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To a certain extent, as the Pack gets ready for the 100th year of basketball, it's hard not to feel sorry for State and Sidney Lowe.
|31||<! atitle="Horner, Dennis" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=517765&Q_SEASON=2009">Dennis
|12||<! atitle="Degand, Farnold" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=517760&Q_SEASON=2009">
|10||<! atitle="Javier Gonzalez" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=1150343&Q_SEASON=2009">Javier
|23||<! atitle="Tracy Smith" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=1150344&Q_SEASON=2009">Tracy
|30||<! atitle="Johnny Thomas" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=1150346&Q_SEASON=2009">Johnny
|24||<! atitle="Julius Mays" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=1477379&Q_SEASON=2009">Julius
|21||<! atitle="C.J. Williams" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=1477378&Q_SEASON=2009">C.J.
|1||<! atitle=" Richard Howell" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=204782293&Q_SEASON=2009">Richard
|5||<! atitle="DeShawn Painter" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=204782402&Q_SEASON=2009">DeShawn
|14||<! atitle="Jordan Vandenberg" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=204782297&Q_SEASON=2009">Jordan
|15||<! atitle="Scott Wood" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=204782306&Q_SEASON=2009">Scott
|22||<! atitle="Josh Davis" href="http://www.gopack.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=41962&SPID=3731&DB_OEM_ID=9200&ATCLID=204782416&Q_SEASON=2009">Josh
On the bright side, it's finally his team. With only Dennis Horner as a holdover from the Herb Sendek era, it's Sidney's team, Sidney's players.
On the negative side, things have not gone that well since El Sid returned to Raleigh. His first year, State had a spectacular rush at the end of the season; in his second, chemistry broke down. In the third, State achieved mediocrity, but that's about it. For long-suffering State fans, finishing 16-14 and 6-10 in the ACC isn't getting it.
Is there hope? Well, there's always hope. State has issues, but there is also some talent. It's not necessarily a coherent group yet, and State fans will need the word they hate now, which is patience, but there are some things to work with here.
Among the returnees, Tracy Smith showed some potential inside. If you want to find an analagous ACC player from the past, it might be Lonny Baxter. Like Baxter, Smith is a chunky, undersized center, but a guy who could emerge as a pretty good player. State can get some reasonable production from Dennis Horner, although he's not a great player. Among the backcourt and the wing players, State has the fiery Javi Gonzalez, who had his moments, Julius Mays, who hit at least one buzzer beater as a freshman, and Farnold Degand, who was recuperating last season from a knee injury but who showed some athletic flashes (although he's not much of a point guard).
State also returns C.J. Williams, who averaged 14.6 minutes, and Johnny Thomas, who is athletic but who, like Degand before him, is returning from a knee injury.
Among the freshmen, State has some big men and they'll need them. The most highly regarded is 6-7 Richard Howell, who is a lot bigger than we realized - if Smith is chunky, then Howell, at 266, is superchunk.
It's not fat, though. He appears to be in very good shape.
DeShawn Painter, who is 6-9, is slimmer at 213. He originally signed with Florida, so you have to assume he's fairly talented.
They also picked up 7-1 Aussie Jordan Vandenberg, out of the same school that produced former Georgia Tech big man Luke Schenscher. He's probably going to take some work. Although as they say you can't teach 7-1, he is thin and undeveloped.
Still, that gives them four guys to work with, and that's better than things looked in the spring: when Ben McCauley graduated and Brandon Costner decided to pass on his fifth year, it was, things looked grim. State has done a pretty good job of filling those holes, although it may take a while for things to pan out.
Replacing Courtney Fells is also going to be tough. He was a better player than a lot of people realized, but the 6-5 Mississippian is gone.
State also brings in 6-7 Scott Wood, who was a high school teammate of Mays from the basketball hotbed of Marion, Indiana. He's said to be a very good three point shooter.
Finally, the Pack offered a scholarship to hometowner Josh Davis, a 6-7 kid who might help someday but probably not this year.
So where to go with all of this?
Our guess is that Smith starts, and probably Mays at point. Howell will likely start too, and Painter may round out the frontcourt. The second guard spot is up for grabs. Degand showed some athleticism and presumably is in better shape. Truth be told, he never fully recovered from his injury last season. Thomas and Williams are both more natural forwards and could steal some time there. Woods may get sometime just because he can shoot, but he'll have to prove himself as a guard. Our guess is that he'll end up playing forward, and could get a lot of minutes because he'll open things up inside if he shoots well.
While they'll miss McCauley and Fells (although not Costner), State has some talent, even though it's young. But they still have some real problems.
Start at the point. Although Mays and Gonzalez have had their moments, neither has shown they can consistently play at an ACC level, and while you can cover it up on offense to an extent, you can't on defense as easily.
Degand played some point but was a turnover machine. In fairness, that may be because he was not in real basketball shape. He did show some ability and potential as a defender though.
State's going to be universally picked low. They're young and not as deep and as talented as some other teams in the conference. Is there a chance they could surprise?
There's always a chance. Maybe not a big one, but here's how we could see it happening, a scenario if you will.
Either Mays or Gonzalez - probably May - becomes a reliable presence. Smith becomes a steady presence in the post, augmented by Howell and Painter. Vandenberg surprises by becoming a solid reserve. Wood becomes a legitimate threat from outside.
The key, though, is developing a solid core of athletes who are versatile enough to help in multiple positions. So if they can use Painter, Degand, Williams, and Thomas as guys who can put a great deal of pressure on the opposing offense and also get out and run when the chance presents itself, they're going to be a very different team, and one much more in Lowe's vision than that of Herb Sendek. We say this not knowing exactly how athletic Howell is, and whether he'll be able to motor up and down the court in a hurry. If he can, so much the better.
Here's our beef with Sendek and to a lesser extent Lowe, although he can still change this: N.C. State basketball is supposed to be electrifying. It's not supposed to be some reincarnation of an Ibasesque dream, where guys patiently run a top of the key weave or something. No - this team wears red for a reason.
Every great manifestation of State basketball has been either as a running team or a team with sheer guts that overcomes. It all starts with Everett Case, who brought fast break basketball to State. His pupil, Norm Sloan, had a running game that was really, really fun and almost made you forget about his jackets or Mrs. Sloan singing the national anthem. And of course Jim Valvano was a master of the emotional side of the game. He didn't run as freely, but no one was better at getting his team fired up.
Even poor Les Robinson tried to maintain that aspect of State basketball. He failed, but the ember burned.
It hasn't really burned since then. Sendek's aversion to risk, both on offense and in scheduling, just drove people bonkers. They would have forgiven him a lot more if he had gambled more, frankly, but he is what he is.
If Lowe wants to turn things around, and he accepts that this season is likely dicey, he should consider this: with a good group of athletes for the first time, really, since returning to Raleigh, press and run like hell. In a conference short on point guards, it might work, and since just about everyone else is loaded inside, it might be a way to work around that, too. Just as importantly, though, is this:
State's fans are the most dispirited in the conference. They have come to expect losing, and not just to lose, but to lose in a cruel Lucy-took-the-football-away again way, and with teams that are throttled and limited.
If you can't promised them success - and Lowe really can't - you can at least promise them heart, passion, effort and excitement. At this point, State fans would probably accept that as a reasonable deal, and Lowe, in turn, could leverage that as an argument to first of all keep his job but secondly as a talking point for recruits, which makes his keeping his job much more likely.
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