After another season in which the rotation has been in flux, it seems as if 2009 is the year that Sidney Lowe finally has the pieces that will allow players to finally settle in. Here is a look ahead at the position breakdown:
Javi Gonzalez's first two seasons at NC State have been a roller coaster ride to say the least. A 3 star PG out of Miami came in as somewhat of a project. A firey scrapper with a smooth jumper and the ability to make plays at the high school level, Javi had a tough time adjusting to the speed and physicality of the ACC. Gonzalez was never supposed to be in the position to be logging serious minutes for the Pack in his freshman year, but an early injury to Farnold Degand left Lowe with no choice. A baptism by fire of sorts, Javi took his lumps, and he's surely better because of it. He's been knocked down over and over, has taken criticism and has been left for dead in the minds of many Wolfpack fans, but this son of a boxer never gave up, picking himself up off the ground and finally at some point it all began to click. The game began to slow down and Javi grabbed a position up for the taking. Javi improved in every possible area of his game. While he averaged practically the same playing time this year as last year, he improved his FG% from 33% to 47%, his 3PT% from 28% to 43%, his scoring average from 3.8 to 6.6 and his assist average from 2.1 to 3.3. This is drastic improvement. Coming into the 2009 season Gonzalez will be walking into a season with the confidence of knowing he belongs. The final 10 games of the season Javi showed real poise, an ability to create and a juicy 3 ball. He will be coming into his junior season already a seasoned veteran, with 2 years of playing time under his belt, and with the confidence of the coaches, Gonzalez is poised for a breakout season.
Farnold Degand came into the 2007 season as the starting point guard before a torn knee derailed his season. 2008 was more of the same as Degand could never truly shake his bum knee. It was a game by game experiment for Farnold who lack of lateral quickness really caged in the speedster from Boston. Coming into 2009 Degand should be a much different player. For one, he should finally be healthy. The job will most likely belong to Gonzalez but Degand is surely a capable backup when healthy and should prove to be so coming into next season.
Lorenzo Brown will only be a freshman coming into the '09 season, but expectations are high for the silky smooth combo guard out of Georgia. The 2 guard spot was a under-discussed problem last season that plagued the Pack for the majority of their ballgames. Coming into the 2008 season the job belonged to Trevor Ferguson (who most likely will be on the outside looking in, in 2009), who's outside shooting was supposed to open up the lane and extend the defense. Instead Ferguson went cold and in stepped Courtney Fells who's conversion to a small forward was short lived. Fells, a senior with endless upside, never really found his groove thanks to the mid-season position switch compounded with a nagging ankle that never seemed to heal. Fells gave it his all, but was never really cut out to be a true 2 guard. His ball handling and decision making were continuously shaky, leaving the Pack vulnerable to the full court press and pressure defense. Out is Fells, and in is Brown. Lorenzo is a 4 star recruit, categorized by most as a PG because of his ability to create and find his teammates in manner that makes it seem effortless. Brown can score when called on and has great touch on his midrange jumper, but the most anticipated aspect of his game is his ability to handle the ball and his high basketball IQ. Brown will also be looked to, at some point, to become the team's defensive stopper.
Before you go and crown Brown the starting SG, you might want to remember a certain combo guard that left a sweet after taste in the palates of Pack fans. Julius Mays poured in 18 points in only 24 minutes to close out the season against Maryland in the ACC Tournament loss. Mays is what coaches refer to as a "gamer." The kid wants to win and while he doesn't posses the build or the athleticism of most, he makes up for it with his heart and his brain. A combo guard out of high school, Mays stepped in occasionally to fill the point guard role, but we wouldn't be surprised to see Mays transfer over to the 2 as he shot 46% from the field, 45% from 3-land, and 85% from the free strip. Add the fact that he showed real promise as a scorer as he slashed and showcased his potent midrange game on numerous occasions, and you're working with the makings of a real threat. State will now have 4 guards, all capable, and with experience at the point guard position, a problem any coach would love to have. Look for Mays to garner a lot of attention and push the coaches to really increase his workload next season because of, not only his talent, but his natural leadership ability that started to shine through as a freshman.
Two years ago it was point guard, last year it was the 2 guard and in 09-10 it looks like the position of question will be the 3. There are many ways Sid can play this, but from the early going it looks as if you could see CJ Williams slotting in here, and State going with a smaller more guard oriented line-up. This is all speculation however, as we surely won't be sure how this works until the team comes together next season. Williams was a true surprise to most, as he was billed to be nothing more than a role player, 6th man type coming out of high school. Many may have forgotten that as a junior in high school CJ was a scoring machine, dropping 27 points on a nightly basis. It wasn't until a back injury at the end of that campaign hampered his summer production and he never fully regained his swagger as a senior. Lowe has shown the ability to get the aggressiveness out of CJ, something his high school coach admitted he struggled with. A leader by example, Williams was one of the emerging "leaders" Lowe mentioned in his post season press conference.
Another option at the 3 will be new comer Scott Wood. This 6'6 dead eye shooter could prove to be a real sleeper for Sid and the Pack. Coming off another stellar high school campaign for Marion, Wood will come in knowing how to win and knowing how to score. Scott can shoot the lights out from anywhere on the floor and has a scorer's release (quick and high). While he's most comfortable coming off screen and spotting up, he also can handle the rock. After a dismissal of the team point guard, Marion looked to Wood to run the show. Scott, without having any experience running the point, took Marion deep into the playoffs in a highly competitive Indiana high school circuit. With the loss of Courtney Fells and State not having a true 3 point specialist, Scott could come in a fill the role with ease if he can prove to show poise and enough quickness to check an opposing 3.
A third option, and this is depending on health, is red shirt sophomore Johnny Thomas. JT played minimal minutes this season, due to an on again, off again ailing knee. When Healthy Thomas plays hard, rough neck basketball. The guy does the little things that will get you on the floor. Oh, and did we mention the fact that JT is an uber athlete with hops that can bring put an arena into a frenzy when he gets into the open floor.
Brandon Costner is the obvious choice to start at the 4. Although, the question remains on whether Costner will even be around. Speculation that he will put his name in the draft or move on to Europe is rampant. While he had a bad second half to the year in 08-09 he was a our leading scorer with (13.3), second leading rebounder with (6.0), and second on our team in assists (2.4). Costner returning would mean a deep frontcourt and one last chance for BC to prove to the NBA that he can swing it in the big show.
If Costner doesn't return, you're looking at two guys, both that offer real positives, but both with questions as to how they'll perform over a long season. Dennis Horner put most questions to rest this past season when he went from averaging 15 minutes last year to 19 this year. He improved his FG% from 38% to 45%, 3pt% from 29% to 36%, FT% from 64% to 82%. He doubled his scoring average from 3.2 to 6.4. He also boasted the highest assist to turnover ratio on our team this year with a 2:1. Horner arguably played with more passion and hustle than anyone on the Wolfpack roster this past season and with a positive year to build on Horner may step in as a real pivotal player in 09-10. The only question with Dennis is his athletic ability and his rebounding. While he is always finding his man and boxing out, he just doesn't possess the hops or the length to battle in the paint with some of the ACC bigs.
The other option at the 4 is freshman Richard Howell out of Wheeler. Howell is an undersized post player with tenacity and intensity matched with fundamentals and talent, which my friend, is a deadly combination. Howell has the gift of athleticism and the basketball IQ that will allow him to make an immediate impact for the Wolfpack. He can bang you in the post with his wide shoulders and muscular build, or he can step outside and drip a 3 ball with ease with his silky stroke. Howell is going to be a key player in whether or not the Wolfpack can hang in paint with the rest of the ACC.
Tracy Smith is always being billed as undersized, but ask any ACC opponent that has checked Smith and "undersized" won't be the word that first comes to mind. Powerful, relentless, vicious are words that better describe Tracy. His post game took giant leaps this past season as he learned to use his pivot and his body to completely damage anyone who got in his way. His ability to finish strong and play above the rim proved to be a real difference maker in a number of games in 08-09. An off season of weight lifting and free throw shooting should do the trick in turning Tracy Smith into an All-ACC caliber big man. Just take a look at this: Smith doubled his playing time this year from 9 to 18 minutes per game. He also went from a measly 3.3 scoring average to juicing double digits at 10.0 per. He also boasted a gaudy 54% FG% that if he were able to maintain, would land him in the top 10 all time in shooting percentage at NC State.
The fact that I'm unable to name a back-up to Smith may prove to be the real problem next season. Lowe will and is, working hard to land a back-up big that can step in and give Tracy a breather, or give the Pack a little insurance if Smith were to fall into foul trouble.
Although there are a lot of questions to be answered, this Wolfpack team will be able to do a great deal of things that last years team were simply unable to do. High IQ, high character players who know how to win will step in and add a new attitude to the Pack. Sidney has and is bringing in basketball players, not system players and that will prove to work in his favor in 2009-2010.