‘Good for our guys to… grow together as a team’

Opening comments

Greg Gantt has a minor sprain on his left thumb. He will travel but will not play in the Bahamas and will be out for four weeks. He will continue to practice and do everything he can do with his right hand and nothing with his left. Dusan Mahorcic will also not be traveling to the Bahamas.

What are your expectations for this trip to the Bahamas?

We took this trip my first year and I thought it was great because we came together as a team. For me it’s more than just the opportunity to play. It’s obviously great to play against a couple of different jerseys after you have had a chance to practice all summer. It’s good for our guys to come along and grow together as a team.

When you look at last year’s team, there are only three guys on this team that played significant minutes: Smith, Dowuona, and Morsell. Other than that everybody is new. I think it will help us to grow and come close as a team on and off the court and then play against some really good competition.

How much does this team seem similar to that first team that you had in the sense that you do have to build that chemistry after having so many guys come in from the transfer portal and having to build some cohesion?

Yea I don’t know if it’s similar. I think this is our new wave that we’re going to have to go through all the time. I’m so excited that we were up for a foreign trip. I bet a lot of coaches around the country wish this were their opportunity because of so many different pieces on most rosters. When you look at our league I think the only two teams that got everybody back are Carolina and UVA.

For the most part I think most people have at least four or five different pieces to their roster. For me I think it’s more so, this is what the future is gonna look like and we all have to adjust as coaches because every year you’re going to have to reteach your program. I’m blessed and excited that we got ten practices out of this.

What has impressed you about how the team has come together?

We’re working. You just don’t know when you bring in so many pieces from different areas. The attitudes have been great and they’re picking up stuff a lot quicker. We had a great year in the classroom for the summer. I think our overall GPA for the two summer sessions was a 3.1 which is pretty impressive. They like each other and I think our energy is completely different.

It’s a different locker room because we have so many older guys who have been through this a little bit. The only freshman that we have had on the floor is LJ [Thomas]. As opposed to the past we would have four or five different freshmen at different times. He’s the only guy that we’ve had so, everyone else has been through this a little bit leading them to have a business-like approach.

Moving forward, would you like to get your non-conference schedule against some tougher opponents that you’re playing this year at PNC rather than overseas?

Yes absolutely. We would love to have more home games against Power 5 but it’s tougher. The reason why is when you look across the whole ACC and you schedule base off quads. Most of our teams in our league had four or five six-quad games. Couple teams were higher than that.

It’s easier to get a quad 1 or quad 2 by playing neutral games than at home, it doesn’t help the home team it always helps the away team. In our situation it’s hard cause you try to figure out non-conference and so many different challenges going on, BIG10 challenge and the SEC. So being able to find another power 5 is not as easy as people think.

That being said I think our schedule last year non-conference with the mid-majors was really good playing LA Tech and those guys. This year non-conference mid-majors we wanted to bring in a team who is really good and dangerous and that’s Furman. This year obviously the Battle for Atlantis is always gonna boost your non-conference. We will get three great teams over there, playing Kansas who is coming off a national championship and the success they’ve had in their program. That’s a great opportunity for our program.

Last year Wake Forest had a great year but their non-conference schedule was a major factor in them not making the tournament. Does anything about that make you uneasy?

Not at all. I’ve spoken to Steve [Forbes], anybody who doesn’t make the tournament that’s 13-7 in their conference in the ACC that’s a hard pill to swallow. I’ve always said this conference should get 8-9 teams in every year. What I think really hurt our conference is that in November and December we didn’t have signature wins. Had nothing to do with NC State, we just didn’t have a lot.

For whatever reason this particular committee put a lot of emphasis on your November and December schedule opposed to the teams like Wake or whoever won a lot in January. I’m wishing everybody in our league that we have a great non-conference because it will elevate your conference. When you look at what the BIG10 did last year they had a good non-conference so every conference game was a quad 1 or quad 2 win. In order to make the tournament you have to have some quad 1/2 opportunities to get in.

Who has stood out to you so far in the group of new faces or those who might play a bigger role this season?

We got so many different pieces. Jarkel [Joiner] is a sixth year guy who’s a proven guy and played in the SEC. He’s certainly gonna help us at the guard spot. The good thing about him, you will see Breon [Pass] play off the ball, Jarkel and T all can do the same thing. He’s been a big leader at the position with a big voice in the locker room and on the floor.

I know DJ Burns is really good. One of areas we really struggled in is scoring the ball inside. He’s certainly a guy who can put the ball in the hole. I know a lot of people will be excited about Jack Clark. He’s 6-9 3/4 who can shoot the ball on all sides and can do some stuff at that position. I love all three of those guys that I’ve had a chance to watch. I can say the same thing about Dusan but he hasn’t been here for a week.

Do you like coaching from the underdog role because obviously expectations aren’t huge for you guys this year?

It’s a tremendous role, we’ve been in the underdog role since I got here. When hasn’t NC State been the underdog? I like coaching because I love the opportunity. I love to work with the kids. We had a really bad year last year. It’s my job as a coach to fix that. We can look at a lot of different reasons why and I know you guys have plenty and I have plenty. At the end of the day we went out and tried to work our butt off to recruit some guys and fix some of the issues that we had. If we can stay healthy I really like our team.

Assuming a lot of guys who haven’t been to the Bahamas before. Is there anything besides basketball that you have planned?

Oh we’re gonna do some snorkeling and I’m gonna get the guys on the lazy river and a couple slides. We’re gonna have a good time. It’s part of us growing and doing some team building stuff but also for the guys to have fun. A lot of people ask why are you going back to the Bahamas and you’re going in November? As coaches and players you don’t have a good time. You’re playing a game and you’re in a ballroom. I wanted these guys to have a chance to relax and have a good time and grow and enjoy the experience.

Do you know the teams you’ll be facing down there on your first trip?

We’re supposed to be playing a Bahamian team who is supposed to be the better of teams down there and the Puerto Rican national time. Two good teams where I won’t get over excited if we win both of those games or super down if we lose both. I’m gonna play a lot of combinations and mix some things up.

It’s a fact-finding mission to figure out who plays together and what we need to work on. So many people put emphasis on what your record is on a foreign trip in the summer. For me I’m just trying to figure when we start practice, what things we gotta work on and how we gotta get better.

What’s it been like coaching your son seeing that he got a roster spot this season?

It’s tough because I gotta go home and answer to his mom. I’m excited because it’s really fun. We had a decision as a family. He missed his first year of high school because he had a torn labrum and then he went through two years of COVID. We were figuring out if we were gonna send him to prep school. As we talked it through he really wanted to be here. He’s got some great friends on the team and he just really wanted to be part of the program. He looks at me a little differently now.

What’s the cohesion been like with the new assistant coaches coming in over the last month or so?

It’s exciting because they all want to be here. NC State is a great place but when you want to be here and you want to be here and a part of this, that’s what makes it really special for me. Not that the coaches who were here previously didn’t but, when I went out and started looking for coaches, the passion about being at NC State and being in North Carolina that’s one of the things that helped me make the decision for all of those guys. They’re all talented, they’ll all be head coaches. I wanted to go out and find three guys that I felt would really compliment the program and bring energy but also have the opportunity to become head coaches down the road.

Is it a big deal to have Levi [Watkins] an NC State alum on the bench on your staff.

It’s a real big deal. It’s a big deal for recruiting and to have former players. I love our former players. I love the fact that we can have some guys come back and speak. Levi can speak differently than most of the coaches that can be here including myself because he sat in those chairs and understands the grind that you have to go through. I think it’s been great so I’m excited about it

How has Ernest Ross progressed? Is he fully cleared?

Ernest is doing well. He’s fully cleared. I wouldn’t tell you that he’s at 100%. I would say that he’s at about 90%. He still has to trust his ankle a little bit in traffic and when jumping coming down. I think him getting a little more comfortable playing a little bit will help him.

You just added a player a couple of weeks ago which seems pretty late in the process. How did that come about?

I won’t be able to comment on that.

How important is it having a guy like Ebenezer Dowuona who is the elder statesmen of the front-court?

It’s really good. Ebenezer has raised his game a little bit. When you look to the right you got Dusan and to the left you got DJ. I think the great completion has helped him become better. Having the chance to play against those guys everyday who are really big guys. Ebenezer had his best practice two days ago. He starting to finish and catching the ball. He understands and is starting to talk a bit. Hopefully all of his experience of playing last year will really help us this year.

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