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Yurtseven returns to NC State with a point to prove

NC State's Omer Yurtseven: I was ready to do whatever it took

VIDEO: NC State's Omer Yurtseven talks after the Wolfpack's victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.
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VIDEO: NC State's Omer Yurtseven talks after the Wolfpack's victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.

Omer Yurtseven could have stayed in the NBA draft, and likely would have been a second-round pick. Or the 7-footer from Istanbul could have gone back to Turkey and pursued a pro career in his native country.

Instead, at the NCAA deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft, Yurtseven chose to come back to N.C. State on Wednesday. After a difficult college season, Yurtseven has a good reason for his decision.

“I feel like I have unfinished business here,” Yurtseven wrote in a text message to the News & Observer on Wednesday. “I want to prove that I can be successful at this level before making the jump to professional basketball.”

Yurtseven averaged 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22 games last season for the Wolfpack. His return gives him a chance improve his pro stock and gives first-year N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts some much-needed flexibility.

The return of Yurtseven helps offsets the loss of freshman forward Ted Kapita, decided to stay in the draft at Wednesday’s deadline. Kapita, a 6-9, 218-pound forward from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, averaged 4.3 points per game. The Wolfpack, which finished 15-17 last season, will have three early entrants in the NBA draft: guard Dennis Smith Jr., wing Maverick Rowan and Kapita.

After going through the NBA combine and several individual workouts for teams, Yurtseven decided just getting picked in the second round, where contracts are not guaranteed, was not good enough. He said the primary feedback he received from NBA teams was about getting stronger. He weighed in at 248 pounds, with a 7-foot frame, at the combine in Chicago 10 days ago.

“All of the NBA teams wanted me to improve physically and that is something that I will be working on a lot this summer,” Yurtseven wrote.

Yurtseven joined the Wolfpack last summer as a highly-touted prospect from the Turkish pro club Fenerbahce. He scored 91 points in a game last May with his Under-18 club tournament. In Oct. 2015, he had eight points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes in Fenerbahce’s exhibition win over the Brooklyn Nets.

He had to sit out the first nine games of the college season, under NCAA amateurism rules, for the three-year tenure with his Turkish club. Yurtseven got off to a quick start, scoring in double-digits in three of his first four games, including a season-high 16 in a 99-71 win over Rider on Dec. 28.

ACC play turned out to be a difficult adjustment, especially on the defensive end. He had 12 points and 16 rebounds in a 79-74 home win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 17, but couldn’t establish any consistency in league play.

A coaching change gives Yurtseven a fresh start at N.C. State, where there will be plenty of minutes for him. He averaged 18.9 minutes per game as a freshman and started 14 games. Seniors Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman are the only other interior forwards on the roster.

Keatts prefers a more wide-open style with more pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets, than former coach Mark Gottfried used last season, which should help Yurtseven, who has a soft shooting touch.

“I feel like with a year under my belt, I am ready to play in any system,” Yurtseven wrote. “I feel that coach Keatts and his staff can help me get to where I want to be in the draft. I’m confident that they will use my strengths.”

Yurtseven’s decision to return gives Keatts a boost and some flexibility. The roster has been in a state of flux since Keatts took over in late March with the early exits of Smith, Rowan and Kapita. The school is still waiting to hear back from the NCAA about a sixth-year waiver for guard Terry Henderson.

Keatts has been able to land three guards — freshman Lavar Batts, graduate transfer Sam Hunt (North Carolina A&T) and graduate transfer Al Freeman (Baylor) — but has not brought in any new big men. Yurtseven’s return gives Keatts, who liked to use a smaller lineup at UNC-Wilmington, a chance to play two bigs at once or rotate three for one spot.

Either way, it means more options on a roster — if Henderson’s waiver is denied — that enters June with 10 scholarship players on it (the NCAA limit is 13).

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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