Basketball season is officially here and NC State fans got an early preview during the "Red Rally at Reynolds.' The night started off with a women's basketball practice which gave many their first chance to meet the new Wolfpack women's coach Kellie Harper. The women's team ran through a series of drills before making way for the games. First was a 'hot shot' shootout where the players from the men's and women's teams teamed up with a fan. Dennis Horner and Julius Mays' team got hot and won the competition rather handily.
THE DUNK CONTEST
Next up was the dunk contest. If there were odds on this contest, they surely would have heavily favored the high rising redshirt sophomore, Johnny Thomas. Thomas, known for his freak athleticism, took on Kaycee Obi-gwacham, Farnold Degand, and Jordan Vandenberg in what didn't look like much competition on paper. That wasn't the case. Although Degand was very impressive, throwing down a pump reverse slam, it was Thomas and freshman Jordan Vandenberg who got the crowd on their feet. Vandenberg, a 7'0 freshman who was virtually unknown when he signed with the Pack last season, didn't garner a lot of off-season hype. Maybe it was because NC State hasn't had the best of luck with 7 footers in the past few years. Jordan, however, took the crowd by surprise when he placed fellow freshman, Scott Wood in the upper deck to assist on his first dunk of the night. Wood lofted a perfect bounce pass from the rafters which Vandenberg caught near the rim and threw down with authority ( and surprisingly, some athleticism). Definitely a nice novelty dunk that drew some attention, but probably not enough to take down Thomas. Johnny Thomas was up next and threw down a nasty windmill, getting straight 8's and 9s from the judges. Vandenberg countered with a off the side of the backboard alley oop. He took off from outside the lane and put it down hard, showing off some aggressiveness and some real athleticism. Thomas came back with an impressive gliding slam that get him to the final round, where he met Vandenberg.
The crowd was already buzzing about the Australian, who many viewed as a project player coming into the season, when he pulled out the dunk of the night. Vandenberg took off from the right, elevated, went between his legs with the ball and threw down a dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy. 10's across the board gave Jordan the victory, and gave NC State fans a very pleasant surprise.
There was something a little different about the Red/White game this year. There was a feeling on the court that this team was out to prove something. From the very get go, the competition was intense. Coaches shouting instruction from the sidelines, full court defense, and players getting on the floor for loose balls. The red team was comprised of Farnold Degand, Javi Gonzalez, Thomas Painter and Tracy Smith (Josh Davis was the sub). The white team came out with Julius Mays, CJ Williams, Scott Wood, Dennis Horner and Jordan Vandenberg. The tempo started fast and stayed fast throughout, and it really looked as if the players were starting to grasp the faster paced game. When the lanes were open and they had the numbers, the Pack attacked on the break, but when nothing was there, they attacked and then pulled back. It was obvious that they wanted to get out and run the way Degand, Mays and Gonzalez pushed the ball all night. Teams are going to need to be ready to get back on defense when they play the Wolfpack this season. Here is a breakdown of each player from the scrimmage:
Degand looked as healthy as he's ever looked. Last season he was deemed 'ready to play' but still had some visible struggles with his injured knee. Last night he was in attack mode and wow was he quick. For the most part he made good decision on the break and got the ball to the right person at the right time. He was also playing some good defense and knocked down an open three from the wing.
Poised and calm like always, Mays looked a little more confidence tonight than he did last season. He was pushing the ball and trying to make plays, and while his shot wasn't on this night, he showed a lot of the same positives he did last season toward the end of the year. He took care of the ball, ran the offense and went 100% to entire time.
There has been a huge difference in the Javi Gonzalez we saw at the beginning of last year to the Javi we saw at the end of last season and tonight in the scrimmage. He's stronger with the ball, attacking the rim and looking to shoot off the dribble when he can free himself. Javi saw a few open shots and knocked them down. It seems as if it will be he and Degand fighting for that lead guard spot all season (although Degand seemed to play a lot of the '2' tonight)
CJ is going to have to score this season for the Pack to be successful and he knows that. Williams, sporting what he calls a "fro-hawk" and a bulked up body did not disappoint. He played hard every minute he was on the court, constantly looking for his shot. He knocked down a few short jumpers in traffic and definitely will be a go-to guy for the Pack this year.
Definitely one of my favorites out there last night, Wood was everywhere. He played with a confidence I haven't seen from a freshman since Julius Hodge stepped foot on campus years ago. Wood was always hustling and actually was very impressive on defense, staying in front of his man and providing help side defense when he was supposed to. On offense, you can tell, he just gets it. He knows where the ball is supposed to be and what is a good shot. For Scott, any time he's open it's a good shot. He showed off a very pretty, very soft shot that is Steph Curry-esque in terms of quick release. He also showed that he isn't scared of the big boys as he challenge Johnny Thomas one on one, on the break. Wood threw is body into Thomas for the layup attempt, and although he was blocked, he picked up the foul and the respect of all in attendance.
"Josh Davis is going to be hard to keep off the floor this season" said Sidney Lowe in his press conference on Friday, and you could see why in the scrimmage. Davis never stops moving. He is definitely a defenders nightmare the way he is constantly cutting and screening. He is also a battler on the boards. He stands at 6'6 but rebounds like he's 6'8. The guy obviously cherishes the fact that he's wearing the red and white and is going to give you everything he's got, every time he steps on the floor. His defense is textbook and he even showed the fans a little of his offensive game when he caught a swing pass, drove baseline and finished over all the bigs with a little tear drop. Davis is that energy guy, or that glue guy that the team will look too when in a funk. Davis looks like he'll be seeing a lot of 6th man time this year if he keeps this up.
For us, Painter was one of the more impressive guys out there in terms of upside. Now, he didn't shine in a way that makes you think that he'll be a star from day one, but at some point Painter is going to be a key piece to this Wolfpack team. With very long arms and some very quick springs, Painter is a real scrapper in the paint. If there's a rebound up for grabs, he's going to do whatever he can to bring it down. He also is a match up nightmare. At 6'9, Painter was banging in the post for position, and a lot of the time he got it. What makes him so dangerous though is his ability to swing out to the wing an attack. When he brings a 6'9 guy to the perimeter, they're toast. Painters' got a great first step for a big and very accurate jumper that looks very smooth. Don't be surprised if Painter becomes a real force once he gets acclimated to the ACC.
The Pack fans finally got to see a healthy Johnny Thomas, and it was a sight for sore eyes. Thomas was aggressive as usual and looking to score. The staff were careful with him and gave him some him a lot of rest, but he looked good overall. He was hustling, locking down on defense and attacking the boards. Thomas showed off the jumpshot he's been talking about as he knocked down two long 2's. If he can stay healthy, Thomas will be a key part of this team.
Dennis has definitely added some weight this season, something that will do him good now that he's strictly a 4. Horner was going up against Painter a lot of the night and looked like the veteran that he is. He, for the most part, made the right plays at the right times throughout the game. While his three ball wasn't falling tonight, you can see how big of a mismatch he'll cause with big, lumbering forwards who can't guard the perimeter, as it seems he hasn't lost any quickness with the added muscle. All night, Dennis mixed it up in the paint showing the fans that he's not afraid to throw his body around. He has definitely bought into the fact that he is 4 now and will be looked to for rebounding.
We won't lie. We were literally shocked with Vandenberg. We've heard that he's better than advertised but really? While Vandenberg still has some work to do, this kid has the skills to get paid at the next level if he can harness his skills. Any time a 7 footer goes through his legs for a dunk, I think you should take notice. The dunk contest gave the fans a taste of what Vandenberg can bring to the table. He is no project player, that's for sure. While he has a ton of potential, he showed in the scrimmage that there is still work to be done. He's obviously not used to the contact and the physicality of the ACC game on offense, but on defense Jordan is a terror. He altered shots, blocked a shot and came down with a bunch of boards. He showed that he loves to crash the offensive glass. His jumpshot was also pretty impressive. He has a soft touch and an accurate hook shot, that just wouldn't go down tonight.
Smith was as advertised. Big, strong and talented. This season he looks like he's in tip-top shape and that he has been working on his post game. Upon receiving his first entry pass, Smith (back to the basket) faked left, spun right and hit an acrobatic reverse layup. When Smith received the ball on the blocks, he had on goal. Punishment. He just backs himself in and goes up for the slam in aggressive fashion. It is nice to know you have a guy that really invites contact in the paint and can finish with the best of them. Smith is projected to have a breakout season and tonight he showed that the hype is certainly warranted.
Overall the 'Red Rally' was a success and there was a pretty decent turnout. The excitement around the basketball program is growing and a lot of people are starting to take notice. Tonight there were some big-time recruits in the house. 2010 commit, Luke Cothron was sitting court side and seemed to be having a great time. Down one section was another 2010 prospect Tashawn Mabry who has been in contact with NC State and maybe in the plans if the Pack misses on CJ Leslie. 2011 prospect Dezmine Wells was also in the house along with 2013 phenom, Rodney Purvis. We'll have more on the impact of this event later, along with some updates on how the recruits enjoyed themselves.
Stay tuned for video and more Red Rally coverage later on in the day...