There’s an old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” For NC State’s coaches, these times are indeed interesting, and those coaches are not just the ones who lead the basketball program.
Yesterday’s word of heralded recruit C.J. Leslie’s re-commitment to play hoops for NC State and head coach Sidney Lowe will have an effect further than the long-sleeping Wolfpack program. It also will have an affect on football and head coach Tom O’Brien as well. Finally, Leslie’s commitment for NC State might mean something different for Coach Lowe than one might believe. Consider:
While Tom O’Brien and his football program currently enjoy widespread support, there are also the first murmurings of discontent starting to echo where Wolfpack fans gather. O’Brien has yet to have a winning season on the Wolfpack sideline, and for some that’s not good enough. O’Brien has been rebuilding a depleted team with depth and skill in many key areas, this season could well be a turning point for him one way or the other in terms of fan opinions.
The game-changer, however, is that with Leslie and the rest of the heralded incoming class of freshman coming into the basketball program. It will be understandable if all eyes turn towards the RBC Center and hoops more quickly than it has in almost any season in recent memory. That in turn will ease the pressure on O’Brien, especially if the program has a mediocre record — something that may well come to pass given the difficult 2010 schedule.
For Sidney Lowe, Leslie’s commitment actually will not lessen the pressure on him to bring a winner to the court. In fact, it will only increase it, because now, Lowe will have the players he needs to compete and to win. No excuses, no what-ifs, no blaming his players when times get hard. That will not work this year, and for Lowe, the time has come: now or never. If the Wolfpack has a bad year on the court next season, the hue and cry from the fanbase will resemble something like a banshee scream and Lowe’s seat won’t simply be hot, it will be in flames. That said, State has to win in 2010-11 if Lowe wants to stay in Raleigh.
On the other hand, if Lowe and company leads the Wolfpack to something meaningful — meaningful being an ACC Title or Final Four or better, that will cement him as the long-term coach of Wolfpack hoops, and satisfy the long-hungry Wolfpack fanbase. If that happens, it will also set a standard of expectations that Lowe will need to meet on a somewhat regular basis. While reasonable NC State fans don’t expect a national title every season, and while they also understand full-well the competition the program faces from not only the Royal Blues but also from the rest of the traditional ACC members, it collectively also believes that it can and should compete regularly in the upper third of the conference — and also be regular entrant into the NCAA Tournament field. If Lowe can accomplish that — and he will have the tools starting this fall — he will become one of the beloved legends of the university and will enjoy the collective support of ardent fans for as long as he wants to lead the program.
One other person that may feel the benefit of Leslie’s commitment is Lee Fowler. State fans suddenly have hope again, and when there’s hope, there’s generally a lack of finger-pointing for past failures. Fowler has been the focal point for the overall failings of Wolfpack athletics of the past decade, and even though CJ Leslie has yet to play a single game in a Wolfpack uniform, Fowler can (and almost certainly will) point to him and to the other signees as a ratification of his leadership, wisdom and patience as the CEO of Wolfpack athletics. While many knowledgeable Wolfpackers may not buy that and think that it smells worse than a two-cent cigar, others –especially those who never read a Wolfpack-oriented message board or blog — may well believe it and in turn they just might drop the pitchforks they have pointed in Fowler’s direction…for a while anyway. Given that Lee Fowler is biding his time and happily collecting his paychecks at his Lake Gaston hideaway, that’s just fine. For him, time is money, and it’s plain that money is what Fowler loves above all else.
At the end of the day today, it’s indeed fair to say that we are living in interesting times. What it means for some may not be readily apparent, but what is obvious to everyone is that CJ Leslie’s coming to NC State will make a splash not seen in quite some time. The ripples of that splash will extend far beyond the confines of the basketball program, and it will mean different things to different people. How it all plays out this fall and winter will be nothing short of intriguing. Stay tuned.