NC State has to find a way to replace T.J. Warren's nearly 25 points per game if it wants to make a fourth straight NCAA Tournament next year under Mark Gottfried.
NC State has to replace T.J. Warren's nearly 25 points per game next year, and the leading returner scorer is Ralston Turner (above) at just over 10 points per game.
Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports
By Lauren Brownlow
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The way last season ended for N.C. State was not even brought up during most of the basketball team's summer press conference.
But once it finally was, senior Ralston Turner visibly bristled.
"It took me awhile to get over that, but I think we're over it," Turner said. "It showed us that we don't want to feel like that ever again. If we're able to be in that situation again, remember the feeling."
The Wolfpack won the NCAA Tournament play-in game against Xavier before watching a 16-point lead slip away in what felt like the blink of an eye against St. Louis.
Understandably, it's not exactly a hot topic in the locker room.
"To be honest, I don't think I've talked about it with anybody on this team since the day," Turner said. "I don't think so."
And that's because the look of the 2014-15 N.C. State basketball team is going to be a lot different now that ACC Player of the Year and No. 14 pick in the NBA Draft T.J. Warren is gone.
N.C. State has plenty of pieces on the roster that, by committee, can replace Warren's nearly 25 points per game. The question is whether those players will be able to do that, though, making the necessary leap a season removed from watching Warren dominate the offense.
"The young guys now have a year under their belt. When I say the young guys, I mean BeeJay Anya, Kyle Washington, Lennard Freeman, Cat Barber and then even Desmond Lee finished the first year. So those guys, they're far ahead now of where they were last year," N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said. "We're going to have some more incoming young guys. We're still going to be pretty young. The majority of our roster will be freshmen and sophomores this year. But we're farther along as far as those guys understanding what we're doing, our terminology, trying to run our system.
"Last year's team, for us to become an NCAA Tournament team, we had to rely on TJ because the other guys weren't necessarily ready yet to make big plays at key times. They could here and there, but with the absence of TJ now, those guys have a better opportunity. So the answer is we'll see. That's going to be a question."
Warren, along with center Jordan Vandenberg, are really the only big losses from last year, though point guard Tyler Lewis transferred. This year's team is mostly intact. But only one of the returners -- Turner -- averaged double figures (10.5 points). Two others averaged over eight (Barber at 8.5 and Lee at 8.4). The rest, while they had some nice moments, weren't consistent.
The wild card will be how quickly the frontcourt can come along. Washington was fifth on last year's team in scoring with 4.8 points per game, while Freeman added 4.0 and Anya 2.1. But they all have room to grow, and will need to in a hurry.
"The trio of the three forwards of BeeJay, Lennard and Kyle -- last year, those guys were good enough to make plays here and there and have a good game one night, hard to follow it up the next night. That group has to be more consistent. They've got to be better," Gottfried said.
Gottfried spoke glowingly of Barber's progress as the team's primary point guard, while Turner has been in the gym constantly, trying to become the consistent sharpshooter he knows he can be. He finished shooting 37.2 percent from beyond the arc, but had some stretches where he really struggled.
Anya needs to lose weight -- the sophomore was as heavy as 349 pounds even towards the end of last season, but he's dedicated himself to weight loss and is down to around 300 pounds. Gottfried wants him around 280.
There is an intriguing new addition, though, that could make an impact in a hurry -- Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey, a combo guard.
"We're excited about Trevor. I think he's one of those guys, a year ago when you're going against him every day in practice -- he was on scout team every day -- I think everybody in the gym gained a great deal of respect for him," Gottfried said. "I think he can give us some three-point shooting, which we desperately need. He's a big, strong guard that can get into the paint and make contact, doesn't get knocked off balance. He's got a really good feel for all those type things. So my expectation is going to be high for him.
"I think he can be an impact guy in this league."
Gottfried said he and Barber will both play together, likely, and that while Barber will be the point guard, Lacey will play some point as well.
Lacey, who will be a junior in eligibility, averaged 11.3 points on 39.2 ppercent shooting as a sophomore at Alabama, playing over 30 minutes a game. He also shot 37.3 percent from three and added 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals.
N.C. State also adds West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson, also a junior in eligibility, who averaged 11.7 points for the Mountaineers in 2012-13 and shot 38.7 percent from three in his two years there.
N.C. State has made the NCAA Tournament every year under Gottfried so far after not making it from 2007-11, and with Gottfried entering his fourth season in Raleigh, that's starting to become an expectation.
One reason the Wolfpack has found itself in the tournament fairly consistently has stemmed from a lesson Gottfried learned back in the early 2000's when he was the head coach at Alabama.
One of his teams was left out and Mike Tranghese, then chair of the selection committee, called his team out specifically for its out-of-conference scheduling. He made sure that his team played power-conference schools after that, not to mention more competitive mid-major teams.
He said that 3-4 people on the committee told him that last season, N.C. State's non-conference schedule was one of the main reasons it made the field of 68 over some other teams that maybe had better records. N.C. State lost an early one to NC Central, a team that won its play-in game before losing to Iowa State, but beating teams like Florida Gulf Coast and Eastern Kentucky was a big help.
"We try to do a good job with that. It's not always easy. You don't get to play whoever you want to play. It's a little tricky at times. But we're going to keep doing that," Gottfried said. "We've done it again this year. There are times I think (N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow) feels like I'm a little too ambitious, but I think you've got to play a great schedule to help your team be the best it can be."
So there's still a good deal to be determined about how the new players will fit in to the system, and how everything will come together.
Coaches can sometimes have a good feel about a team, and Gottfried did even at this point last season, feeling confident in his younger players and in Warren. But without a Warren, and with the tantalizing flashes some players showed last season combined with head-shaking performances, he's not sure what to think.
He does know one thing, though -- this team will likely be a lot more like his first two teams in Raleigh in that it will be a balanced attack.
"Sometimes you've got an idea of what your team is going to become. It doesn't always become that. Sometimes it's a little bit different. But I think this year probably our team is going to be much more balanced, a little bit more like the first two teams we had here offensively. Those first two years, we had five guys in double figures with a sixth guy close to that scoring. I think this year's team is probably going to be a little more similar to that," Gottfried said.
"I like our team. I like the talent level that we have. But like I said, the group of freshmen from last year, those four freshmen that are now sophomores, they've got to take a big step. And then the young guys that we have that we think are going to contribute, they've got to take one pretty quick from where they are in their development. That's going to kind of be the thing for us is how quickly all that becomes together, and can we put it all together and become a really good team? So that's going to be a question for us."
Turner said he can't get a definitive feel, either.
Except in one sense, anyway.
"It just feels like a group of guys. I think that's what it's going to be next year is a group of guys. T.J. carried so much of the load, and he's gone now," Turner said. "We're going to have to do it as a group to make up for what he did."