Summer is barely a week old and the season doesn’t tip off for another 4½ months. But whatever you do, don’t use the “o word.”
“Lose the word offseason,” said NC State coach Kevin Keatts. “I think I echo this for most coaches in college basketball. There’s no such thing as an offseason. Basketball now has become 365, 24/7. We’re busy. You have so many different situations.”
With about 1,700 players in the transfer portal and several others exploring NBA Draft options until the last possible minute, what used to be downtime for college coaches is now fraught with roster uncertainty.
State saw three players — Manny Bates, Cam Hayes and Jaylon Gibson — transfer and another two seniors with an extra year of eligibility — Thomas Allen and Jericole Hellems — all depart. Dereon Seabron then opted to remain in the NBA Draft. He signed as an undrafted free agent after not getting selected.
The Pack also saw game-changing 2023 recruit Robert Dillingham decommit — he recently pledged to Kentucky. That left State at square one on the recruiting trail and the roster cupboard bare for a team that lost 20 games for the first time in history last season and was entering a make-or-break season for Keatts.
It wasn’t all bad news, however. The Pack got back a big piece when double-figure scorer Terquavion Smith opted to return to school after testing NBA waters. Keatts also added four transfers in Utah’s Dusan Mahorcic, La Salle’s Jack Clark, Mississippi’s Jerkel Joiner and Winthrop’s D.J. Burns.
The State coach was busy trying to determine whether Seabron or Smith would return, recruiting the incoming transfer portal and, just because there wasn’t enough to do, making a few changes on his staff of assistant coaches.
“You’ve got the transfer portal now where they have to let you know by May 1,” Keatts said. “In our situation, we had two guys that went through the NBA process, which is (a deadline of) June 1. It’s balancing everything. You’ve got to hold scholarships. You’ve got to recruit. You’ve got to recruit your own staff. You’ve got to make sure your guys finish out academically. It’s been a very busy spring and summer.”
When the smoke cleared, Keatts was happy with where the Pack ended up.
“We wanted to go out there and get bigger, stronger and older, and I think we did,” he said.
Over at Wake Forest, Steve Forbes had a similar situation, with Jake LaRavia, Daivien Williamson, Isaiah Mucius and Dallas Walton testing the NBA and leaving Forbes waiting on a final decision. The Deacs also had players coming and going through the transfer portal, with Tariq Ingraham and Carter Whitt both leaving.
That’s nothing new for Forbes’ short tenure at Wake Forest.
“We have six players returning,” he said. “Last year, at this time, we had nine new guys.”
Williamson opted to return to school, and Wake added transfers Andrew Carr (Delaware), Tyree Appleby (Florida), Davion Bradford (Kansas State) and Jao Ituka (Marist).
“Those guys that we signed have all started,” Forbes said, waving off concern that Wake is only returning one starter from last season.
Wake will also be taking an overseas trip. But in this offseason that never was, even that was subject to change and turmoil.
“I wanted to go to Helsinki and then take a two-day ferry to St. Petersburg, maybe visit Estonia and Lithuania,” Forbes said. “Obviously, I didn’t plan this with Vladimir Putin.”
Instead, the Deacs will head to London, Paris and Amsterdam, but Forbes still hopes to use it to help with the team building.
Like Keatts, Forbes is happy with where Wake ended up, roster-wise.
“We’re smaller,” he said. “Probably faster and quicker. Our bigs can stretch the court.”
Change is nothing new at Duke, which saw six players head to the NBA and will reload with the nation’s best recruiting class and three transfers — Jacob Grandison (Illinois), Ryan Young (Northwestern) and Kale Catchings (Harvard).
Then there’s the team over in Chapel Hill — a rock of stability compared to the turbulent waters of the rest of NCAA basketball.
The Tar Heels lost Brady Manek, who finished his eligibility, and saw three players transfer, only one of which — Kerwin Walton — was on the roster at season’s end. The Heels then used their one available scholarship to bring in another transfer to fill Manek’s role, Northwestern’s Pete Nance. But UNC’s biggest addition came from a lack of subtraction. The stability even extends to the incoming freshmen class since Will Shaver enrolled early and worked out with the team during last year’s run to the national championship game.
“All the returning guys,” coach Hubert Davis said, “what they experienced last year has lit a fire inside of all of them to have more experiences like that.”
So, while many of UNC’s competitors will be wearing “My name is” tags as they get to know their new teammates, the Tar Heels will be ready to finish what they just missed last year.
“I’m not taking it easy on them. I’m coming harder at them,” Davis said. “I’m just that type of guy. I’m ready to go. … This isn’t … returning players, new players, I’m ready to compete.”