College Basketball

Gottfried, NC State ready to move on without Lacey

N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried waves to fans during the 2015 College All-Star game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday in Indianapolis.
N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried waves to fans during the 2015 College All-Star game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday in Indianapolis.

Mark Gottfried is focused on the players that he has at N.C. State, not the ones he doesn’t.

The Wolfpack only has seven scholarship players on the basketball roster for next season but three are returning starters and two, junior guard Cat Barber and sophomore forward Abdul-Malik Abu, are poised for big seasons, the N.C. State coach believes.

“I like our group,” Gottfried said Tuesday at the Wolfpack Club Caravan stop in Raleigh. “I’m excited about who’s here. I still think we might add a piece or two but I really like my group a lot.”

N.C. State went 22-14 last season and reached the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. Since the Sweet 16 loss to Louisville, the Wolfpack has lost guard Trevor Lacey to the NBA and forward Kyle Washington decided to transfer.

Also, N.C. State recently missed out on top 10 national recruits Malik Newman and Brandon Ingram.

High-profile recruiting misses and early exits are part of the culture of college basketball, Gottfried said. The coach, who’s going into his fifth season, doesn’t plan on changing his strategy after a rocky start to the offseason.

“I don’t pay much attention to people that are dialing ’911’ right now,” Gottfried said.

“A-List guys”

When Gottfried was hired, he said he would go after the best players, regardless of the other schools recruiting them, and he has been true to his word.

“I’m never going to stop going after the ‘A-List’ guys,” Gottfried said. “If that means we miss and end up short-handed, so be it.”

Gottfried has built a talented roster – six of the seven players were rated in the top 100 of their respective classes coming out of high school – but has fallen short in some recent battles with Kentucky (Julius Randle), North Carolina (Kennedy Meeks) and Duke (Ingram).

“It’s not necessarily the guys you lose in recruiting that hurt your program,” Gottfried said. “It’s the guys you take that aren’t good enough. Those guys hurt your program.

“For us, we’re going after the top guys and the guys we believe that can help us compete for an ACC championship or a national championship. I’m not going to do anything different.”

Lacey was a player Gottfried had hoped would help the Wolfpack contend for the school’s first ACC title since 1987. Lacey led the team in scoring and was their emotional leader. But Lacey decided to forego his senior season and enter the draft.

Lacey’s decision to leave came as a surprise to Gottfried, who has a close relationship with Lacey.

“The surprising thing was he got convinced his age would be a negative thing for him,” Gottfried said of Lacey, who’s 23.

“He was great with me throughout the process. I talked with him maybe 20 times, I shared with him all the information from the NBA. But in the end, I still anticipating him coming back.”

The next step

Without Lacey, Gottfried will rely on Barber, who came on at the end of his sophomore season to be one of the best point guards in the ACC.

Abu’s late play, he had 13 points and 12 rebounds in the upset of No. 1-seed Villanova in the NCAA tournament, encouraged Gottfried.

“Malik has a chance to take a big step forward, considering where he was at the end of last year,” Gottfried said.

Lacey’s exit will open up some minutes for twins Caleb and Cody Martin, who will be sophomores, on the perimeter.

Gottfried said the only way to make up for the losses is by everyone getting better.

“I think what has to happen for our team is all seven guys have to take a big step forward collectively,” Gottfried said.

Giglio: 919-829-8938