Kevin Keatts checklist as NC States new head coach

With a new system and style coming to Raleigh, the Wolfpack is about to learn really quick what Keatts expects

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Kevin Keatts speaks to the media after being introduced at Reynolds Coliseum last April (Photo by Eamon Queeney/North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Kevin Keatts wasted no time after UNCW’s season was over to make the jump to NC State. Since his arrival in Raleigh, Keatts has taken the same approach getting to work with the Wolfpack.In his first week, Keatts has already sent out offers to recruits, talked on nearly every syndicated radio show about his new position and starting the process of trying to keep the core roster he inherited from the previous regime.But the offseason is a long one and Keatts still has plenty of work to do before his first season begins in November. Luckily, we put together a handy dandy checklist for him — mostly you — to keep track of what needs to happen between now and then.1. Recruiting current playersWhen 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.Keatts immediately went into flattery mode.”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 expected 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.But Abu certainly didn’t sound like he plans on going anywhere.”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.”There are a slew of players who could decide to transfer, but nearly every player seemed to share Abu’s sentiments on the hiring of Keatts. Torin Dorn and Lennard Freeman — two players who have started in the past — lauded the decision by Debbie Yow.There’s plenty of talent that fits with what Keatts wants to do, now he just has to convince them to remain in Raleigh.2. Integrating his systemFor those who haven’t watched any tape on UNCW’s exciting style from the past two seasons — when Keatts truly got his offense rolling — it’s one that doesn’t slow down. Keatts loves to spread the floor offensively and wants his players to remain at the same speed to force turnovers defensively.One thing that UNCW did well was shooting 3-pointers. The 2016-17 team broke school records for 3-pointers made and attempted and even shot as many as 21 in a single game, another UNCW record.Luckily for Keatts, he has plenty of perimeter shooters in Dorn, Maverick Rowan and incoming freshman Thomas Allen, who’s already said he’s staying committed to NC State. If Terry Henderson is granted his medical redshirt from the NCAA, the senior would be another three-point sniper for Keatts’ offense.Another huge part of what Keatts did with UNCW was the success of his big men. Last season, the perimeter shooting allowed for Devontae Cacok to explode into the most consistent shooters in the country. OK, maybe “shooter” is a stretch, but Cacok topped the NCAA in shooting percentage at nearly 80 percent.That’s where Abu comes in. The rising senior doesn’t know much about Cacok, but is excited about what his role might be next season.”When people recruit you, I always try to look at what they’ve done with someone like you,” Abu said. “I’m not too familiar with Devontae, but his numbers speak for themselves. I believe in myself, too. I know he has a track record with guys who fit mymold, so I’m excited.”3. Cracking the whip 
on conditioningDuring his introductory press conference, Keatts made it very clear he plans to make his players run. He made no bones about the fact that he wants his players to assemble the “best conditioned team in the country.”In a system where athleticism is a necessity, Keatts isn’t planning on wasting any time getting his team prepared. However, it’s a huge change from last season which saw BeeJay Anya rarely getting back on defensive sets after a missed basket.”It’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Abu said. “He went and said we’re going to be the best conditioned team in the country. Sounds good to y’all. Sounds good to us, too. But it’s gonna be some hard work. [Laughs] It’s a good fear, you know? It’s a motivation. It’s like, you know what, what do you have to lose? We won four games in the ACC last year. I don’t think it’s time to get more relaxed.”The positive for Keatts is the fact that nearly every player remaining on the roster is in shape. Guards like Johnson and Dorn provide the speed necessary for Keatts and Ted Kapita offers a high-energy forward to supplement Abu down low.However, none of those players have played a press defense as aggressively as what Keatts brings to the table. Will they be ready for what Keatts has to offer? That is yet to be seen.4. Attracting high school recruitsKeatts is no stranger to the recruiting world, having been a coach at Hargrave Military Academy for 10 years and one of the top recruiting assistants at Louisville before arriving at UNCW. He won’t be shying away from the top players in the country and has made that abundantly clear already.Earlier this week, Keatts made an offer to 2018 4-star point guard Elijah Weaver from Oldsmar Christian School in Oldsmar, Florida. Weaver has been offered by Villanova and Louisville, two teams he has high on his list, but NC State isn’t in a terrible position for the next few years if Johnson remains with the program.As for this year’s class, Keatts hosted his first recruit on Wednesday when Blake Harris visited NC State’s campus. Harris is another point guard from Word of God who was recently released from his National Letter of Intent with Washington and opened his recruitment back up.NC State looks like the likely landing spot for Harris, with 247Sports putting the Wolfpack at 80 percent on its crystal ball prediction. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Harris would offer a slightly larger frame than Johnson and provide the Wolfpack with a player who isn’t necessarily talented enough to be a one-and-done prospect, which fits into what Keatts wants to do: Build a great program, not just a great team.5. Hitting up the transfer marketWhile it’s not always the most glorious way to build a team, hitting the transfer market hard is crucial for any new coach. Very little recruits are still looking for a home next season, so finding success with transfers for two years down the road or graduate transfers for the fall will be a major key for Keatts.Luckily, he’s been hugely successful with transfers in the past.If not for Denzel Ingram transferring from Charlotte, Chris Flemmings walking on from Barton and Ambrose Mosley making the move from Old Dominion, the record-breaking 2016-17 season for UNCW would have never come to fruition.Flemmings earned First Team All-CAA honors the last two years while Ingram landed on the Third Team as a junior and Second Team as a senior. Not every transfer is that highly successful, but Keatts has no issues with developing players from other programs.When I asked Keatts about his success with tranfers in the past, he quickly noted that he recruited the likes of Cacok and C.J. Bryce — which again fits into his philosophy of building a program. But with several players making the decision to leave their programs, Keatts can piece together a winning team when November rolls around.