10/18/01 Flashback: NC State Starting Fresh

From Raleigh’s News & Observer

N.C. State starting fresh
‘Heralded recruiting class’ gives Wolfpack basketball team a boost
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2001 5:36 a.m. EDT

RALEIGH — N.C. State’s Archie Miller knows what many are saying around the ACC as a new basketball season beckons.

He knows many wonder how the Wolfpack can win this season with so many freshmen playing. With a lack of proven rebounders and post defenders. With what could be speculation about Herb Sendek’s job security as coach should State struggle and stumble.

Miller also has a reply for all the naysayers.

“We had a lot of seniors last year and were 13-16,” the senior guard said Wednesday at the Pack’s media day. “So when you look at that, bringing in five freshmen, with what they can bring to our team, in all reality we could be a way better team than we were last year.”

But it’s five freshmen …

“There’s an eagerness to learn in this group,” Miller said. “A willingness to work, a togetherness.”

But freshmen, in the cauldron that is ACC basketball …

“You can look at it any way you want,” Miller said firmly. “We had a lot of seniors who left and it’s a big void, but the reality is we were 13-16 and we didn’t play to our full capability.

“This year will be different, and we will need to be patient with the young guys. But by ACC time, these guys will hitting their stride.”

Julius Hodge, the 6-foot-6 wing from the Bronx, is the one freshman so many State fans will be watching, expecting big things. Two years ago, it was Damien Wilkins. Now, it’s Hodge.

Both were flashy recruits generally ranked in the top five by the recruiting analysts. And Sendek praised Hodge on Wednesday much as he did Wilkins.

“He is one of those magical people that every once in a while you’re blessed to be around,” Sendek said of Hodge. “He has an aura and engaging nature that makes you want to be on his team. He’s a fierce competitor.”

And Hodge, in turn, has said all the right things since signing at NCSU and said many of them again Wednesday at Reynolds Coliseum.

“I came to N.C. State to get a four-year degree and to win a national championship,” he said.

No mention of the NBA. No talk about being a two-year-and-out player, about his eyes already being focused on the NBA millions.

Hodge was talking about a diploma for his wall and a new NCAA banner to hang in the rafters.

Wilkins also said many of the same things, but there’s a difference, Miller said.

“Damien’s a great guy who had a lot of hype, but a lot of the hype came from his family name,” he said. “Julius is coming in solely on his game.

“A lot of kids have hype and don’t handle it well. I think he will because of where he came from. He’s the real deal.”

Wilkins, of course, is a done deal at NCSU. After last season, he toyed with the idea of turning pro, changed his mind and then was told by Sendek that he would not be allowed to return to the program.

And Hodge comes to NCSU with more help — Josh Powell, Levi Watkins, Jordan Collins and Ilian Evtimov. It’s a freshman group that played summer-league ball together, that at times kept Reynolds Coliseum open late at night.

“We’d come in at 11 o’clock some nights and start playing,” Hodge said, smiling.

Play time sometimes ended after 1 a.m., with the Reynolds custodian basically handing the keys to the players.

“If I was in here by myself, I’d just turn out the lights,” Hodge said.

There were days, Hodge said, when he’d get in 1,000 shots. Nor was he the only one doing that much work.

“This class is not ‘Julius Hodge-slash-someone else,’ ” Miller said. “It’s five guys with a heck-of-a talent level and with versatility. It’s not a ‘Julius Hodge class.’

“Levi is a heck of a player. Josh Powell will bring a lot to this team. Jordan is very versatile for a big guy and Ilian, you can’t say enough about him; he’s very skilled.”

The Wolfpack, as has been well-chronicled, has not made it to the NCAA Tournament since 1991. Many believed last year’s team might end that frustrating drought, but it didn’t happen. Many probably now believe the Pack could still be a year or two away, given the influx of newcomers.

“We made steady progress for four years and some good things happened to N.C. State basketball,” Sendek said. “We know we didn’t meet our expectations last year, [but] we were able to bounce right back with a heralded recruiting class.

“I don’t know that the N.C. State basketball program has been in this good a shape in a long time. I’ve never been more sure about our ability to be successful at N.C. State.”

With some early wins this year and increased confidence going into ACC play, he said, anything could happen. Even an NCAA berth.

“That certainly can be a realistic goal for us,” he said.

Flashback General NCS Basketball

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