Brown bolting for draft; more to come?

RALEIGH, N.C. — On Thursday, Lorenzo Brown confirmed what most observers close to North Carolina State’s basketball program believed would happen for some time: He is leaving school a year early to chase the dream of playing in the NBA.

Brown, who averaged 12.4 points and handed out an ACC-best 7.4 assists per game this season, is projected as a late first-round pick — at best — by several mock drafts, including And barring the unforeseen, he will be on an NBA roster next season. The 6-foot-5 junior point guard would have made most rosters this season. He is that good.

“I’ve talked to a lot of different guys in the NBA, a lot of GMs and presidents and key personnel and I think most everybody’s confident he can be a first-round draft pick,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said Thursday.

“I think there’s a general sense with Lorenzo he’s going to have a great future — now you have to remember he’s only played that position exclusively really for two years . . . — so I think guys like the fact they potentially could get a player that’s kind of on the front end of all the growth that may happen for him.

“I know there are teams that really like him a lot, and I’ve had direct conversations with those teams. He’s going to have a good future.”

Brown said he just knew it was time.

“Mainly, it was really based on what my mom thought and what my coaches thought,” he said. “I was reading up on what they were telling me and mainly what my instinct was.”

All this does, though, is toss next season into a whirlwind of the unknown even more. Brown made his announcement Thursday, and it’s only a matter of time before junior forward C.J. Leslie (15.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) does the same. Leslie’s decision isn’t exactly a highly anticipated one along Tobacco Road. Nobody expects him to return.

With sharpshooter Scott Wood (12.6 ppg) and first-team All-ACC power forward Richard Howell (12.7 ppg. 10.9 rpg) graduating, the Wolfpack will take on a dramatically different look next season. And it could change even more.

Local newspapers have speculated that freshman forward T.J. Warren may also leave for the NBA. Warren’s father, Tony, played at NC State in the late 1970s and has been actively promoting his son’s next-level worthiness. Off the record, a number of scouts believe Warren has the most long-term potential of the Wolfpack players.

Warren, who averaged 12.1 points per game and shot 62.2 percent from the field, probably will go if a team guarantees they will take him in the first round.

“If he’s a first-round pick, I think it would be a good decision,” his father told the Raleigh News & Observer earlier this week.

Adding to the hysteria surrounding the program, the N&O also fueled speculation that freshmen guards Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis could transfer.

There is no direct evidence supporting such a notion, but the beat writer responsible for it wouldn’t toss it out there as pure conjecture. He is too good to toss stuff into the wind, so there’s even more to churn the tummies of NC State fans.

And really, while some are certainly delighted for Brown that he has this opportunity, and the young man is probably making the right decision, it sure puts into perspective just how disappointing this past season was for the Wolfpack.

NC State was picked by the media to win the ACC and Leslie was the preseason Player of the Year. NCSU (24-11) finished fifth and Leslie made third team All-ACC.

What’s worse, in a perceived “down” year involving North Carolina, the Tar Heels still posted more seasonal victories, went a game further in the ACC tournament and advanced further than the Wolfpack in the NCAA tournament.

That stings a program that celebrated itself as on the rise, yet it still couldn’t finish ahead of its neighborhood rivals, including Duke, which plays Friday in the Sweet 16. And now the Wolfpack could be headed to another rebuilding phase.

Warren, Purvis and Lewis could be a decent nucleus if they stay, and adding LSU transfer Ralston Turner and freshmen Anthony Barber, center BeeJay Anya and forward Kyle Washington gives the Wolfpack a solid collection of talent.

But with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame joining the ACC, a chance at a top-four finish is highly unlikely. An upper-half finish would be a challenge.