No. 6 NC State Picked as ACC Favorite at Operation Basketball
Oct. 17, 2012
CHARLOTTE - On the same day the ESPN/USA Today preseason coaches poll ranked the NC State men's basketball team No. 6 in the nation, the media that covers the Atlantic Coast Conference picked the Wolfpack as the preseason favorite to win the league.
They also picked junior forward C.J. Leslie as the ACC Preseason Player of the Year and freshman guard Rodney Purvis as the ACC Preseason Freshman of the Year. Both Leslie and junior guard Lorenzo Brown were on the first-team preseason All-ACC team.
The Wolfpack, with four starters returning from last year's 24-13 team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen, earned 26 of the 53 first-place votes in the poll of the media, followed by Duke, North Carolina and defending ACC champion Florida State.
It's the first time since 1974-75 - when David Thompson was entering his senior season and the Wolfpack was defending NCAA and ACC champions - that the Pack has been picked in the preseason to win the ACC. State did not win the championship that season, but did win tournament titles in 1983 and '87 and regular-season championships in 1985 (tie) and '89.
"It's new territory for our team," second-year head coach Mark Gottfried said. "These are unchartered waters. We have to learn how to accept that responsibility. It's something that I think our guys are in the process of doing right now.
"And when you start playing games, you have to understand that you're viewed differently than maybe you were a year ago, so we've got to be ready for that."
Gottfried has been preparing his team for playing with a bull's eye on its back, with daily messages and reminders for the players as they arrive for practice at the Dail Center.
Senior forward Richard Howell, leaner and meaner-looking than ever before with his ragged goatee, remembers one such message.
"He told us that we don't just wake up one morning and become ACC champions," Howell said. "People might be predicting big things for us, but we still have to come to practice and work hard every day. We can't take drills off or not go hard every play. Just because we have some high expectations, doesn't mean the other teams in the league are going to roll over.
"We have to go out and earn what people are predicting for us."
Leslie added: "The expectations are something we are not going to shy away from, but that's not what's going to win us games. We have to go do that ourselves."
The two Wolfpack players and the coach had a long day - a full eight hours at the Uptown Charlotte Ritz-Carlton and the ESPNU studios just south of Charlotte - to answer every conceivable question about how they will handle the Felix Baumgartner-high expectations.
But they also met and hung out with players and coaches from every other school in the league. They made the rounds to television, radio and print media and did interviews at the ESPNU studio with the networks corps of analysts and reporters.
For Gottfried, it was a homecoming of sorts, since that was where he spent much of his studio time during his two and a half seasons as an ESPN college basketball analyst. For Leslie and Howell, who had never participated in the annual media day, it was an opportunity to be with their peers, meet some of the people who will write about and talk about their upcoming seasons and clown around with all the leagues mascots.
"It's been a long day," Leslie said afterwards. "And we answered a lot of questions. But it was good that so many people were talking about NC State basketball."
For Howell, entering his senior season, it was a far cry from his first two seasons in the league, when the Pack was picked near the bottom of the preseason poll.
"For me, this is special because it feels like Scott [Wood, the team's other fourth-year senior] and I have had something to do with the turnaround," Howell said. "We were picked pretty low those first couple of years, but now people think we have a chance to go out on top.
"Now we have to go out and work hard to make that happen."
In addition to the four returning starters, the Wolfpack has one of the nation's top freshman classes, with Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. Gottfried has had the opportunity to see how they will fit in during the first week of practice.
"They will all be contributors in different ways," Gottfried said. "In exactly what role they will be has yet to be defined. But all three have a chance to be really good.
"Rodney brings and athleticism and quickness to our team that we really like. T.J. has a unique ability to score the basketball. He's also been doing some other things in practice that we really like. Tyler is just such a reliable guy. He rarely turns the ball over. He's a good passer. They all do different things well."
Lorenzo Brown, Jr., NC State
C.J. Leslie, Jr., NC State
James Michael McAdoo, So., North Carolina
Mason Plumlee, Sr., Duke
Michael Snaer, Sr., Florida State
Preseason ACC Player of the Year
C.J. Leslie, Jr., NC State
Preseason ACC Rookie of the Year
Rodney Purvis, Fr., NC State