Monday, February 23, 2009

Pack's future looking brighter

It’s easy to get so caught up in N.C. State’s late-season surge that you forget to look ahead to the future.

But the events of the last couple weeks, as the Wolfpack has won three of its last four ACC games, bode well for N.C. State (15-10, 5-7 ACC) beyond this season.

Early in the season, it appeared as though the losses of seniors Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells would be catastrophic. Junior Brandon Costner has yet to announce whether he will return for next season or return pro, so N.C. State might be losing three 1,000-point career scorers after the season.

The emergence of some younger players over the last few weeks has demonstrated that N.C. State could be competitive next season even without those three players.

Sophomore center Tracy Smith has averaged 14.5 points and 9.3 rebounds over the last four games and could be even more formidable as a scorer if he develops a mid-range game in the offseason.

Freshman C.J. Williams has scored 10, 11 and a team-high 16 points in the Wolfpack’s last three wins, cementing his status as a worthy heir to Fells’ starting shooting guard position.
Williams struggled on offense earlier in the season but has made himself a dangerous 3-point shooter.

“Playing at a new level, I had to adjust at the beginning of the year,” Williams said. “It’s a lot more difficult, a lot faster and a lot stronger. So now that I’ve adjusted to it, I’m able to help my team win.”

Junior forward Dennis Horner has averaged 12 points off the bench over the last three games. During one sequence that could have been a preview of what next season’s starting frontcourt could accomplish, Smith scored on three early-second half possessions, then made an inside-out pass to Horner for a 3-pointer against Virginia.

“I’m more confident in my shot,” Horner said. “Guys in the post are getting doubled teamed and kicking it out, and I’m knocking it down for them.”

Even if Costner doesn’t return, N.C. State now looks like it should have a dependable starting lineup in 2009-10. Smith, Williams and Horner appear ready to take on more prominent roles.

It would seem point guards Javi Gonzalez, Farnold Degand and Julius Mays, all of whom return for next season, can’t possibly get worse during the offseason.

A couple promising freshmen from Georgia – guard Lorenzo Brown and forward Richard Howell – are expected to provide immediate help. It’s starting to look like a rotation that could perhaps challenge for a .500 record in the ACC.

That’s a good sign for long-suffering N.C. State fans after the direction of the program seemed in doubt following this season’s slow start.

“Those guys are our future,” coach Sidney Lowe said of the recent emergence of Williams and Horner. “It’s good to see them being a big part of it now, and playing well and gaining that confidence now. So going into next year, they should feel good about themselves. Those two guys have been so important to us coming off the bench, and on both ends, offensively and defensively.

“They know where to be. They’re never in the wrong positions on defense. They know what we’re doing. And then obviously offensively, especially if they’re knocking down those shots, that’s really big for us. We don’t win these games if we don’t have those guys coming off there and giving us that productivity.” - Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

I love my wolfpack, but I really don't consider Horner to be that key of a player for us. For every great play he makes, he seemingly makes 5 terrible plays. He's just too undependable. He has made some awesome 3-pointers at key points, but he also commits huge turnovers at extremely inopportune times. I think Williams is going to be a huge asset to the team the next few years. I hope Costner makes the right decision to stay for his senior year. It will be nice to have some veteran leadership, and I don't think he's quite ready for the pros yet. Go Pack!

Anonymous said...

Keep drinking the Kool-Aid. Let's hope they all stay.

Anonymous said...

Costner turning pro? In basketball? Hope he speaks a second language because it won't be playing anywhere on this continent.