RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State’s delayed trip to Italy will offer coach Kevin Keatts the first chance to see how much his new team has learned.
The team departs Wednesday for a three-game, 11-day tour that was originally scheduled for last August before being postponed due to a terrorism travel alert from the U.S. State Department.
In the 12 months since, Keatts has taken over the program for fired coach Mark Gottfried and there’s a half-dozen new faces on the Wolfpack’s roster. And the former UNC Wilmington coach sounds ready to experiment.
“I couldn’t tell you what type of lineups we’re going to play, I couldn’t tell you how many guys are going to play,” Keatts said Tuesday. “I wouldn’t worry about that, I wouldn’t panic about it. This trip is for our season. … It’s so I can see as a coach and get back and kind of figure out where we need to go and what combinations play well together.”
Sophomore Omer Yurtseven is playing for the Turkish National Team this summer and won’t be with the team. The rest of the roster will be available with six new faces, including graduate transfers Al Freeman (Baylor) and Sam Hunt (North Carolina A&T) along with freshman Lavar Batts Jr.
N.C. State will also have freshman guard Braxton Beverly, who signed last week after getting his release from Ohio State. But the school’s compliance staff is working to determine whether Beverly will be cleared to play this fall.
Keatts also added transfers Devon Daniels (Utah) and C.J. Bryce (UNC Wilmington), who must sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules but can play in Italy.
Hired in March, Keatts immediately emphasized conditioning for his up-tempo offense and a version of the fullcourt press from his time as an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville — an approach that helped him lead the Seahawks to the past two NCAA Tournaments.
He also pushed to bring a competitive edge in every offseason workout, including so much running that fifth-year senior Lennard Freeman called Keatts his “first track-basketball coach.”
“Just everything comes down to winning,” junior Torin Dorn said. “With losing comes consequences. If we lose something in practice, we lose a drill, you’re running. And if you look tired you’re running. It’s a mentality.”
N.C. State is allowed to hold 10 team practices ahead of the trip, the last set for Wednesday morning.
“It’s weird because in eight practices you would think that obviously you get a lot of stuff in,” Keatts said. “But when you go back, you get to thinking late at night — as I was at 4 in the morning — what else can I put in? Are we prepared to play?
“And then you have to say, ‘Just put a little bit of stuff in and be good at what you have in right now.’ And that’s what we’re doing.”
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap