Oct 26, 2008
Many are looking at J.J. Hickson’s jump to the NBA after just one season as addition by subtraction for N.C. State.
Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe isn’t one of them.
“That’s very unfair to J.J.,” Lowe said. “I’ve never seen a team that was better when its best player left.”
Lowe puts the blame for last season’s flop on himself and N.C. State’s returning players. He insists that there won’t be a repeat of what happened.
“I kept waiting for someone to step up and offer leadership,” Lowe said. “No one did it. It was the older players’ responsibility to adjust for the good of the team.
“I’m not going to look for anyone to be the leader on the court this year. I’m the only leader. It’s going to be done my way and the players better buy into it.”
Lowe is ready to practice some tough love after a nine-game losing streak to end the season left State with a 15-16 record.
“They have to feel as bad as I do when we lose,” Lowe said. “Last year is done. We have to move forward. But I can’t forget about last year. You never want to go through that again.”
Expectations are much lower this season for the Wolfpack, picked to finish ninth in the ACC. But Lowe is determined to get N.C. State back on track.
“He’s putting his foot down,” senior forward Ben McCauley said. “It’s going to be his way this season and that’s that.”
McCauley has already found that out. He was left home when the team traveled to Canada for some exhibition games in September.
“I did something in practice I shouldn’t have done and that was the punishment,” McCauley said. “It’s over and I learned my lesson from it.”
When Hickson – a first-round draft choice by Cleveland _ arrived, that meant major role changes for McCauley and Brandon Costner after they had helped the Wolfpack to a surprise trip to the ACC Tournament title game in Lowe’s first season. They didn’t respond well.
Costner’s scoring average dropped from 16.8 to 8.5. McCauley’s fell from 14.4 to 6.1. Courtney Fells, who made 45.2 percent of his ACC 3-pointers, is the Wolfpack’s leading returning scorer at 10.6.
“We underachieved last season,” McCauley said. “Some things just didn’t mix well. We’re motivated to make people forget what happened. It’s lit some fire under us. Our mindset is a lot better.”
State suffered dearly at point guard last season after Farnold Degand suffered a knee injury 10 games into the season. His return should be a major boost.
“The chemistry issue keeps coming up, but the big thing last season was Farnold going down,” Lowe said. “That was the biggest reason for our season slipping away.”
Still, a lot of returning players have something to prove this season.
“The only thing good about last year is that it’s over,” McCauley said. “What happened was unfortunate. It was rough to go through. But this is a new season and we’re all excited about it.”
2008 season: 15-16 overall, 4-12 ACC. Missed the postseason.
Key losses: F J.J. Hickson (14.8 points, 8.5 rebounds), G Gavin Grant (13.1 points, 3.0 assists).
Returning starters: F Courtney Fells (10.6 points, 4.5 rebounds), F Brandon Costner (8.5 points, 4.6 rebounds), G Javier Gonzalez (3.8 points, 2.1 assists).
Key stat: 6.9. Brandon Costner’s ACC scoring average last season compared to 16.1 the year previously.
Mike Maniscalco of The Fan says: Can the Wolfpack return to the team that went on a magical run in the ACC Tournament two years ago? Head coach Sidney Lowe thinks they can but if the point guard play doesn’t improve this year, another bottom half year could be in order. Farnold Degand is coming back from knee surgery; if he can stabilize the point, the Pack should surprise. The key to this season is Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner returning to the players of two seasons ago. While the team won’t admit it, the addition by subtraction of sour tempers in the locker room will help the Pack, possibly to a winning record …but don’t count on an NCAA bid - at least not until a point guard emerges.
What they’re saying
Coach Sidney Lowe
On Brandon Costner: “He’s focused and ready to go. He’s in much better shape this year. His weight is down and he looks good.”
On his team’s new offensive tempo: “We’ll run a little more. Hopefully we’ll run a lot more. We need to get some easy baskets.”
On moving out the 3-point line: “It should help open up things. I think it will help us. If we go in and then out, we’ll still have some good looks on 3s. We have some good outside shooters.”
Forward Ben McCauley
On this season: “We want to surprise people instead of letting them down like last year.”
On coach Sidney Lowe’s new hard-line approach: “I think that’s good. We know that we have to do things the right way or else.”
On the Wolfpack’s up-tempo offense: “It should be more exciting. We’ll be running more. We’ll be more versatile. We won’t be just dumping the ball inside. We have guys who can get the ball back outside and hit shots from out there.”