Nothing against the Colonial Athletic Association, but Kevin Keatts is a long way from its small gyms and long bus rides. That will become more and more clear once he begins his first season at N.C. State.
And it was clear enough here on Tuesday when Keatts, about two months after he left UNC-Wilmington to become the head coach at N.C. State, walked for the first time into the men’s basketball room at the ACC spring meetings.
There was Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. And Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. And Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
Three Hall of Fame coaches. Another, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, had already come and gone – a veteran move, perhaps, but one necessary given that Williams had to be in New York City on Tuesday night to receive a national coach of the year honor.
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Keatts had been here before, to the swanky Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. He’d been here to attend the wedding of Pitino’s daughter, after spending three years as one of Pitino’s assistants at Louisville. Now Keatts was back, beginning to adjust to his new world.
There was no welcome-to-the-ACC moment for Keatts on Tuesday. That will likely come on the court.
And yet there was a moment of appreciation. A moment of arrival, perhaps.
“Well, it’s a moment knowing that we’ve got the best league in college basketball, when you look at it, when you see all the experience, and the national championships,” Keatts said. “But obviously, I was excited about being able to take part in the first ACC meetings, for me.”
Keatts wasn’t exactly a stranger here. He and Pitino are close, for one. And in each of the past two seasons, Keatts’ UNC-Wilmington teams ended their season in the NCAA tournament against ACC teams – Duke in 2016 and Virginia two months ago.
The league’s coaches on Tuesday discussed a variety of topics – “a lot of those are private,” Keatts said – but the overall objective of the meetings, he said, was to discuss ways to ensure that the ACC maintains its place as the deepest, best college basketball conference in the country.
“It being my first year, I listened to a lot of different things,” Keatts said. “You want to kind of see how things go, and I think next year, obviously, I’ll have more of an opinion on certain things. But for the most part, I thought I did more listening.”
Keatts spent a good amount of time listening on Tuesday. He’s spent more of it, lately, waiting.
Waiting, for one, to learn whether Omer Yurtseven might be back. Yurtseven, the 7-foot forward, decided to go through the NBA’s pre-draft process but has not hired an agent, which means he could return to N.C. State for his sophomore season. He has until May 24 to decide.
“We’ve had some phone conversations and some text messages,” Keatts said. “And I’m excited for him, whatever happens in this process, because he certainly has improved his stock.
“I think it’s a very valuable experience that he’s getting. I think he’s really, legitimately 50-50 whether he comes back to N.C. State or he decides to stay in the draft.”
Terry Henderson presents another variable. The senior guard averaged nearly 14 points per game last season, but played just seven minutes during the 2015-16 season after he injured his right ankle during the Wolfpack’s first game.
N.C. State has submitted paperwork to the NCAA, asking for a sixth year of eligibility for Henderson, who transferred to the school two years ago from West Virginia. Typically, the NCAA has been reluctant to grant sixth years to players who have transferred.
“We’re very hopeful that we should get something by the end of the week,” Keatts said. “I don’t know that. I don’t have a date, nobody’s given me a date that that may happen. But certainly we’re in a holding pattern.”
The uncertainty surrounding Yurtseven and Henderson adds to an already unsettled roster situation at N.C. State, which as of Tuesday had nine scholarship players. Keatts said it has “been a challenge” to fill his roster, and that it remains a “work in progress.”
Keatts, at least, has some experience thriving amid long odds. He turned his coaching job at Hargrave Military Academy into a position on Pitino’s staff at Louisville, and then turned struggling UNC-Wilmington into a contender. Now he’s starting to adapt to life in the ACC.