Luke DeCock

DeCock: Wolfpack relying on freshmen up front

There is so much Kyle Washington has yet to learn about college basketball as the N.C. State freshman forward navigates the first few months of his campus career. That includes his role on the Wolfpack this season, where there are three freshman forwards vying for playing time and plenty of it to go around.

In addition to Washington, at 6-foot-9 the most polished of the bunch, there’s burly BeeJay Anya, all 275 pounds of him, and 6-8 Lennard Freeman, a late signee who has impressed the coaching staff. With only sophomore T.J. Warren and little-used senior Jordan Vandenberg on the roster, all three freshmen will have to play.

“Collectively, they’ll all do it together,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “There may not be one guy.”

Washington is certainly interested to see how it all shakes out.

“We’ll see what happens, but that’s up to coach ‘G,’” Washington said. “Wherever I fall in, that’s the part I have to play. I’m definitely curious about it, but I’ll keep working hard and see where the chips fall.’

N.C. State isn’t alone. Across the board in the Triangle, there are interesting questions being asked at forward.

Duke will try to use 6-9, 210-pound Amile Jefferson as its primary post player while it attempts to capitalize on the matchup problems presented by versatile forwards Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Jefferson isn’t exactly an intimidating presence in the middle, but as the Blue Devils morph into a style of play that’s more NBA than traditional Duke, the need for a typical post presence is less pressing. At least, that’s the theory.

A dearth of reliable post options last season forced Roy Williams into an out-of-character perimeter-oriented lineup at North Carolina, using James Michael McAdoo and four guards – a lineup made possible in part by the size of wings Reggie Bullock (6-7) and P.J. Hairston (6-6).

This year, with the development of Joel James in particular, along with returnees Desmond Hubert and Brice Johnson and freshmen Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks – the latter, at 290 pounds, challenging Anya for the title of Biggest Man on Campus as both get to know their conditioning coaches – the Tar Heels may have a surplus of forwards. With Hairston suspended for an uncertain length of time, Williams openly mused about the possibility of a 180-degree turn and using a three-forward lineup.

Both of those situations have an inherent degree of certainty, plenty of known quantities. At N.C. State, there’s a slimmed-down Warren, the little-used-to-date Vandenberg and a plethora of very young unknowns.

“They’re all different,” Gottfried said. “BeeJay is a guy who has the potential to be a very good player. He’s a little heavy right now, we all know that. He has a long ways to go. Lennard has been a little bit of a surprise to be honest. We haven’t started practice, but in the workouts, he’s done very well. He’s proven to us already he’s going to be a great rebounder, a good defender. And Kyle, the sky’s the limit for Kyle.”

Warren’s inside-outside versatility means he could play alongside one or two of the freshmen forwards at any given time when he’s on the court, and Vandenberg’s role is hazy, but the freshmen will have to play. And play a lot.

The Wolfpack isn’t just counting on one of them. It’s counting on all three.

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