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PLAYER PREVIEW: PG Blake Harris says he’s prepared, but getting in ‘Keatts-shape” wasn’t easy

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Sophomore PG Blake Harris was very nearly a Wolfpacker coming out of high school. The 4-star prospect attended Raleigh’s ‘Word of God Academy’ and was heavily recruited by Kevin Keatts prior to the 2017-18 season.

While Harris was mulling over his decision, NC State landed a commitment Lavar Batts, another in-state PG that Keatts was after. That commitment gave NC State 3 PGs on their roster and pushed Harris to choose Missouri, where he had a more clear path to playing time.

However, after nearly half a season at Missouri, Harris decided he wanted out and announced his transfer.

As soon as the transfer news broke, we immediately reached out and was told that NC State was a definite possibility. If you remember, we ran a piece the next day hinting at this fact.

Harris has all the tools that Kevin Keatts looks for in a guard. He’s tall, he’s fast, he likes to get up and down, and he can defend multiple positions. He’s also a capable shooter, and while he didn’t show his shot much at Missouri, he has great form. On top of that, sitting out half of last season due to transfer rules put him in a position to really work on improving his shot, and his overall game.

“I’ve been in the gym a lot crafting my skills. Just really getting in the gym and trying to be the best player I can be.” Said Harris. “(Sitting out) was difficult because I wanted to play with my teammates. I was playing with them every day in practice and we were getting better but I couldn’t play in the game, so that was hard.”

Harris is a unique case since he transferred midway through his freshman season but is eligible to play immediately. After sitting out the 2nd half of last season, the NCAA granted him a waiver saying due to a family-related issue, his transfer closer to home wouldn’t require the full 1-year of sitting out. This was huge news for the Wolfpack, giving them good backcourt depth right out of the gate.

And while he may not have any ACC experience, it’s not like Harris didn’t get good burn during his time with the Tigers.

“Playing last year at Missouri, for a little bit, definitely helped. I played 14 games, so I know what college basketball is like. So when the season starts, I’ll be prepared.”

That experience will allow him to slot in right away, but with Markell Johnson locked into the starting role and Braxton Beverly already proven in Raleigh, just how much will we get to see Blake Harris?

Probably a good deal. Harris is very talented, has size and will push the returning guards for minutes, and Keatts isn’t rulin gout playing Johnson, Beverly and Harris at the same time. He hinted at that scenerio in his pre-season presser.

We asked Harris what that might look like…

“Just a fast pace. A bunch of guards trying to get at it. We all want to win, so if we’re all together on the court at the same time, it’s probably going to be a problem for the other team.” Harris told PI.

Going small is something Wolfpack fans should get used to. Last season Keatts system gave only a sample of what he plans to bring this season. With a full roster of guys who can play fast, he’s going to take full advantage. That means everyone needs to be in shape and ready to run.

“Being in Keatts-shape is different from being in normal-shape. He works us out a lot and makes us run a lot so it’s a whole different beast.” Harris said about the training he’s been going through.

Harris is one of three transfers who were sitting out last year, and one of 6 total that are eligable to play this season (3 are grad transfers). So, there are going to be a lot of new faces on this year’s Wolfpack team. Some might wonder if that will make it tough to get this group to mesh. Harris doesn’t think so.

“We all transferred in, we were the new kids. I transferred in last, so I was really the new kid, but being together in practice definitely gave us a better chemistry. Now everybody is close and trying to get to one thing.”

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PLAYER PREVIEW: Transfer Devon Daniels says his “offensive game has elevated a lot since Utah.”

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Over the course of our Basketball Player Previews, we’ve wrapped a player intro story around the interviews we did during media day. However, since we’ve already done an in-depth piece on Devon Daniels, and since these quotes are pretty good all by themselves, we’re just going to drop them right here for you.

On transitioning to Keatts system…
“That was perfect for me. At Utah I wasn’t really there to score. I was there to play hard, dive on the floor, get rebounds, play hard defense…and then I got to score. When he asks that of me, it’s perfect. I really like to win and compete.”

On his battles last year during practice with Al Freeman…
“Me and Al Freeman, we were perfect to go against each other because we are so competitive. I think it helped them a lot and it helped us grow. It was good.”

On where he fits with this team…
“Anything he asks me to do, I’m willing to do it. I trust him and I know he wants the best out of all of us. If he wants to put me anywhere on the court I’m ready, I’m willing.”

On the type of player he is…
“Shoot, I’m just a guard that likes to win. I’ll play defense, I’ll score. I think my offensive game has elevated a lot since I was at Utah.”

On what type of shape he’s in…
“Physically I’ve always been in pretty good shape. I’ve added about 5 pounds, my body fat is real, real low, at 1.9 or something like that. I’m really ready.”

On what he did when the team was on road trips last season…
“Made sure to stay in the gym. Just because they were gone it doesn’t mean we get a break. We just made an effort to get in the gym together.”

On what his sit-out transfer year was to him…
“It was more a learning opportunity. I got to see what made them go and at times what made them struggle. I took it as, like, film watching.”

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PLAYER PREVIEW: Eric Lockett is the guy nobody is talking about, but that may not be the case for long

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Grad-transfer Eric Lockett hasn’t been talked about much this offseason,

He decided to transfer back at the beginning of April two days after former head coach Anthony Evans was let go. He started 31 of 32 games last season, averaging 14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

Lockett began his career at George Mason, but suffered a season-ending injury in the 5th game. He then sat out a year transferring and spent the past two seasons at FIU.

Now at NC State, he steps into a program that has six quality guards (Markell, Beverly, Harris, Daniels, Lockett and Bryce) all looking to fill 3 spots. So what can Lockett bring to the table that will set him apart?

“Leadership first and foremost. Being able to show the guys how to work hard on a consistent basis. On the court, being aggressive and doing what I do well.”

If you look a little deeper, you can start to see a pattern with Kevin Keatts. Here we are again, this year the roster may be more talented, but there still isn’t a lot of veteran leadership. Like last year, Keatts has looked outside the program to bring in proven leaders. A year ago it was Al Freeman and Sam Hunt. This year it’s Wyatt Walker and Eric Lockett.

Lockett is also another player that his staff had targeted. This time it was a connection to Coach Siddle that started the process…

“Coach Siddle recruited me and throughout the whole process me and Coach Keatts talked a lot and built a relationship. I knew what he was looking for and what I wanted out of my next program and this is what I wanted.”

“(Coach Siddle) recruited me out of high school. That was a while ago but I kind of remembered him when he reached back out.”

The more we watch the decision Keatts makes and how he goes about building his roster, the more it’s apparent that this guy is organized, calculated and laser-focused on building his roster exactly the way he wants it.

Lockett is another 6’5 tweener. He’s another guy that is extremely physical and extremely aggressive. He’s athletic, he’s fast, and he has a great motor. He’s a Keatts-guy. He’s another Torin Dorn (albeit a little lighter) if you need a comparison.

This is why there’s no doubt that Lockett made the right choice coming to NC State. This is a sytem that fits his playing style, Keatts has shown he really liked versatile 6’5 guys who can guard multiple positions, and he’s proven he puts his grad transfers in a position to succeed. Lockett saw all of this too.

“(Seeing how the grad transfers were used and performed last year) definitely played a role in my decision. I felt I could come in and kind of do what they did. I’m a different player and will affect the program in a different way, but the opportunity that’s there, I like it.”

As far as transition goes, Lockett says it’s been easy and having a bunch of new guys on the team makes it easier to acclimate.

“It’s been fun. I’m enjoying playing with a new team. It’s not really difficult, it’s kind of easy because we have a bunch of new guys learning a new system, trying to do what Coach Keatts wants on the court.  It’s been pretty easy and I like the process.”

One source told us that Lockett isn’t just acclimating, he’s been a handful for the returning guards to deal with on the court. His physicality and ability to finish at the rim has surprised some who didn’t know much about him coming in.

So, when you’re trying to predict NC State’s rotation, make sure you don’t leave out Lockett. In fact, if you paid attention last year, you saw that it was guys like him who ended up playing big roles down the stretch for the Wolfpack.

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FLASHBACK to the most memorable Dunk Contest in ‘Primetime with the Pack’ history

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The year was 2009.  Sidney Lowe was in his 4th year with the Wolfpack and was coming off a 10th place, 16-14 (6-10) season. He was relying on a backcourt of Farnold Degand, Javi Gonzalez, Julius Mays and a freshman Scott Wood, to lead this Wolfpack ball club. In the frontcourt, they had some talent. Tracy Smith, Dennis Horner, and a young Richard Howell were asked to shoulder the load. They were supplemented by athletic wing Johnny Thomas and the huge Aussie Jordan Vandenberg.

Obviously, as expected, this team didn’t end up all that great. They finished with 20 wins but a 5-11 ACC record doomed them to 10th place.

That will be remembered for two things.

This 3/4 court heave by Chandler Parsons that won the game for a ranked Florida team…

And the ‘Primetime with the Pack’ dunk contest.

When your dunk contest participants are Farnold Degand, Johnny Thomas, walk-on Kaycee Obi-Gwacham and Jordan Vandenberg you aren’t going to be expecting much. But that night, Reynolds Coliseum was electric. It had an alley-oop from the 2nd deck, a decent ‘off the side of the backboard’ slam, and a 7’1 guy going between his legs for a dunk.

This might not be the best dunk contest in ‘Primetime with the Pack’ history, but considering it’s participants and the reaction from the crowd, I’d say it’s got to be the most memorable.

Do you agree?

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PLAYER PREVIEW: Ian Steere looks to bring physicality to the Wolfpack front court

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Ian Steere was probably the most hyped freshman in this year’s class thanks to the monstrous dunks that went viral amongst NC State fans.

However, just because you have a savage highlight reel, it doesn’t mean your skills are going to translate to ACC basketball right away. Ian Steere is finding that out in his early practices with the Pack.

“The pace of the game is much faster, especially the guards. And the bigs, you have to get out and switch, especially in the ACC, they can shoot and dribble. So, I need to move my feet and increase my lateral quickness. It’s been helping a lot.”

With grad senior Wyatt Walker and transfer DJ Funderburk on the roster and coming in with varying levels of experience, Steere isn’t going to be relied upon to shoulder the frontcourt load, he will, however, certainly have a role on this team.

Keatts explained in his preseason press conference that replacing Omer Yurtseven wouldn’t be easy but that he had a 3-headed monster that was up for the challenge Those 3 guys are all very different bigs that bring different skills to the table and are working well together so far this offseason.

“We’re gelling great. We get along on the court and each bringing a different piece to this team. Whatever Keatts needs, one of us can bring it on the court.”

So what does Steere think he’ll bring that is unique to the others?

“I’m trying to bring some physicality. I’m trying to get in there and dirty up the game a little bit. Get on the floor for loose balls, rebounds, whatever I can to help and my offensive will come around, I’m not worried about that.”

There is no question that Steere will succeed in bringing that physicality to the team. He’s built like a brick wall and plays very aggressively in the paint. This type of guy will always have a role on a basketball team, and as he gets more experience he’ll begin to add more pieces to his game. Steere talked about the areas he needs to improve…

“Adding a lot more post moves. Getting faster, being able to guard every position if I have to switch. Definitely moving my feet more and post moves (are what I’m working on the most.)”

The transition for Steere is like that of any freshman. It’s usually a little tough at the beginning, but by midseason, you start to see things click. In a Keatts-system, however, there’s an added wrinkle. Not only do you need to adjust to the speed of the college game, you need to completely change your workout habits and transform your body into a machine.

“(laughs) I”m in the best shape of my life, but I’m not in Keatts-shape yet, so I’m working on it. I’m getting there.”

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