‘Pick us last, please:’ NC State embracing low expectations
While the ACC won’t release its preseason poll until Thursday, it was clear on Wednesday that NC State is embracing lower expectations that are the result of massive roster turnover and a new head coach arriving in Raleigh.
Fifth-year senior forward Lennard Freeman said the team “kind of figured” that they might end up low on the list of league favorites.
“We have a lot of new pieces, new coaches, so I’m not surprised that we’re not picked high. Hopefully y’all pick us last, honestly, so we can only go up from there,” Freeman told the media during his Operation Basketball news conference.
“No disrespect, but we work too hard for us to actually like – not say care, but I’m a competitor, so if you sit here and tell me that I’m going to be 15 or 14 out of 15 teams, then it’s just going to put me in a different mindset and make me go twice as hard and make me want to prove everyone wrong, so go ahead and pick us last, please.”
With Kevin Keatts now at the helm of the NC State program, the Wolfpack will face a tough conference schedule that includes two games against UNC and Notre Dame plus a home-only, one-game slate that includes Duke, Louisville and Miami.
Keatts, who had a 72-28 record in three seasons at UNC-Wilmington, inherited a team that will look quite different than it did a season ago. Seven-foot sophomore Omer Yertseven withdrew from the NBA draft pool to return to school, and he’ll be joined in the frontcourt by senior Abdul-Malik Abu and Freeman.
In the backcourt, redshirt-junior Torin Dorn and sophomore Markell Johnson will be joined by graduate transfer Allerik Freeman, who spent his first four years at Baylor and freshman Lavar Batts Jr., along with a handful of other unproven players.
State went 15-17 overall (4-14 ACC) in Mark Gottfried’s final season.
“We just want to work hard. I think just leave it all on the table,” Freeman said Wednesday. “I want to go out by going to the tournament, and that’s my goal, just getting right back to the tournament. I’ve been there the first two years, and my second two we haven’t been there.”
During his session with the media Tuesday afternoon, Keatts joked that he’s entering the year hoping for an undefeated campaign.
“My objective is, if we’re playing 35 games, I want to be 35-0. But somehow if we stub our toe and we lose a couple games, we’ll reassess what we’re trying to do or what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
“My expectation is if you come and you watch us play, that you leave the game saying, man, wow those guys compete. As a head coach, you know, I’m going to go into this season just like everybody else.”