NC State basketball kicks off the season with an exhibition game next Monday, so this seemed like a good time to get a little familiar with the new guys because, well, just about everyone will be wearing a Wolfpack jersey for the first time next week. Everybody knows what to expect from the three returners: Markell Johnson will be an assist machine, Braxton Beverly will make it rain from deep once healthy, and Torin Dorn will do just about everything. But so much of what happens this year will depend on how Kevin Keatts can get all of these new pieces to fit and play together. There is certainly no shortage of talent on the roster, and the theme you’ll notice throughout this article is the athleticism and versatility. That’s music to Mr. Keatts’ ears.
**The real reason I wrote this is because it’s more pleasant than writing about the Clemson game. It was even worse in person, trust me.**
#0 DJ Funderburk (RS-So, 6’10” 210lbs)- A consensus four star recruit coming out of high school, where him and Braxton Beverly led Hargrave to a 47-1 record and a Prep School National Championship, Funderburk attended Ohio State. After redshirting, new coach Chris Holtmann dismissed him from the team and he transferred to Northwest Florida State CC. In his one year he averaged 11.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg, but what really stood out was his athleticism and versatility. While capable of playing minutes at the 5, he’s shown to be more of a long lanky wing with his ability to move well, attack the basket and knock down shots.
#1 Sacha Killeya-Jones (Jr, 6’11” 220lbs)- Transferred in after two less than stellar seasons at Kentucky and will sit out this season. Killeya-Jones is plenty talented as he was a McDonald’s All-American, but at Kentucky if you don’t leave for the NBA as a freshman chances are you get recruited over. He flashed potential as an athletic interior rim protector but only got on the floor for 13.7 mpg as a sophomore. He should have a chance to contribute next season and will look to develop a more consistent offensive game while sitting out.
#4 Jericole Hellems (Fr, 6’7” 198lbs)- Another consensus four-star recruit, Hellems has a solid all-around game, averaging 23 points 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game as a senior. He finished his high school career ranked 3rd on the school’s all-time scoring list behind Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum. He’ll add quality depth throughout the year but whether or not he gets meaningful minutes remains to be seen. This is such a deep team and he’ll be battling with older more experienced guys for minutes. If this was last year’s roster he probably would’ve played 15-20 mpg. I do think Hellems will end up being a very good player for NC State, especially at the Keatts “small ball 4”, even if it’s not this year.
#5 Eric Lockett (Grad, 6’5” 193lbs)- Think Torin Dorn, just about 20 pounds lighter. Their games are pretty similar, as Lockett showed at FIU that he’s incredibly versatile. The grad transfer averaged 14.3 points 6.5 rebounds 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game. When he announced his transfer to State, most weren’t sure exactly what to expect from him. But apparently he has really impressed the coaches in practice so far and could be looking at a bigger role than some people thought. Lockett will give Keatts yet another guy he can mix in to the game at just about every position other than center.
#12 Manny Bates (Fr, 6’11” 221lbs)- Will redshirt this year after undergoing shoulder surgery. Probably wouldn’t have seen the floor too much but certainly would’ve added depth up front in the case of foul trouble or injuries. A top 100 recruit, Bates is long and has loads of potential.
#13 CJ Bryce (RS-Jr, 6’5” 195lbs)- The one carryover for Kevin Keatts from his UNCW squads, Bryce was one of the top players on the transfer market two years ago when Keatts came to Raleigh. He was a do-it-all player for the Seahawks (17.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.0 apg) and was the best player on an NCAA tournament team. An athletic playmaker who thrives on attacking the basket, Bryce was thought to move off the ball after playing a lot of point guard, but he’ll probably handle the ball a little more with Beverly’s injury. Either way look for him to be a starter and key contributor from day 1.
#21 Ian Steere (Fr, 6’9” 261lbs)- A massive human being. If you think he is massive though, you should see his dad. But seriously, Steere was a huge pickup for Keatts, flipping him from Creighton. Physically he is ready to play at the college level right away and will most likely slot in as Wyatt Walker’s backup at center. His highlight type is filled with monstrous dunks, the type of dunks which makes you wonder if the basketball ops staff loaded up on extra rims for this season. After seeing some of those slams though, the most surprising thing was to see him be able to step out and have nice touch on his jump shot even knocking down 3’s as well. The key for Steere as a freshman will be to learn to play with that strength and power while staying out of foul trouble.
#24 Devon Daniels (RS-So, 6’5” 200lbs)- Daniels has also been in the program for a year after sitting out last season following a transfer from Utah. He had a successful freshman season for the Utes starting 26 of 29 games, averaging 9.9 ppg on a wildly efficient 57.1% from the field. He also was second on the team in both assists and steals. At Utah, Daniels role was more of a slasher as opposed to a 3 point shooter, but he has a good looking stroke (40% on 35 attempts at Utah) and claims Keatts has told him to “let it fly”. Jay Bilas took in a practice last year and said Devon Daniels was by far the best player on the floor. He has star potential and don’t be surprised at all if he leads the team in scoring this year.
#33 Wyatt Walker (Graduate, 6’9” 240lbs)- Grad transfer with still 2 years of eligibility. Walker missed all but 35 minutes of last year with a torn meniscus, but prior to that he was an all-conference forward at Samford averaging 12.9 ppg and 9.7 rpg as a junior. This is a guy that understands his role: finish around the basket and get every rebound possible. You won’t see any ESPN highlights from Walker but he figures to be a tough and steady contributor up front for the Pack. If you watch his highlights from Samford, the thing that sticks out is his ability to pass at an elite level and it’s something you’ll probably see a lot of this year. If I had to guess he’ll be the starting center from day 1. Some would be satisfied simply having that head of hair on their team.
#55 Blake Harris (RS-So, 6’3” 190lbs)- Blake Harris always seemed to be a nice pick up from Missouri last year, but this could be huge now with the injury to Beverly. The Chapel Hill native is ultra-quick and started 9 of 14 games for the Tigers, averaging 3.8 points 3.1 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game in limited action (under 14 mpg). The former top 100 recruit will be the unquestioned backup point guard to begin the season. Harris needs to develop a more consistent jump shot, but he’s electric in the open floor and should perform well in this system.