N.C. State director of strength and conditioning for football, Dantonio Burnette, has a saying he uses about young players.
Burnette heard it from a former coach he had, saying that if a player bites as a young pup, he’ll bite when gets older. Basically, if a player shows some fight or spunk as a freshman, they’ll be contributors early and often.
Burnette would love the pups Kevin Keatts has over at the Dail Center.
One of the smallest pups, Terquavion Smith (6-4, 160) has the loudest bark, but backs it up with plenty of bite.
“Terquavion Smith, who was the Gatorade Player of the Year in North Carolina, is probably one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever seen,” Keatts said. “He’ll get under your skin because a freshman shouldn’t be able to talk trash like he does.”
Keatts has also called Smith a “bucket” who can score at all levels and will be hard to keep out of the starting lineup all year. Keatts added that another freshman, Breon Pass, a three-time state champion in football, brings a different kind of toughness to the back court.
“The other day in practice, he took three charges, he got on the floor twice,” Keatts said. “He brings the mentality of a football player to the basketball court.”
The rest of the players on the team have noticed a change — a change in energy and intensity in practice that wasn’t always there. Senior forward Jericole Hellems summed it up:
“On the defensive end we’ve got a lot of, just in general, we have a lot of dogs,” he said. “That’s how I play, I feed off energy. I like the grit.”
Hellems is one of two seniors on the roster, and the only one who has spent all four years in Raleigh. He has developed into more of a vocal leader, pulling pieces of leadership qualities he saw from various players over the years. Part of him being a good leader now, he says, is listening to his teammates. He has listened and notices that the younger players, plus the new transfers, are bringing something to the team that hasn’t been there before.
“Practices are competitive, it’s great,” Hellems said. “It’s just a different feeling that you have.”
Hellems said he likes the pieces the team has, which includes a lot of scorers and “the big fella.” That would be junior center Manny Bates, one of the best shot blockers in school history. Like Hellems, Bates is one of the elder statesmen on the roster, but he’s also impressed by the impact of the new guys.
“They are just competitors,” Bates said. If somebody is losing, we are talking trash to each other, we’re beating each other up. It’s so much more fun in practice. I feel like our young guys are bringing so much energy, bringing out that dog in them. So everyone is competing at a different level and I feel like that’s just helping us even more.”
It’s way too early to predict a starting five for the men.
Keatts stated the safest bets are Bates, Hellems and sophomore guard Cam Hayes, but even those three aren’t etched in stone.
He knows it’s important for kids to see their names in the first five. So far in practice, it’s an all out war for those other two spots. That’s exactly what Keatts likes. He thinks it’s a sign of a good team.
“Every team that I’ve had that’s been successful, going back to Hargrave days, if you had enough competition, the practice will be electric and the energy in the practice will be good,” Keatts said. “Our competition is really, really fierce in practice.”
Hellems has appeared in 92 games at N.C. State, with 41 starts, Bates has 49 starts in 53 games. They’ll carry most of the load on both ends, but don’t be surprised if the youth movement — including Hayes and classmate Dereon Seabron — have a say on whether the Pack are dancing in March.
Keatts also likes the versatility of freshman forward Ernest Ross.
“Ernest Ross is long, he’s athletic,” Keatts said. “He can defend all five positions. He can play some three, some four and some five.”
N.C. State opens the season on Nov. 9 against Bucknell.