Kevin Keatts spent last spring and summer increasing talent on his N.C. State basketball roster, then coached it to the NCAA Tournament last winter.
His straightforward task this spring? Rinse and repeat.
“Are you saying that we had an offseason?” Keatts said with a smile on Wednesday when meeting with reporters to discuss the state of the Wolfpack program.
Immediately after N.C. State’s season ended with a 72-63 loss to Creighton in the NCAA Tournament’s first round on March 17, Keatts knew he had to turn his attention to who would comprise next season’s team.
That’s life in the transfer portal era.
“The first thing you have to do is talk to your own team and try to figure out what’s next for them,” Keatts said.
All-ACC guard Terquavion Smith headed for the NBA Draft after a sophomore season in which he averaged 17.9 points per game. Jarkel Joiner averaged 17 points in his final season of college eligibility.
Guard Jack Clark (Clemson), forward Dusan Mahorcic (Duquesne), forward Greg Gantt (UNC Asheville) and center Ebenezer Dowuona (Georgia Tech) used the transfer portal to find new schools.
But key contributors DJ Burns, a 6-9 center, and Casey Morsell, a 6-3 guard, are planning to return. And the incoming haul looks strong enough for the Wolfpack to carry NCAA Tournament expectations into next season.
Former McDonald’s All-American MJ Rice, a 6-5 shooting guard, arrives from Kansas while DJ Horne, a 6-1 point guard, is transferring in from Arizona State. Ben Middlebrooks, a 6-10 center, left Clemson to join the Wolfpack and 6-10 center Mohamed Diarra transferred to NC State from Missouri.
Guards Jayden Taylor from Butler and Michael O’Connell from Stanford round out N.C. State’s six incoming transfers.
“I like what we’re doing with this,” Keatts said. “I love the group of kids that we have there. We’ve got great personalities. We got really good kids.”
The team’s foundation starts, Keatts said, with Burns and Morsell returning after starting last season. Burns became a Wolfpack fan favorite while contributing 12.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a game last season. Morsell scored 11.8 points per game while making 41.1% of his 3-point shots.
“We want them to show everybody what our culture is about how hard we work, how hard we play,” Keatts said.
That will be important for incoming freshmen Dennis Parker, a 6-7 forward, and 6-2 guard Tremayne Parker.
Keatts also has plans for Burns to be an even more dynamic player on the court for his final season of college eligibility. His post-up moves, where he backs defenders down to score inside, are strong. But he needs more moves.
“Just expanding his game,” Keatts said. “Having him be a face-up guy, making a few plays off the dribble. Even though he is a very efficient passer, his numbers aren’t always great. We want to make sure he continues in that role.”
On the perimeter, after Smith and Joiner combined to average 29 shot attempts per game while excelling in N.C. State’s system last season, newcomers Horne and Rice should know what opportunities await them.
“We do have that selling point for a guard that’s coming in,” Keatts said, before asking rhetorically, “Who wouldn’t want to play for me at the guard position?”
Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. In the Associated Press Sports Editors national contest, he’s placed in the top 10 in beat writing in 2019, 2021 and 2022, breaking news in 2019 and explanatory writing in 2018. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.