball standout C.J. Leslie. She was committed to Maryland when Moore arrived at N.C. State, but joined the Wolfpack as a graduate student transfer in 2017 with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“I wanted to come back home and play in front of my family,” Leslie said. “And then my brother played here, so that was something to look forward to, coming back and playing at the same school he did.”
Hunter also came back to play close to home as a transfer student from Charlotte. As a group, they have helped N.C. State reach unprecedented heights. The Wolfpack’s 17 straight wins to start the season is a school record.
Some of the other top teams in the nation don’t rely as heavily on in-state talent. Two of the players on defending NCAA champion Notre Dame’s roster are from Indiana. Perennial powerhouse Connecticut recruits the best players from across the country and lists no players from Connecticut -- and just one from the New England states -- on its roster.
Rogers said being from in the state adds to the pride some of the players feel at the Wolfpack’s success.
“N.C. State felt like the school I was supposed to be at,” Rogers said. “I have family in Durham, so it’s close to family. Being from here and being able to do the things that we’re doing, it feels great.”
That’s not to say N.C. State, which plays Virginia Tech Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Reynolds Coliseum, relies completely on in-state talent. Aislinn Konig, the team’s top 3-point shooter and an 11.9-points-per game scorer, is from near Vancouver, Canada. Freshman reserve forward Esra McGoldrick is from New Zealand.
The Wolfpack’s top recruits in the current senior class according to the ESPNW top 100 are Jakia Brown-Turner of Maryland and Jada Boyd of Virginia.
“We’re going to go wherever we have to go,” Moore said. “But it starts here. When you get kids locally, they have some extra pride in playing for N.C. State, and there is a lot of talent in this state. There are a lot of great coaches in this state that prepare them. So we’ve got to start there, and then go wherever we need to.”