Luke DeCock

DeCock: Wolfpack hoops team still looking for leaders

N.C. State's T.J. Warren (24) celebrates with fans after N.C. State's 84-76 victory over Duke Saturday, January 12, 2012, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
N.C. State's T.J. Warren (24) celebrates with fans after N.C. State's 84-76 victory over Duke Saturday, January 12, 2012, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

Instead of returning starters or high expectations, N.C. State has questions. Who will play inside? Who will shoot from outside? Who, exactly, is going to score points other than T.J. Warren?

All of those legitimate questions will be answered in one way or another. Someone will have to score. Someone will have to play inside. Someone will have to take some 3-pointers. They may not be as good at it as they were last year, or as good as they would like to be, but someone will have to do it.

There’s one question, however, that is just as urgent but without an answer, necessarily. Who is going to step up and fill the leadership void that has existed since C.J. Williams and Alex Johnson left the program last summer?

A year ago at this time, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was asking the same question. No one ever did, and that’s one reason why the Wolfpack never met the expectations it set for itself last season.

“That’s something for this team that will emerge,” Gottfried said Tuesday. “It’s important.”

Richard Howell, Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown provided considerable stability during a time of tremendous transition for the N.C. State program, but they were never able to lead the team with the same ability that Williams and Johnson did. With those players gone, along with C.J. Leslie, the Wolfpack enters an even greater time of turmoil this offseason.

There are only four scholarship players returning, and only two of them even started a game last season. If the Wolfpack is going to overachieve on the decidedly low expectations set for this season, real leadership is going to have to emerge from one of them. That’s possible, but there’s no guarantee, and it’s up to those four players – Warren, Tyler Lewis, Jordan Vandenberg and Ralston Turner – to figure it out.

Each has obstacles to overcome in that regard. Warren and Lewis are both only sophomores, Vandenberg has played very little over the course of his career and Turner is a transfer from Louisiana State who sat out last season. But since the other eligible scholarship players are all newcomers, freshmen and a junior-college transfer, the Wolfpack is going to be led by some combination of those four players – or not at all.

“Those four guys collectively on a day-in, day-out basis, they’ve been asked to be the leaders every day, in every aspect of our program,” Gottfried said. “So far, they’ve done a very good job. I can see Tyler Lewis already beginning to emerge as a guy who’s willing to step forward and be out in front. It’s that group of returning players. I think they’re going to take a lot of pride in how our program operates. They want to do things right. They want to be responsible in setting the tone for our team this year.”

Warren and Lewis are the most obvious candidates, Warren because he’ll be the team’s most important player and Lewis because of his personality. When plucked from the end of the bench and given a chance on the court last season, Lewis blossomed. Perhaps he can do the same off the court as well.

Turner may be able to follow in the footsteps of Johnson, who despite being a graduate-student transfer from Cal State Bakersfield meshed seamlessly with the existing group of players. Gottfried said Turner made the most of his redshirt year and has heard nothing but good things about him on campus.

They have all gone through N.C. State’s leadership academy program. They have all been asked to take on this burden, this responsibility. In the end, it’s up to them to take control, to lead this team as far as it will go – or as far as it won’t.

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