Luke DeCock

Wilmington’s Keatts may not be Wolfpack’s first call, but may make most sense – DeCock

UNC-Wilmington coach talks about his pride in his players after loss to Duke

VIDEO: UNC-Wimington basketball coach Kevin Keatts tells reporters that "We don't have any McDonalds All-Americans, but we do pass a lot of McDonalds when we go home," after losing to Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Raleigh, NC.
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VIDEO: UNC-Wimington basketball coach Kevin Keatts tells reporters that "We don't have any McDonalds All-Americans, but we do pass a lot of McDonalds when we go home," after losing to Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Raleigh, NC.

N.C. State is going to hear “no” a lot in this coaching search, and that’s fine. You have to ask. They might say yes. They probably won’t.

Given that, the most delicate aspect of the search could be if the Wolfpack ends up deciding on UNC-Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts – and that would be a perfectly acceptable place to end up – making sure it doesn’t seem like Keatts was a fallback plan, because he isn’t.

The way coaching searches go, it’s easy to create that impression. Debbie Yow and her intermediaries will make a lot of calls, talk to a lot of coaches and their representatives. That’s the luxury N.C. State has with this headstart on its search. It would be silly not to reach out to anyone who meets N.C. State’s criteria who might have any interest.

There’s no indication whatsoever Archie Miller wants the job when he can wait at Dayton for a Big Ten job to open. (And while State fans may like the idea of Miller returning home, do they really want a coach who got no recruiting boost from an Elite Eight? Dayton’s three classes since that NCAA run were ranked 91st, 71st and 107th in 247Sports’ composite rankings.)

Will Wade is the kind of guy who would embrace the challenge of going head-to-head with Duke and North Carolina in the same market. But Wade has things going pretty well at Virginia Commonwealth, where basketball is a very big deal, and he’s only 34. Butler’s Chris Holtmann would be at the top of anyone’s list, and he isn’t at a school that has a ton of resources (Butler Blue III notwithstanding), but he’s perfectly comfortable presiding over Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Same goes for the Grain Belt Greg(g)s, McDermott and Marshall, who would probably be willing to listen to N.C. State, but make enough money that they don’t have to do much more than that unless they’re genuinely intrigued.

And if all those candidates pass on N.C. State, not because it’s the terrible job it has been portrayed to be but because they can wait for a perfect opportunity, Keatts has less reason to stay in Wilmington. The Seahawks (26-5, 15-3 in CAA) are in a smaller conference and can’t compete financially the way those other schools can. This is a perfect time in his career to make the jump to the ACC.

While those other guys have plenty of reasons to say no, Keatts has plenty of reasons to say yes. And N.C. State has plenty of reasons to offer him the job.

He has won everywhere he has gone, as an assistant at Louisville and at Hargrave Military Academy and in three seasons at UNCW, where he’s 69-27 and a two-time conference coach of the year. He’s a proven recruiter not only with deep connections within the state of North Carolina but with a record of attracting top national talent. This season, he’s coaching an empirically better team than N.C. State turned out to be.

And Keatts is young, only 44. While the old chestnut about outlasting Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski gets tossed around willy-nilly – the same thing was said during the last search, and they’re still around and Mark Gottfried is not – there is still some value to getting a guy who could be at N.C. State for the long haul.

In a year – in a month, if the Seahawks make a run in the NCAA tournament – Keatts may be as hot a name as any of the others on the list. Keatts may not be the first call N.C. State makes, just the one that ends up making the most sense.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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