NC State coach Keatts starts recruiting right away … on his own players

With a new group of players, Kevin Keatts has to convince the current roster to stay in Raleigh for a successful campaign

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
With the team front and center

RALEIGH — Kevin Keatts made several emphatic statements to “win” the introductory press conference on Sunday afternoon at Reynolds Coliseum. Keatts promised banners, appealed to a beleaguered fan base and even spoke in third person about himself to announce “Kevin Keatts is a winner.”Most importantly, though, Keatts spoke about his plans on the recruiting trail. With all new hires, catching up with other teams in the conference in terms of recruiting can be difficult. But Keatts, as you can imagine, was brash about his approach to that, too.”We’re not just going to settle for recruits,” Keatts said. “We’re going to go after some of the best recruits in the country.”Subtlety wasn’t Keatts’ strong suit, but there were some understated moments.When asked about his system — an uptempo style that spreads the floor and shoots a lot of threes — Keatts focused in on one player. Rather than referencing any of the outside shooters like Maverick Rowan or Terry Henderson, Keatts discussed what Abdul-Malik Abu’s role might be.”I think the guy who will benefit more than anybody is Malik,” Keatts said. “He will probably lead the country in dunks next year.”It was one of many ways Keatts is attempting to keep the core group of players he has returning. Abu, who is believed to test the NBA Draft process, sounded more and more like he was leaning toward coming back for his senior season with the Wolfpack under Keatts.Keatts has a great track record with players like Abu. As a former assistant coach at Louisville, Keatts recruited Montrezl Harrell, who flourished in Rick Pitino’s system. Keatts also proved he could develop on his own with Devontae Cacok at UNCW, who led the country in field-goal percentage this season at nearly 80 percent.”For me, personally, this is my home,” Abu said. “I haven’t
actually made a 100 percent choice on whether or not I’m going to [stay], but
Coach Keatts being here makes me more comfortable to come back here and play my
senior year. … I have no business going anywhere else.”Abu wasn’t the only player on the fence about returning next year, as any number of the Wolfpack’s current players could make a move to leave the program. But for now, the hire of Keatts seems to be going over swimmingly in the locker room.”This change and direction we want to go is something that’s very exciting to a lot of people, myself included,” Charlotte transfer Torin Dorn said. “He loves to work hard and has interest in player development, academics, and winning … his love for winning stuck out to me.”Athletics Director Debbie Yow referenced Keatts had “the stuff” she was looking for and pulled the trigger quickly to keep him in Raleigh. After an embarrassingly public coaching search that led to Mark Gottfried, Yow had no intentions of dragging this search out.But it wasn’t a decision she made alone. Several players referenced Yow bringing the team together to discuss what they wanted specifically in a coach, making the process easier for the incoming leader.”Yeah, that happened pretty quickly,” Abu said. “But I feel like that’s what’s best so we can start putting our foot in the right direction. … Debbie [Yow] told me the stories about how [the last coaching search] took a long time. She told me that she wasn’t going to wait that long. That we wanted to get this thing on the road.”I’m just proud of the effort she made. She did a fantastic job of talking to us and just hearing out what we wanted. We didn’t necessarily go into the office and pick coaches, but we just described the ideal coach that we felt could help us be the most successful.”So how does Keatts fit into the mold of that ideal coach they described?”He brings in a culture, a winning culture, a stern one,” Abu said. “He’s a motivator who comes in with a presence to get the job done and accountability. Those are things that are very important when you want to be successful, especially in a conference like the ACC. “It’s going to take big time leadership and discipline. I feel like he’s going to bring those to the table.”Contact R. Cory Smith: @RCorySmith; cory@northstatemedia.com