RALEIGH, N.C. — New North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts didn’t take long to figure out the Wolfpack needed more depth and experience ahead of his first season.
He’s ready to lean on a pair of graduate transfers for help.
As N.C. State opens practice Friday, Baylor graduate transfer Allerik Freeman and North Carolina A&T graduate transfer Sam Hunt are positioned for leadership roles on a team featuring a half-dozen new faces and only a handful of returnees from last year’s regular rotation.
Keatts, who spent the past three seasons as head coach at UNC Wilmington, said in the spring he wanted to add players who were the right fit instead of taking on players just to add numbers. He said Tuesday that Freeman and Hunt both fit that description.
“We needed help . and we needed some guards to be able to come in and play,” Keatts said during the team’s preseason media day. “And certainly as you guys know, we play in the best conference in college basketball. So if you can stay older, then it certainly bodes well for you.”
Keatts took over in March and quickly emphasized conditioning for his up-tempo offense and fullcourt pressure for a team that lost its top three scorers. And there are only four players — senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, junior guard Torin Dorn, sophomore forward Omer Yurtseven and sophomore guard Markell Johnson — back from the Wolfpack’s main rotation under former coach Mark Gottfried last year.
N.C. State also returns fifth-year senior Lennard Freeman, who sat out last year while recovering from leg surgery.
Freeman and Hunt, both 22 years old, combined for 111 starts over the past two seasons at Baylor and North Carolina A&T. And Freeman has the experience of playing for a Bears team that reached No. 1 nationally midway through last season.
“The way we’re going to play, you have to be in great shape,” Freeman said. “You’re not just going to play offense. You’re not going to play halfcourt defense, sitting back, heels on the (3-point line). We’re pressing, we’re getting up and down, we’re playing fast on the offensive end, we’re getting up shots and selling out on the defensive end. So to do that and do it successfully you have to be in good shape.”
It’s unclear exactly what type of offensive role the two will take on this season, though both appear to fit Keatts’ desire for shooters. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Freeman averaged 9.7 points and shot nearly 39 percent from 3-point range last season, while the 6-2, 185-pound Hunt averaged a team-high 12.7 points while hitting a team-high 74 3s.
“We have a lot of talented guys, young guys too,” Hunt said. “But me and Al have kind of been battle-tested, I would say. We’ve played in a lot of games. Even though it’s a new system, we kind of know how college games work, how it’s going to be played. But like I said, we’re here to help the young guys and help the coaches.”
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