With the basketball season set to kick-off this Thursday, we'll be taking the next few days to preview the current team and take a look at each position, it's strengths and it's weaknesses. Today, in our first installment, we'll be looking at the point guards.
Name: Javi Gonzalez
It may sound crazy, but there might not be a more experienced point man in the ACC. Javi Gonzalez went through baptism by fire during his freshman season when he was forced to fill the starting point guard role vacated by an injured Farnold Degand. Then last season, he again played a bigger role than expected, winning the majority of the minutes over freshman Julius Mays and an on-again, off-again injured Degand.
Last season had more highs than his freshman campaign, but still was marred by a high turnover total, something Sidney Lowe just won't stand for. "Playing for Coach Lowe, he expects his point guards to be perfect. No mistakes at all. I mean, he knows we are going to make a few here and there, but in practice and in games he wants us to be perfect." Javi said. Not surprising coming from a former point guard who holds the school record for assist-to-turnover ratio.
This season Javi is a year older and is looking to take the reigns as the opening day starter for the Pack. In order to prepare himself Gonzalez spent the off-season working hard on his areas of weakness. "All off-season I worked on getting stronger and creating off the dribble. The coaches wanted me to be able to attack more and keep the defense honest, so I've gotten a lot better at that." he said.
Late last season Gonzalez showed the Pack fans a glimpse of what may be in store for the '09-'10 season as he averaged over 11 points per contest over the final eight games. Javi gives the Wolfpack another viable option from beyond the three point line. Last season he connected on over 42% of his threes and was the go-to shooter down the stretch.
Gonzalez is now in his junior season and will be looked to for consistency at the point. The fiery son of a boxer has the heart, the quickness and the ability to be a solid option for Sidney Lowe, but will have to put it all together and cut down on the turnovers if the Pack wants to be successful with Javi at lead guard.
Name: Julius Mays
Mays is a competitor, there is no way around that. His refuse-to-lose attitude showed up on occasion over his freshman season, as he hit a game winner against Miami and poured in 18 points, 2 assists and zero turnovers against Maryland in the Pack's first round ACC tournament loss. Julius came to NC State knowing nothing besides winning. His Marion high school team went to the state championship game two seasons in a row and was the champion his junior season.
His first season, however, had it's share of ups and downs. Mays showed signs of becoming a beacon of consistency for the Pack backcourt, but freshman hiccups and an inability to defend quicker guards forced him to the bench down the stretch. This season Mays is quicker, stronger, and has a better grasp on his role with the Pack. "I worked a lot this off-season on getting quicker and stronger. I did a lot of agility drills and worked a lot in the gym. Coach Lowe wants us to able to push the ball this season, so I worked on conditioning a lot as well." Julius said.
While Gonzalez may be the quicker of the two, Mays is certainly more crafty. His ability to create space and score off the dribble, two things he excelled at last season, will be the things that Coach Lowe will need to see from Julius this year as the Pack will look for scoring wherever they can find it.
The key to Mays' success will be his ability to defend the smaller, quicker guards in the ACC, something he was not able to do consistently a season ago. Lowe and the Wolfpack have the personnel to match up man-to-man with most opponents, but penetration from opposing point guards haunted them a season ago, and will be key to their success again this year.
The success of the point guards will go a long way in dictating the outcome of this season. If the these two can stay consistent, take care of the basketball, and defend, the Wolfpack will surely be able to turn some heads. If neither Javi nor Julius step up, Lowe will have nowhere to turn and NC State may be in for a long season, however, the two guards have taken the off-season to make sure that doesn't happen.
Javi's weakness has been his size and his composure, but his age has to be taken into consideration. Gonzalez will be an upperclassman with two years of experience under his belt, and with an off-season of weight training, he just may be ready to come into his own.
Mays' was a fan favorite, however, his speed caused problems for the Pack last year. On numerous occasions, the only way Mays was able to get on the floor was if Lowe went to a zone. This season, Mays has proclaimed to be quicker and stronger, which if true, would be a gigantic boost to the Pack's point problems. Will to win, attitude and an eye to score will again be no problem for Mays, but his ability to adapt to a fast paced offense will be something that will need to be watched.
From all accounts, the biggest problems from last year were this off-season's top priorities. With a staff of former lead guards, there is certainly no lack of coaching advice, the question is, can Gonzalez and Mays blossom into the consistent team leaders that the Wolfpack is looking for.