There’s a scratch to Trevor Lacey’s voice, just a hint of Louis Armstrong in his comforting Alabama drawl.
The junior guard hasn’t played a game for N.C. State but he has Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried humming the opening bars to “What a Wonderful World.”
“He’s one of those players, because he really understands how to play; it gives the coach a great feeling of trust in him,” Gottfried said.
“He has such a great feel for how to play the game the right way.”
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Gottfried’s not alone in the praise of Lacey, a transfer from Alabama who is expected to lead the Wolfpack’s bid for a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament bid under Gottfried.
His teammates speak glowingly about his leadership, which runs closer to an easy-going charm than a maniacal burning intensity.
“He has a very likable personality that people gravitate towards,” senior Ralston Turner said.
Turner, who grew up in Muscle Shoals, Ala., about 70 miles west of Huntsville. Lacey, who’s from Huntsville, Ala., has known Lacey for the better part of 10 years.
Freshman Caleb Martin just met Lacey this year at N.C State. Lacey, a combination guard who can score or facilitate the offense, made an immediate impression on the newcomer.
“He is a very, very, very good player,” Martin said. “He’s a very unselfish player and we respect him because he’s like a big brother.”
Lacey’s a great listener, Martin said, willing to take advice and impart his wisdom from two seasons at Alabama.
To sum Lacey up, Martin said: “Trevor’s a really good dude.”
Which is all well and good, but personal niceties aren’t known to win ACC basketball games. N.C. State, 22-14 a season ago, has to replace T.J. Warren, who was the ACC player of the year, the ACC’s leading scorer and the program’s first lottery pick in almost 20 years.
Lacey, a 6-foot-3, 213-pound guard, is not Warren, a 6-8, 215-pound scoring machine. They are different types of players and different types of personalities but Lacey, like Warren will be expected to be the team’s leader.
“I’m not coming in to do what T.J. did,” Lacey said. “T.J. was a great scorer. My role on this team is going to be to play point guard and distribute the ball and also score when it’s needed.”
Warren led by example, carrying the Wolfpack to a win in the NCAA tournament over Xavier, and nearly another over Saint Louis, after a slow start to the season.
Lacey will be more of a vocal leader, engaged with his teammates and every facet of running the team.
And, junior Terry Henderson said, Lacey does not lack for talent.
“Trevor is really going to help,” Henderson said when he made his decision this summer to transfer to N.C. State from West Virginia.
“I think he’s a pro, a lottery pick.”
Leading by example
Even the best players struggle but Lacey didn’t look or feel much like a future NBA star in the first half of Saturday’s preseason win over Queens University of Charlotte.
Lacey missed his first seven shots and was pressing against the Division II team. About 2 minutes in, he had a pull-up jumper from the left edge of the foul line blocked by Queens guard Jedarian Jackson.
Lacey recovered, jump-starting his game with a steal and layup early in the second half and he finished with seven points, four assists and three steals.
Still, he was nervous and uneven in his N.C. State debut and he knows he can do better.
“I’m glad this game doesn’t count,” Lacey said after the 78-47 victory over Queens.
The otherwise meaningless preseason dress rehearsal for Friday’s opener against Jackson State did offer a glimpse of Lacey’s personality. He was jawing with Queens guard Rob Lewis, who had 12 points in the first half.
As N.C. State broke the game open, and Lacey got more engaged and shook off the rust from sitting out last season, there were more words from Lacey for Lewis, who had only two points in the second half with Lacey defending him.
Lacey didn’t start the yapping, he just finished it.
“I don’t try to come out here and go at guys,” Lacey said. “That’s not who I am. I’m more the smiling and laughing kind of guy. If somebody comes at me, I’ll defend myself.”
Gottfried was fan early
It was always Mark Gottfried’s plan, from the first time he watched Lacey play in high school in Huntsville, to coach him.
“I shook his hand and told him he was going to play for me one day,” Gottfried said.
Gottfried was the coach at Alabama at the time of the handshake, but he was gone before Lacey started his college career with the Crimson Tide.
Lacey, a top 40 national recruit in 2011, led Butler High to the state title three times in four seasons, and twice was the state player of the year.
As a freshman at Alabama in 2011-12, he averaged 7.3 points as a role player for coach Anthony Grant’s NCAA tournament team.
Lacey started every game as a sophomore, averaged 11.3 points, led the team in assists (3.2 per game) and 3-pointers (62).
But there were philosophical differences about Lacey’s role and his future as a point guard or shooting guard. Lacey decided to transfer, and his connection with Gottfried led him to N.C. State.
In Gottfried’s high-post offense, Lacey will play a little of both guard positions. Gottfried will need Lacey to score and help Turner, guard Cat Barber and forward Kyle Washington get their points.
“(Trevor) has a great basketball mind,” Gottfried said. “He knows how to play, he’s very unselfish. He enjoys passing as much as he does scoring but he can score when he needs to score.”
Story similar to Brissett’s
Lacey left Alabama but he still has a little bit of his home state in him. There’s the “BAMA 256” tattoo scrawled in red ink on his chest and he has a passion for football.
Turner, the LSU transfer, and Lacey keep up with SEC football and, no doubt, spent a good chunk of Saturday night after their exhibition watching their former schools face off on the football field.
And while Lacey doesn’t see himself as another version of Warren, there might be some similarities between himself and Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Brissett left the SEC (Florida) after two years and has helped the football team, and been its leader, after sitting out a season and learning the system.
Turner likes that comparison. Lacey likes any football analogy. He sees himself as the Wolfpack’s hardwood quarterback this season.
“I think my job is to keep everybody happy and on the same page,” Lacey said. “I know if everybody’s happy, we’re going to all play together. Nobody’s going to feel left out when success comes.”