Wolfpack not satisfied with just making NCAA tourney

NC State Notebook

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If there is any team that is equipped to appreciate a berth to the NCAA Tournament it is the North Carolina State Wolfpack. 

There was significantly less drama for N.C. State than the last time the Wolfpack had a first-year head coach, as the team was literally the final name called in the bracket show in 2012 under Mark Gottfried. 

Six years later, Kevin Keatts and his squad knew fairly early on Selection Sunday that they had made the dance. 

The surprising element to N.C. State’s inclusion was gradual, as no pundit seriously considered the Wolfpack a threat to earn a postseason berth following two straight losing seasons — and a preseason prediction of a 12th-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

“I’m very excited about our opportunity,” Keatts said. “At N.C. State we haven’t been to the NCAA in the last couple of years, so to have the chance to play in the NCAA is huge for us.”

Everyone affiliated with the team has their own reason for excitement. 

For Keatts it is more of the same, albeit at a new locale. While N.C. State was sitting out the postseason, he guided UNC-Wilmington to the NCAA Tournament in both of the last two campaigns. 

“From a personal standpoint, I’m excited for our staff and everybody I’ve hired,” Keatts said. “This will be our third NCAA in three years. I have a hard-working staff who has done a tremendous job.”

The team does not have that experience to draw from. 

“We don’t have many guys who have had the opportunity to play on this big stage,” Keatts said. “Al Freeman played three years (in the NCAA Tournament wit Baylor).”

“(Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman) played as freshmen. I think we have seven more guys who can dress out, including Spencer (Newman) as a walk-on, who don’t have postseason experience.”

Sam Hunt won 25 games in his first three seasons of college basketball. After finding his way to N.C. State from Jacksonville via North  Carolina A&T, Hunt will make his first NCAA Tournament appearance Thursday when the Wolfpack takes on Seton Hall in Wichita, Kansas. 

“I never gave up,” Hunt said. “I have been dreaming about it so now it is here. It is a real blessed opportunity. I am fortunate enough to be here with this team. I am trying to take full advantage of it and enjoy each moment. 

“It was a little bit surreal just being there with my teammates, my coaching staff and supporters that we have. It was just amazing to see our name as it was about to be called and when it was called I just stood up and smiled. I screamed a little bit. I took a picture of it. It was a surreal feeling knowing that I come from where I came from to here.”

For Torin Dorn Jr., the path to the dance was different. 

Following a transfer from Charlotte, the native of the Queen City sat out his first season at N.C. State and then returned to the court in the 2016-17 campaign. 

In his first two seasons in Raleigh, the Wolfpack was 30-32 overall. Dorn both sat and played through a rough patch. He is happy to see the program’s fortunes turned. 

(I am) super-excited,” Dorn said of the upcoming NCAA Tournament. “Going into the year, picked 12th in the ACC, nobody believed but us. We are just excited to accomplish this feat. 

“It is huge. Coming off of last year, the last two years, we didn’t perform the way we wanted to. Being able to turn it around this year., to have the year we had and have the opportunity to go into the tournament to do some things is big for us. It is big for State fans. It is huge.”

Omer Yurtseven first watched NCAA Tournament games in Turkey as a 14-year old. Like his teammates he also was in a celebratory mood Sunday when the Wolfpack punched its ticket. 

Once the basketball is thrown up for the opening tip, look for a more simple-minded approach from Yurtseven and his teammates. 

“All you focus on is the game, to be honest,” Yurtseven said. “You can’t control every other thing. Winning, you concentrate on fighting to win. That is all you focus on. You can’t focus on March Madness or the bigger picture. You just have to focus on the next minute and the next possession. 

“We didn’t really have a great ACC Tournament. We just want to get out there Thursday and just win.”