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Brandon Costner, CJ Williams Finding Success in LA

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The Los Angeles Lakers are terrible. Starting the season with a lineup that was already wrecked by injury, the team struggled and progressively got worse.

But the Lakers aren’t the only team in L.A. that started off slowly. The L.A. D-Fenders, the Lakers’ D-League affiliate team, started this season 5-7, only a year after making it to the NBADL championship.

Brandon Costner and C.J. Williams play for the D-Fenders, and both say that the team’s slow start can be attributed to unfamiliarity with their offensive system.

“We run the Lakers’ system, which runs five guys out [on the perimeter] and uses a lot of ball screens,” Williams said. “But it was just a learning experience for a lot of us, getting accustomed to this league and learning to play to the system.”

The hard part, Costner said, was finding cohesiveness as a team. As the season went on, the D-Fenders lost multiple players to signings by either the NBA or foreign leagues.

But, fortunately, the team battled through. The D-Fenders are currently one game back in the Pacific Division, going 15-8 since the start of 2014. And according to Costner, it was because his team became well-focused.

“I think the season has gone well,” Costner said. “With all the guys leaving, to be on such short notice when it comes to getting guys in [the rotation] and acclimated to the system, we have come together to play well as a team.”

Costner said that the changes in the locker room created a next man up mentality that allowed guys, including the two former Wolfpack members, to flourish.

For example, Williams started the season on the bench, averaging roughly 20 minutes a game. But around Jan. 18, he saw his minutes rise. After ten straight 30- and 40-minute games with double-digit scoring in eight of them, Williams became a key component in the team’s rise in the rankings.

“At the beginning of the season, I had to find my comfort level,” Williams said. “I wasn’t getting into the game often. But once coach gave me the opportunity to get into the starting lineup and get 30 and 40 minutes a game, I have been able to take advantage of it.”

Costner found his comfort level as well. Though he is scoring a career-low 13 points a game, he has become very effective of late, averaging 16.4 points in the month of February.

Costner says this is a product of his improving health. Last season, Costner broke his shinbone. After mission all of 2012-13, Costner said that the process has been a slow and painful one.

“Initially, I had to adapt to the flow of things,” Costner said. “It is hard to just jump right in after missing a whole year.

“But as my leg has gotten stronger, I have gotten more confident, and I feel like I am pretty much back to normal.”

Currently, neither Williams nor Costner has heard anything from NBA teams about a call up. And with March 1 being the deadline for players to sign contracts and remain postseason eligible, it appears that both guys will finish the season as D-Fenders.

Costner and Williams said that all they are focused on right now is helping the team reach the playoffs and winning an NBADL championship. They can deal with business portions of basketball after the season is over.

“One thing that all my coaches have told me to control what I control,” Williams said. “And all I can do right now is continue to play hard and well here.”

Pack in the Pros

Justin Gainey Named Associate Head Coach at Marquette

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Former NC State Point Guard Justin Gainey (1997-00) has been hired by Marquette as their Associate Head Coach, serving along head coach Steve Wojciechowski, the former Duke point guard.

“We are excited to welcome Justin and the Gainey family back to Marquette,” Wojciechowski said.  “Justin is one of the nation’s top rising coaches and his talents, ability to build meaningful relationships and myriad of experiences alongside some of the game’s best teachers will serve our program, and most importantly our players, incredibly well.” (Link)

This isn’t Gainey’s first stint at Marquette, serving as Director of Operations from 2014-17. The past two seasons, Gainey served as an Assistant Coach with Sean Miller at Arizona. Prior to that, he served as an Assistant Coach at Santa Clara for one season with his former head coach at NC State, Herb Sendek.

Gainey’s coaching career began at NC State, where he served as Director of Operations for three seasons (2006-09), and then he went on to work at Appalachian State and Elon as well.

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Dennis Smith Jr. Showing Love to Fayetteville in the Midst of Covid-19

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Former NC State Freshman of the Year Dennis Smith Jr. never forgets where he came from. The New York Knicks Point Guard is always showing love for Fayetteville, North Carolina.

According to Ian Begley, DSJ is providing food vouchers for 575 first responders at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, and 32 computers for local students in Fayetteville.

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Andrew Knizner Enters 2020 as the #6 Prospect in the Cardinals Organization

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Former NC State Catcher Andrew Knizner enters the 2020 season ranked as the #6 prospect in the Cardinals organization.

Knizner was drafted in the 7th round by St. Louis in 2016, and was called up for the 1st time to the Big Leagues last year, when Yadier Molina was placed on the disabled list.

The jump wasn’t an easy one, with Knizner hitting .226 in 18 games.

Despite some time in the Majors at the end of last season, Knizner will begin 2020 in Triple-A Memphis, where he has already played 83 games, hitting .283.

Cardinals legend Molina is back to full strength, and backup Matt Wieters was signed to a 1-year deal, meaning it’s not quite time for Knizner.

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Will Wilson Enters 2020 as the #10 Prospect in the Giants Organization

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Former NC State All-American Shortstop Will Wilson will is entering the 2020 baseball season ranked as the #10 prospect in the San Francisco Giants organization.

After being drafted by the Angels with the 15th overall pick in the MLB Draft last year, Wilson hit .275 in 46 games of Rookie ball with the Orem Owlz.

In December, the Angels traded him to the Giants.

In his final season at NC State, Wilson led the team with a .335 batting average, 20 doubles, 16 home runs and a .661 slugging percentage, and finished eighth all-time in career doubles (57) and homers (39), and ninth in total bases (409).

Wilson is the 3rd highest draft pick in NC State history, and only the 2nd batter to be drafted in the 1st round, alongside another shortstop who is currently in the league as well: Trea Turner.

According to MLB.com, Wilson is expected to make it to the Majors in 2022.

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