After back-to-back losing seasons, N.C. State’s men’s basketball team is working toward better days under new coach Kevin Keatts.
Friday night’s Primetime with the Pack event at Reynolds Coliseum offered the team’s fans their first view of the team.
For Keatts, hired away from UNC-Wilmington last March following Mark Gottfried’s firing, hearing a packed gym cheer his team often brought a smile to his face.
“This was an unbelievable event,” Keatts said. “It was my first event so I definitely enjoyed it.”
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Given the state of his chosen sport nationally, with an active FBI investigation of players and coaches involved in bribery and fraud underway, it was a welcomed respite.
The scandal brought down one of Keatts’ mentors, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. Louisville fired Pitino after the FBI alleged an adidas executive conspired to pay recruit Brian Bowen $100,000 to sign with the Cardinals last summer. Keatts was a Louisville assistant under Pitino from 2011-2014 before coaching UNC Wilmington the last three seasons.
Asked specifically about Pitino, Keatts chose instead to speak about the scandal as a whole.
“College basketball in general, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for just all of us in this business,” Keatts said. “It’s bad for the business with what’s going on but that doesn’t mean that all college basketball is bad.”
With the nationwide scandal swirling, teams are three weeks into their practices. The Wolfpack will hold a closed scrimmage on campus against Campbell on Oct. 28 and have a public exhibition with Mars Hill on Nov. 3 at PNC Arena.
The Wolfpack lost its top three scorers from last season’s 15-17 team, including current Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. N.C. State returns just one player who scored in double figures – 6-8 senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu.
Unlike past seasons, the Wolfpack didn’t scrimmage during Primetime with the Pack.
Instead it held a 3-point shooting contest as well as a dribbling and shooting contest against the Wolfpack women’s basketball team.
Keatts’ team came up short both times, something he and his team’s fans certainly hope isn’t a harbinger for when the season starts for good on Nov. 10.
“I want you guys to know we are going to be a very good shooting team this year, I think,” Keatts said. “I know we lost the contest to the girls. But remember one thing. They practice here every day. We don’t. Just be aware of that.”
Redshirt junior guard Torin Dorn, who averaged 9.5 points in 32 games last season, said defense is the main focus under Keatts so far.
“It’s very defense intensive,” Dorn said. “It’s high energy, high pace. We just run and push tempo. That’s all the things we work on in practice. We play as fast as possible. Play smart. Play together.”
As for losing to the Wolfpack women’s team in Friday’s contests, well, Dorn could only laugh it off.
“We had the opportunities to win,” Dorn said. “But we just couldn’t make the shots. Big ups to them. They made timely shots. But it’s definitely fun. Fun for the fans and fun for us.”
At least the night ended on a good note for the Wolfpack men. Junior forward Shaun Kirk won the slam dunk contest, with former Wolfpack stars Chris Corchiani, Rodney Monroe and Cozell McQueen among the judges.