Wolfpack needs ‘veterans to be veterans’

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NC State Notebook

N.C. State is in the early stages of the Kevin Keatts era, but that should not imply that the Wolfpack is a novice at the rigors of ACC play.

With Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman, the team has senior big men who have played on the grand stage. Torin Dorn Jr. is in his second season with the Wolfpack after sitting out the 2015-16 campaign following his transfer from Charlotte.

Then there is Allerik Freeman and Sam Hunt, graduate transfers from programs that have competed against top-notch programs.

The Pack, which is 10-4 overall and 0-1 in ACC play entering Wednesday night’s conference game at Notre Dame, has experience. In order to be successful, the veterans have to play like it is not their first rodeo.

In Saturday’s lackluster loss at Clemson to open league play, the older players simply did not respond.

Abu, Dorn, Hunt and the two Freemans combined to shoot 10-for-38 in N.C. State’s 78-62 defeat at Littlejohn Coliseum. Whenever the younger players put the Wolfpack in a position to make a move, the veterans could not provide the push necessary to get State over the hump.

We only have eight guys playing,” Keatts said. “Torin Dorn can’t go 1-for-8. Al was only 5-for-19. ... We have a small margin for error we all have to be on the same page. That’s what we have to figure out.”

Abu and Lennard Freeman were key contributors to N.C. State’s 2014-15 team that reached the Sweet Sixteen. Both have struggled with injuries, Freeman over the past two seasons and Abu in the current campaign, but Keatts pointedly singled out the pair after the loss to Clemson. He expects more.

“This is where I need my veterans to be veterans,” Keatts said. “I can’t substitute the experience that a guy like Malik has had or a guy like Lennard has had. When you look at our team, for most of the game we played two babies, two freshmen.

“I have to get more production out of Malik and Lennard for this team to be successful. They are older guys and every senior on every ACC team has to play for their team to win. We have to do a better job and those guys have to get involved.”

The early portion of their college careers showed glimpses of what they can be but the time has arrived for the upperclassmen to lead on the court — if not vocally then at least through their play.

Even in the current landscape of college basketball where the top talent seldon stays four years, the success of the program is often driven by the play of the older players. N.C. State needs its veterans to step up soon or it will be another barren March for the Wolfpack.

“I talked with my seniors about taking some ownership,” Keatts said. “Malik and Lennard have been here four years and are obviously trying to get better. We talked about how one game doesn’t define you in the ACC. It’s how much better can you be game to game and we have to be better in certain areas.”


He hugged and laughed, there was a ice water dousing and even a post-game dance with his wife.

Dave Doeren thoroughly enjoyed the aftermath of N.C. State’s 52-31 win over Arizona State at the 2017 Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, last week.

The head coach, still dripping wet from the post-game shower administered by Bradley Chubb following the Wolfpack’s win, spoke to the media afterwards but not before embracing his team’s ninth win of the season — the first time N.C. State has accomplished the feat since 2010.

Prior to arriving into the press conference, and after dancing on the field with his wife as the Marty Robbins’ classic “El Paso” played over the public-address system, Doeren spoke of the journey to reach top-25 status.

The outgoing senior class, many being four-year players who signed on to attend N.C. State after the Wolfpack finished 3-9 in Doeren’s first season (2013), were singled out for special praise.

“I just want to say how thankful I am to the players and the coaches for a top-25 finish and a nine-win season and to our seniors for our third bowl win in four attempts so that’s a great finish and that’s what we talked about this whole bowl prep and so proud of those guys,” Doeren said.

“A lot of seniors don’t focus the way these guys do,” Doeren added. You know, their minds are in other places and it just says a lot about the character of these young men and I’m very proud of them and thankful to them to have records being broken in a game.”

One of those who reached a milestone was Jaylen Samuels. The senior from Mallard Creek High in Charlotte concludes his N.C. State career with 202 receptions, a new school record.

“It’s amazing,” Samuels said. “That’s a wonderful record to beat. Two great guys that were in front of me. Coming into the game, I was really trying to get that record. My coaches and teammates they really wanted me to get that record. It was very exciting and it was a great opportunity. When I got here four years ago, I never thought I would be on top of the record books, in front of Torry Holt and Jerricho Cotchery.”

Doeren is hopeful that as the seniors exit the program, the standard they have set will remain at N.C. State.

“It’s the legacy these guys wanted to have,” Doeren said. “Legacy is something that you earn and it’s a opportunity that is there and you take advantage of the opportunity. This was a legacy opportunity for our senior class.

“Those things matter to these guys and for the guys replacing them, it sets the standards high. That’s what it did.”

Some seniors, like Chubb, clearly have a future in professional football. Others may make at the next others while some will hung up the cleats for good in El Paso.

Those who will not play again should have job security for the future and it just might be with Doeren and N.C. State.

In the meantime, the fifth-year head coach will enjoy his bowl win along with the many wonderful memories made both at the Sun Bowl and over the past four seasons.

“We report back to campus January 8th just like last year it was January 7th,” Doeren said. “The season doesn’t start in August for the coaches or players, it starts in January.

“(I will) probably end up employing a few of (the outgoing seniors) as coaches because they’re pretty smart football guys.”