College Sports

Is key to N.C. State’s basketball resurgence, now and in future, rooted in Charlotte?

North Carolina State's Torin Dorn (2) and Lavar Batts Jr. (3) are two of four Charlotteans on the team, and they are in large part responsible for the Wolfpack’s current revival.
North Carolina State's Torin Dorn (2) and Lavar Batts Jr. (3) are two of four Charlotteans on the team, and they are in large part responsible for the Wolfpack’s current revival. AP

About two minutes – that’s all the time they spent together.

And even then, it wasn’t all four of them. But for about two second-half minutes in N.C. State’s 76-58 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday, three of the Wolfpack’s four Charlotteans – Torin Dorn, Lavar Batts Jr., and Allerik Freeman – C.J. Bryce is sitting out the year because of NCAA transfer requirements – took the court together.

It may not be apparent at first glance, but to have a cluster of players like that from the same region is unusual (although not unheard of). Another recent example is the Flintstones, a quartet of players from Flint, Mich., who led Michigan State to the 2000 NCAA championship.

Now, N.C. State’s foursome isn’t at the level of the Flintstones, nor do they technically all hail from Charlotte (Batts is from Concord), but the point remains: The Wolfpack have finally tapped the Charlotte market, and now these four represent the resurgence of N.C. State basketball.

“Charlotte’s a big area, we’re all local kids,” Batts said Saturday. “We all played against each other – now for us to play with each other?

“I don’t think you really see that many guys from the same place go to the same school ... so it’s just a blessing.”

The present

These four guys naturally fit into two categories as far as N.C. State is concerned – the current team, but also the future of the program.

The present, as was evident Saturday, is Dorn. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard led the Wolfpack with 21 points, and those buckets came in a variety of ways. Whether it was shooting 5-for-7 from 3, or any of his numerous acrobatic drives to the basket, or even an alley-oop, Dorn has proved that he belongs in the ACC.

That wasn’t always the case. The Vance High graduate began his college basketball career at Charlotte, where he led the team in scoring (12 points per game) and was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year.

“I always felt like I was good enough to play in the ACC, and I didn’t know what path I would take to get here,” Dorn said, “but I always knew I had that ability. It’s just a blessing to be able to see it come to fruition now.”

North Carolina State's Torin Dorn (2) is the team’s second-leading scorer this season. Gerry Broome AP

After sitting out a year because as a transfer, Dorn flashed his potential a season ago in his first game for the Wolfpack, finishing with a double-double. By season’s end, he had developed into a starter. This season, he’s the team’s second-leading scorer.

The only man who scores more than Dorn? Freeman, another Charlotte native. After three seasons at Olympic High, Freeman went to Baylor as one of the nation’s more sought-after recruits. A wrist injury led him to redshirt his freshman season, but when he got healthy, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound guard made himself a regular in the rotation.

In his final victory at Baylor during last season’s NCAA tournament, Freeman scored a game-high 21. This summer, he came to Raleigh as a graduate transfer and has picked up where he left off with the Bears. There was no greater show of that than against North Carolina on January 27. Freeman made all seven of his 3-point attempts in that game en route to 29 points and the upset victory in Chapel Hill.

For his efforts, he was named NCAA Player of the Week.

The future

While Dorn and Freeman are leading the way for the current Wolfpack squad, Batts and Bryce represent the future of the program.

Bryce is another transfer hoping to duplicate Dorn and Freeman’s success. He played for N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts at UNC-Wilmington for two seasons out of North Mecklenburg, and when Keatts came to Raleigh this offseason, Bryce followed. In his sophomore year at UNC-W, Bryce averaged a team-leading 17.4 points for an NCAA tournament squad.

“Charlotte has been a great place for me my whole career, and I’m excited about those guys,” Keatts said of his four Charlotte players. “One day if I could win a championship with all Carolinas players, I’d love to have it.”

There’s also Batts, Keatts’ only recruit during his short time in Raleigh. Batts was the top-ranked recruit in North Carolina last year, and after decommitting to VCU he opted for the Wolfpack over fellow ACC schools Clemson and Florida State.

Part of the allure? Playing with guys he grew up with ... including Dorn.

“I’ve known Torin and his family since I was about 8, 9 years old when his brother (Myles, now on UNC’s football team) played on my AAU team,” Batts said. “Ever since then we’ve been together. Always played pickup together, always hung out together.”

But Dorn and Batts’ relationship goes beyond just pickup games. Their families both attend First Christian Church in Concord, and when Batts was in sixth grade, Dorn even made Batts’ first basketball highlight tape.

North Carolina State's Lavar Batts Jr. was the top in-state recruit last year, and a big reason he chose to play for N.C. State was due to his relationship with Torin Dorn Jr. Karl B DeBlaker AP

That relationship with Dorn, which has only grown since Batts’ arrival in Raleigh, is a key reason Batts signed with the Wolfpack.

“He saw me grow up as a player,” Batts said, “so there’s certain things I do now where he’s like, ‘Come on, that’s not you. Play your game.’

“We always talked about it like, ‘Man, why are we always playing against each other? Let’s play with each other.’ That’s one of the reasons why I can say I came here.”

What next?

Having four players from one area is one thing. Utilizing that as a strength as another.

For N.C. State, that’s twofold. The first element is taking advantage of the quartet’s closeness, both geographically and relationship-wise. And so far, that’s been the easy part, with them working out together on trips back home.

“It feels like high school all over again,” Dorn said. “I was telling them at the Carolina game, because we had Luke (Maye, from Huntersville) on the other side, it felt like our conference was well-represented. It feels like Vance-Hough, Vance-North Meck. You always want to see guys from the city succeed.”

Then there’s the other element: Making sure this Charlotte-to-Raleigh pipeline continues, for the sake of the Charlotte area and the N.C. State program.

“There’s a lot of talent in the Charlotte area, a lot of guys that are hungry that want to make a name for themselves,” Dorn said. “Keeping those kids in-state is definitely important.”

For now, none of N.C. State’s recruits in the Class of 2018 are from Charlotte. Of course, that was also the case three and four years ago, and look how that ended up.

As it currently stands, the Wolfpack are on the bubble for making the NCAA tournament. They have signature wins over North Carolina and Duke, and now can add a beatdown of Notre Dame to the same resume. There are also losses to UNC-Greensboro and Northern Iowa, but now being fourth in the ACC standings, N.C. State’s arrow is pointing up.

With Freeman and Dorn’s scoring, plus Batts energy and defense off the bench, this is an N.C. State team well-positioned for postseason play ... and for building a better program overall.

And it’s thanks, at least in large part, to four kids from Charlotte.

“We take advantage of (all being from the same area),” Batts said, “and we’re making our city proud, I know that.”

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks