NC State made news on Monday when they let go two assistants from the men’s basketball program. Mike Summey and Roy Roberson were notified late last week that their time with the Wolfpack was over. This leaves 2 spots open that Kevin Keatts needs to fill.
Summey and Roberson aren’t being let go because they are to blame for NC State’s problems this past season. Sure we can give them a little blame, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with the head coach. But face it, Keatts isn’t going to be let go.
The reality is that Kevin Keatts has a contract in place until the 2026 season, and Joe Giglio recently reported that the NCAA closing their investigation into NC State triggers the option for Keatts to add on 2 years to that deal. So, it’s likely that Keatts (if he already hasn’t) will sign on until 2028. That means Kevin Keatts could be under contract with NC State for 5 more years. And let’s not beat around the bush, there is a significant sect of this fanbase that thinks this past year was already one too many. However, with the NCAA investigation over, the rest of the fanbase believes he deserves a clean slate.
Now, I don’t care where you fall on this issue. I’m not here to convince you one way or the other. What I can say is that Keatts isn’t getting fired anytime soon for a multitude of reasons. Dealing with COVID over the past 2 years has put a strain on the athletics budget. Attendance is WAY down, entertainment spend is much lower, and donors aren’t as frivolous with their money as they were pre-pandemic. If you fire Keatts, you pay his buyout, which is $1.1 million per year (according to ESPN) until 2028. With that and the cost of any new coach of worth, you’re breaking the bank. NC State can’t and won’t do that at this point.
So where do we go from here?
Well, what I’m here to do is to be as real and as transparent as possible about the problems Keatts faces moving forward. I want to examine what needs to be addressed, and provide what I believe is a solution that can heal multiple wounds and patch multiple holes in the organization at the same time. I’m not here to blame anyone, nor am I here to carry water for Keatts. That would be a waste of my time. It’s time now to look at problems and find solutions.
The first way to fix any problem is to admit the problem is real and target its source. Like it or not, Keatts does have REAL problems right now and they’re not just on the court. If he’s going to be successful at NC State he needs to solve the off-the-court ones first. Some of the problems are with recruiting, some are with relationships between the program and a sect of the fan base, and some are with relationships between the program and a sect of former players.
Let’s take a deeper dive into these off-the-court issues…
1. The recruiting issue
Sure, some of this has to do with the NCAA allegations hanging over the program, but not all of it. Most of Keatts’ success came early on from transfers. He landed CJ Bryce, Funderburk, Beverly right off the bat. These were guys he had prior relationships with and when he got the job at NC State, they tagged along. This group would become the foundation for some of his early success. He also targeted some really high-end transfer talent in Al Freeman and Devon Daniels who would become two of his better go-to scorers over his first 5 seasons.
The landscape, however, is no longer the same. There is much more competition for transfers now that the rules have changed and more coaches are willing to build using more mature players from other rosters. Last year he did decent but not great, bringing in Casey Morsell from Virginia and Greg Gantt from Providence, but relying on transfers year in and year out is only going to get harder. There needs to be a solid recruiting pipeline in place both for freshmen and for transfers.
To Keatts credit, he has done a pretty good job of finding high school talent before it explodes. Manny Bates, Terquavion Smith, Dereon Seabron are just a few of the guys he nabbed before every other coach in America were on them. But at the same time, he’s had three 5 star recruits commit and then never make it to campus (Lecque, Hall, and now Dillingham) and next year’s class of LJ Thomas and Shawn Phillips isn’t going to move the needle in a year where he desperately needs some incoming help.
Where NC State is falling short is their ability to go toe to toe with major programs and win recruiting battles. Again, some of this might change with the sanctions off the table, but how much? What is the pitch and who can authentically make that pitch? Who can steer a recruit away from Kentucky or Texas and to NC State? Who can tell a superstar HS recruit to forgo the obvious exposure they’d receive at a trending school and convince them to come and save an ACC sleeping giant?
2. The fracturing fanbase
Every coach wants to do things their way, and almost every fan base should initially sit down, shut up, and let them do that. But after a certain period of time, if what that coach is doing isn’t equating to success, then the fan base has every right to start asking questions.
Keatts has been here 5 years now and he’s only finished better than 8th in the ACC in 2 of those seasons. Outside of his first season, where they finished tied for 3rd in the ACC, there hasn’t really been a standout season and State hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since then. This was supposed to be the year Keatts finally had his guys in there and finally showed what he could do. But in the first minute of the first game, his star center went down. Then his starting PG struggled to the point that he was unplayable. And it cascaded from there, ending in a dismal last-place finish. Yes, some of it was bad luck, but some of it wasn’t being prepared for a worst-case scenario.
This has led the fanbase to begin to question Keatts. And obviously, Keatts isn’t going to like that, but you have to imagine he understands where it’s coming from. This is a cut-throat business and at the end of the day, winning matters. He knew of the possible NCAA investigation coming in. He knew how passionate this fanbase was. And he knew bringing NC State back to its former glory was no easy task. But he took the job anyway.
Now, things haven’t quite worked out the way he wanted. Instead of NC State fans feeling like the Pack is making its way closer to becoming an ACC contender, they feel like they are falling into an even deeper hole.
The fanbase is wondering if Keatts really gets it. They wonder if he understands what it takes to win here, and I know that no coach wants to hear that from fans. Fans don’t know what it’s like to be in the trenches. Fans don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. But to be fair, this is a fanbase that has stuck by passionately and loyally to a team that was once a national name and now is, to many younger players, a nobody. This is a fanbase that has seen coaches come and go. They’ve seen coaches try every different method out there, but nothing has worked. This fanbase isn’t a bunch of laymen. You could argue that they are experts in understanding the condition here at NC State and experts in what works and what doesn’t. They’ve been involved in this ‘study’ for almost 4o years now.
For Keatts to win at NC State (long term), he needs to win back the fanbase. For him to do that, he’ll need to understand what these fans really want. Unlike most fanbases, the answer isn’t simply “To win.” If you think winning cures all ills, you’re a short-term thinker. Yes, you have to win to stay above water, but no one wins forever. So the relationship you build with your fans is your lifeboat when things take the inevitable dip for a year or two, and at NC State the importance of this relationship is magnified.
Keatts has only been here 5 years, so he’s still in the ‘building’ phase of that relationship. Early on it was going great, but lately, it’s hit a rough patch. Unfortunately, Keatts doesn’t have enough goodwill or on-court proof built up this early in his career to keep the base together during these times.
Now he has a choice. Wall off the fans, ignore them, and keep doing his thing, hoping he turns things around. Or embrace them, show them you hear them, show them you don’t want to railroad what was here to build your own empire, but instead take what was here, renovate it and resurrect it for them.
That doesn’t seem too different to an outsider, but it’s night and day to the diehard fans and the donors. Winning is a band-aid that works really well until it stops sticking and falls off. Then it exposes wounds that have never healed. To truly win at NC State you need to tend the wound AND put a band-aid over it for good measure. That’s what is under the covers when you hear them say “The NC State job is the toughest job in the nation.”
So you’re wondering, how does Keatts do that?
It’s actually easy in theory, but complicated in practice. The fans want to hear Keatts take ownership (and at times he has), they want to hear them talk about the plan he’s got moving forward, and most importantly they want to see him embrace the thing that has kept them, the fans, hanging on to NC State for so long…the family history.
This fanbase is the most loyal fanbase in the nation. Period. You might want to argue that by the way they are always rising up and demanding new coaches when they don’t find success (which has been extremely frequent these days), but you’d be ignoring the fact that despite almost 40 years of losing, they never stopped caring. They never got apathetic. They never shut up and tuned out. This fanbase is loyal TO THEIR PROGRAM and they want a coach who understands that, respects that, and honors that.
This brings us to the final problem…
3. Bringing former players + school history into the fold
If you have Twitter then surely you’ve seen that there are a few former players who have been vocal about the way the program has changed. What used to be an open-door policy isn’t so open these days. Access to the practice facilities isn’t as wide open as they were under former coaches among other things. Some of these players have reached out to us, and the reason we haven’t written an article about yet it is that while we understand their issue, we see it from both sides.
Sidney Lowe and Mark Gottfried had true open-door policies. They allowed former players a lot of access, but at the same time, both of those coaches ended up crashing and burning and having locker room issues. Meanwhile, Kevin Keatts came in and did things differently. Do you blame him? He wanted to create a culture at NC State and while it’s a buzz-phrase thrown around quite a bit, “changing a culture” is one of the hardest things in the world to do with a group of humans.
To successfully change a culture you must have immense trust, loyalty, and love that is all tangible and authentic between the leaders and ones being led. At the same time, you need to limit outside voices and influences that could seep in and poison the well. We don’t believe Keatts was stepping on history or shunning former players by limiting access. We believe he was truly trying to guard his program. You may have other opinions or read the situation differently and that is fine.
But no matter what you or I believe, perception is reality, and when a fanbase hears this from former players, it creates a divide. And whether you like it or not, that divide is influencing people’s perception of the current staff in a negative way. And the larger that divide becomes, the more pressure the administration feels the need the react.
So we are at a crossroads here.
You can write off those fans who have turned on Keatts and call them the “lunatic fringe” as former AD Lee Fowler did. But then you’d be ignoring the part of history where Lee Fowler was quickly run out of town after that because it wasn’t a lunatic fringe. It was the most passionate, loyal part of your fanbase who just demanded more. And you just turned your back on them.
…The other option is to sit back and try to understand the other side’s perspective and work to find that olive branch. We have an idea of how to do that…
It’s time for Keatts to bring on Julius Hodge as an assistant
If you’re a true NC State fan then Julius Hodge holds a special place in your heart. From the outside, he was just a great recruit who came to NC State and put up some nice numbers. But for NC State fans he was so much more. Let me explain…
The Personality: Hodge was a fast-talking New Yorker. That in itself was well-received by Pack fans thanks to their fondness of all-time great coach Jimmy V (who was also a fast-talking New Yorker). He told it like it was, always took responsibility, and never backed down to a challenge. By nature of the demographical history of NC State (blue-collar, agricultural roots) these qualities are valued highly by this group of fans.
The Underdog Mentality: Hodge was a 5-star recruit who turned down some of the top schools in the country to attend NC State. Despite being listed with the elite players in his class, Hodge didn’t take the easy path. Instead, he bet on himself and came to a school where he believed he could turn things around and not just be another star at a top school, but become a legend to a school that was desperate for a savior.
After becoming the first NC State player to be named ‘ACC Player of the Year’ since Rodney Monroe, almost everyone thought Hodge would forgo his senior season and head to the NBA. He didn’t. Instead, he announced he’d return in hopes of putting another National Championship Banner up and finishing what he started at NC State.
Everything that the NC State program is built on and everything the fanbase believes about itself was embodied by Hodge. It isn’t hard to see why NC State fans hold him in such high regard. This is a group of people that demand everything be earned, and Hodge is a guy who took a shot on NC State and didn’t act like he was too good to be here. He came ready to work, ready to earn.
Now Julius Hodge is rising in the assistant coaching ranks.
In 2015, Hodge became the Director of Player Development for Buffalo. He then moved on to his first assistant role at Santa Clara University under his former head coach, Herb Sendek. After two years at Santa Clara, Hodge moved to San Jose State in 2018 as an assistant. Today he’s the assistant at Arkansas Little Rock and he’s starting to gain steam.
A few months ago, this piece about Hodge’s coaching ascent surfaced and got our attention. Arkansas Little Rock coach, Darrell Walker (a 10-year NBA vet) describes Hodge as someone who is “going to be a very good coach.” Someone who has “the right demeanor, knows how to deal with players, and has played at the highest level and he’s been around this game a long time.” Walker goes on to say that he views Hodge as a candidate to step into his role as head coach when he retires.
Julius Hodge is about 4 or 5 years away from being a head coach somewhere, but in the meantime, he should be viewed as an invaluable asset to the NC State staff. There aren’t many assistant hires that could come in and give you as much as Hodge could give you. Here is why…
1. We asked what the pitch is for NC State on the recruiting trail? And who can authentically give it? Well, the pitch HAS to be “Look, you can go to UNC/Duke and be a star. But you’ll just be another guy there. At NC State you can change the direction of a program, you can become a legend.” The only person who can authentically give that pitch is Julius Hodge. He lived it. Name another former NC State 5-star recruit that bucked the big dogs, found massive success, and is now in the coaching ranks. Yeah, they don’t exist. NC State is in a very unique situation on the recruiting trail (being next door to UNC/Duke), and very few are in a position to use it to their advantage. Authenticity sells, and Hodge can talk the talk because he’s walked the walk.
2. Keatts would net a huge win with fans by hiring Hodge at this point of his career. It’s not like you’re just getting a guy because the fans like him. You’re getting an assistant coach with a unique skill-set valuable to your current situation, a guy who is on the road to a head coaching position, a guy with now years of experience and ALSO a guy that the fans love. This is a win-win-win across the board.
3. What better way to reach out an olive branch to former players than to hire one. Hiring Hodge would give Keatts the link to the program history, a high IQ former ACC player, and shut down any questions that the fanbase or former players may be having.
With 2 assistant roles open, this would be a genius move by Kevin Keatts and despite carving out his own path in Arkansas, my gut says Hodge couldn’t pass up coming back to NC State to help finish what he started as a player.
In fact, with 2 spots open, Keatts could and should target both Hodge and Levi Watkins, another former Wolfpack player who has also been rising up the ranks and is currently an assistant at Ole Miss. With the only other notable former player in a high assistant role, Justin Gainey (currently under Rick Barnes at Tennessee), very close to taking a head job, Hodge and Watkins seem like the perfect fit at the perfect time for NC State and Kevin Keatts.
Kevin Keatts Postgame Press Conference After Coppin State: BULLETED
NC State Head Coach Kevin Keatts met with the media after the Wolfpack’s 94-72 victory over Coppin State tonight. You can watch the press conference here, or check out a BULLETED breakdown below.
- First of all we’re going to continue to pray for Dusan Mahorcic.
- I do not have an update at this point. He’s with our medical doctors and our trainers and I will know more hopefully in the next 24 hours.
- We will give you some type of an update when we get one.
- I just wanted to keep him calm. It’s tough and you guys look at them as my players. I look at them as my kids.
- It is hard to see any of your kids or any of those guys in that situation.
- I was there just to calm him down and let him know we are with him. I am obviously praying for him.
- Our guards were really special tonight.
- There were 3 great guards on the floor because Sam Sessoms [of Coppin State] was pretty good also.
- It was really good to see Jarkel Joiner bounce back after not having a great game against Pitt.
- Terquavion Smith was a pro’s pro tonight.
- He did a little bit of everything, he defended, he scored the basketball, he passed the basketball.
- We didn’t feel like we played well in the Pitt game and we wanted to come in here, have a better showing, and play both ends of the floor.
- I’ll get a thousand questions about Reynolds Coliseum and we should play every game in here, but don’t send those questions to me, send them to somebody else, but it’s a great venue and it was a great night.
- I’m really appreciative of our fans for showing up.
- It was an electric night. I thought the energy was great. We had a lot of fun.
- The ‘STATE’ jerseys looked great, I thought they were outstanding.
- Hopefully we can see them again, maybe they’re not just a 1-game deal.
- During the game, I thought we had a good 1st half, but we didn’t close the 1st half the way I wanted to.
- We came out, and I thought we were playing a lot better in the 2nd half, and then unfortunately with Dusan Mahorcic’s situation it took the air out of us a bit, but we closed the game.
- I’m happy the way Ernest Ross played today.
- They [Coppin State] did a good job getting back in transition.
- A lot of Casey Morsell’s shots have come when he was running the floor and getting out in transition.
- They stayed at home.
- The reason we got so many open looks to our post guys when we rolled was because they stayed with our shooters a lot.
- I’ll take them [Joiner & Smith]. I don’t want to trade them, so I’ve got to say I’ll take them. I’m keeping them. I’m not throwing them in, so I’m keeping those guys.
- They are good and tonight they were electric. They were really good.
- Every run that Coppin made they were there to answer it.
- Here is what we do in practice with those guys.
- I need them to play against each other because they challenge each other to become better, but I also have to develop some type of chemistry with them.
- So early on in the season, it was those 2 guarding each other, and they made each other better.
- In the end, I have now switched it so they have to play together, so they have a better understanding and feel on how to play together.
- Coppin is a team that is really dangerous. People from the other side won’t have name recognition, but you look at the Power Five and the bigger schools they have played, that is what has been great.
- Georgetown was an overtime game, maybe multiple overtime games, and the Maryland game was tough.
- He [Juan Dixon] has done that against all competition. I am happy for Juan.
- I remember him back when I was at Hargrave. I sent Lonnie Baxter to Maryland who played with Juan and I have seen him since he was a really young kid.
- One of the best kids I could have ever recruited [Joiner], especially the point guard position.
- He didn’t have to tell me. I don’t know if he went home that night [After Pitt].
- Obviously, he probably went in and took 2,000 shots that night or more.
- The #1 thing these kids are here for is their education.
- Today was the last day of class, meaning we are going into exams, so we have to figure out a good balance of when to practice.
- Right now our priorities shifted to make sure the guys finish out the semester strong, and take care of their academics. It is a great balancing act.
- You gotta let me get past tonight, they’re [Miami] good, very talented.
- I haven’t watched Miami at all, but I do know name recognition.
- I know Isaiah Wong seems like he’s been around for 7 years, and he’s played great.
- I’ll get a chance to watch them starting late tonight and early tomorrow.
- They’re talented.
- Jim Larrañaga has done a great job with his team, it’ll be a tough road game for us, as all of them are.
- I haven’t watched Miami at all, but I do know name recognition.
- Our guards did a great job of controlling the game, thats the maturity that I’m looking for.
- I’ve got a Senior that’s been around a long time, in Jarkel.
- I’ve also got a guy that is an elite scorer, who a lot of the conversations I’ve had with him are: ‘control the game, finish the game, be efficient down the stretch, and don’t settle.’
- He did a great job of not just taking deep 3’s, even though he took the last one.
- He drove the basketball and we got to the free throw line.
- Amazing. It’s not just NC State, you could almost make an argument that it’s America’s team, the ‘83 run was great.
- It feels like every time you see something about them, I have to stop what I am doing just to read. It gets your heart beating a little bit.
- It’s a great team with great folks, it was a great coach.
- We’re excited…we’re gonna bring them back.
- I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you that, but I think they’re supposed to come back in February to honor those guys and I think that’s the right thing to do…and if we can bring them back every week we should.
- I think there were a few here tonight, and I’m glad our guys played well enough where our guys respect what those guys did.
- You know he’s played so well and other people will say, you know, well he’s only averaged 16 points per game, you know the NBA scouts, they know he can score the basketball.
- They wanted to see him pass the basketball, so I think he’s doing a really good job.
- He’s either 1st or 2nd in the ACC in assists.
- We’re seeing a young man grow up, and by the way, he’s saying to you guys: ‘Hey I can score if I need to, I just wanna show you I got a little bit more in my bag.’
- But he’s really matured, you know he’s a kid.
- And you know one of the reasons why he’s back is because he’s a kid and he enjoys his teammates.
- You know when you saw Dusan go down, you know, I think he was affected more than anybody.
- They wanted to see him pass the basketball, so I think he’s doing a really good job.
NC State’s Dusan Mahorcic Suffers Knee Injury vs. Coppin State
NC State Center Dusan Mahorcic suffered a gruesome looking knee injury tonight in the Wolfpack’s 94-72 victory over Coppin State in Reynolds Coliseum.
Play has stopped after this Dusan Mahorcic injury. pic.twitter.com/luXKQa4eVW
— Bally Sports South (@BallySportsSO) December 7, 2022
From what I’ve heard, Mahorcic suffered an injury to his kneecap, but the severity of his injury is unknown at this time. A kneecap injury can visually be a disturbing sight, and the NC State squad, especially Terquavion Smith, who had a good look at it, were emotionally moved in concern.
We will have to wait to see how long Mahorcic is out, but the need for DJ Burns to be able to play more minutes just became much more important. Also, Ernest Ross, who has always had a high ceiling, is going to need to grow up fast if Mahorcic is out for an extended period of time.
We are praying for you Dusan! Get well soon Big Fella!
Men’s Basketball’s: NC State 94 Coppin State 72: Highlight Reel & Condensed Game
Men’s Basketball: NC State 94 Coppin State 72: BOX SCORE
NC State improved to 8-2 on the year, defeating Coppin State 94-72 tonight in Reynolds Coliseum.
Only 2 Wolfpack players scored in double figures, and it was none other than the dangerous tandem of Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner.
Smith led the team in points and assists, with 33 & 7 respectively. Smith wax clicking tonight, shooting 12-21 from the field, and 6 of 12 from three.
Joiner bounced back from a poor shooting performance against Pitt, scoring 29 points, shooting 11-21 from the field, and a blazing 5-7 from three.
Jack Clark had a poor shooting night, hitting only 1 of 7, but he managed to impact the game in every other way. Clark had 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals.