State Now

We interrupt your summer for a few words from NC State’s Kevin Keatts

Omer Yurtseven will not make the trip to Italy with N.C. State’s basketball team next month, but Markell Johnson will.

Wolfpack players overly attached to their cell phones might also be in for a new experience when the team heads to Milan on Aug. 2.

“For the most part, we’re going to travel and have a lot of fun,” new coach Kevin Keatts said on Tuesday at his summer news conference. “I want to have some time for these guys to relax.”

And for the players to get to know each other and Keatts’ system. That will mean more talking and less texting.

“I know it may be a travesty, but I might take away their phones a little bit, so they can’t text or tweet,” Keatts said.

Yurtseven, a sophomore forward, will miss out on the team bonding while playing for the Turkish national team. Yurtseven is currently playing in the U20 European Championship in Greece and is expected to join the main national team before returning to N.C. State in August.

N.C. State is scheduled to leave for Milan on Aug. 2 and travel to Venice, Florence and Rome before returning on Aug. 12. There are three games scheduled with a chance at adding a fourth, Keatts said.

There were some concerns about Johnson’s academic standing during the 2016-17 season, but Keatts said the sophomore point guard was on track academically and would make the trip with the team.

Due to privacy laws, Keatts can’t specifically comment on Johnson’s schoolwork but said he has been working hard. In general, about the team, he said: “I have been very happy with our grades thus far. I thought everybody did a tremendous job in (the first) summer (session).”

The trip to Italy gives Keatts a chance to work with the roster he has been able to put together in the four months he has been on the job. The Wolfpack lost guard Dennis Smith Jr., the ACC’s freshman of the year, in the NBA draft. Guard Maverick Rowan and forward Ted Kapita also left to pursue pro careers but went undrafted. Guard Terry Henderson was denied a sixth-year injury waiver by the NCAA. Smith, Henderson and Rowan were the team’s top three scorers last season.

“It was tough because we had to hit the ground running,” Keatts said of the transition, after being hired from UNC-Wilmington on March 17.

“We’re fortunate, I thought our staff in a short amount of time, did a great job.”

Keatts was able to bring in two graduate transfers, guards Allerik Freeman and Sam Hunt, and freshman guard Lavar Batts. Forward Lennard Freeman, a fifth-year senior, also returns after missing last season with a leg injury.

Keatts also added undergraduate transfers C.J. Bryce, from UNCW, and Devon Daniels, from Utah. Both have to sit out the 2017-18 season but will be eligible to play with the team in Italy.

The trip, which was postponed last summer under former coach Mark Gottfried, offers Keatts a chance to see what he has in his first Wolfpack team. N.C. State went 4-14 in ACC play last season and 15-17 overall. Gottfried was fired with five games left in the season.

Keatts, using one of Gottfried’s favorite lines, said the Wolfpack has a “long ways to go,” but his main goal is to get the players to buy into his system. Keatts won a pair of Colonial Athletic Association titles at UNCW with an up-tempo, pressing style.

There has been a lot of running for the players in the offseason workouts. Under NCAA rules, they get to practice 10 times before the Italy trip, and Keatts has seen some progress. With so many new parts, the transition will take some time.

“It has been a challenge to try to get everybody on the same page,” Keatts said. “We’re getting there. (Tuesday) morning I thought we had a tremendous practice. I thought our energy was great.

“We haven’t done everything great, but you’re playing hard. That’s what I’m trying to get out of this group, just to compete every day and challenge each other.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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