Mark Gottfried’s plans for Cat Barber could not be clearer. The junior point guard will follow in the footsteps of T.J. Warren and Trevor Lacey as N.C. State’s top scoring option and leader next basketball season.
The Wolfpack coach was effusive in his praise for the player he calls “Cat Daddy” during his annual summer session with the media Tuesday.
“Our team starts with him,” Gottfried said. “I think that Cat is in a position to have an unbelievable year.”
Barber averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 assists last season in a supporting role to Lacey and 3-point specialist Ralston Turner. Gottfried will have only Barber back from that Sweet 16 team.
And on a roster with only eight scholarship players and no other traditional point guards, what’s Plan B if something happens to Cat Daddy?
“We’re vulnerable, there’s no doubt,” Gottfried said.
Junior Terry Henderson, a transfer from West Virginia, and sophomore Cody Martin are the most logical options.
On the scale of recent N.C. State transfers, Henderson’s skills fall between Turner’s as a shooter and Lacey’s as a ball handler. Henderson averaged 11.7 points and made 37.6 percent of 3-point attempts at West Virginia during the 2013-14 season, but he only averaged 1.1 assists per game.
Martin, a 6-foot-6 wing, played the point at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy two seasons ago after the starter was injured early in Martin’s senior season in high school. Martin had 23 assists in 19 games in a reserve role last season as a freshman with the Wolfpack.
Both Henderson and Martin got the seal of approval from Lacey. After a predraft workout in Charlotte last month, Lacey said either player could capably handle the role as Barber’s backup next season. Lacey was particularly enthused about Martin’s versatility.
“He knows how to play every position,” Lacey said.
With junior forward Lennard Freeman out with a leg injury until at least mid-September, Gottfried might have to employ a smaller lineup and also use Martin as a power forward.
“He’s kind of a wild card for our team,” Gottfried said. “He’s that guy you’re not real sure where to put him but you know you have to put him somewhere.”
Gottfried said the key will be developing a “point-guard mentality” in Henderson and Martin. He hopes, like Warren in 2013 and Lacey in ’14, Barber will stay healthy and have a breakout season.
Gottfried repeated again Tuesday that he was surprised Lacey, who went undrafted last month, decided to leave school early. He will go into the 2015-16 season fully aware that it could be the last for Barber, especially if he plays to his potential.
Barber came on at the end of his sophomore season as a reliable 3-point shooter and defender, both aspects Gottfried expects to continue to improve.
Gottfried said Barber, who went 22-for-51 from 3-point range in the final 14 games of the season, has been “shooting the 3 as well as anybody that we have in the gym.”
Barber has also made progress in his confidence and maturity, Gottfried said.
“I do believe he has improved to the point where he should be in the conversation as one of the best handful of point guards in the nation,” Gottfried said.
Not that Barber can completely make up for the loss of Lacey, the team’s top scorer (15.7 points per game). Gottfried said the Wolfpack will miss Lacey’s leadership and his ability to make tough and clutch shots.
“Trevor was such a big part of what we did last year, we’re going to have figure out how to play without him,” Gottfried said.
The only consolation, Gottfried said, is the program was in a similar position last summer after Warren, the 2014 ACC Player of the Year, left for the NBA after his sophomore season.
“It’s familiar territory for us; we’ve been in this boat before,” Gottfried said. “We have to figure it out, and we will figure it out.”