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NC State Basketball

Kevin Keatts: "Winning the ACC Wasn't Enough For Us"

April 2, 2024
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NC State head coach Kevin Keatts met with the media today to discuss his team reaching the Final Four, his coaching background, NIL, the transfer portal, and much more.

NOTE: Click the video above to watch the interview with Keatts.


If the team’s national attention has led to players in the transfer portal reaching out...

Yeah, a little bit. That's the hardest thing that I've had to do. Obviously, winning games is really hard, but trying to balance scouting, staying connected with my players, talking to them, and trying to figure out the transfer portal, I wish it wasn't going on at this time. We're on a national stage, but I have seen some excitement through some voices that I've talked to. I can't mention names, but I do think there is some folks taking notice of what we're doing.

On what he’s learned about this team through this tournament run...

Well, what I've learned is we're completely locked in and focused. The moment has not bothered us, and I know a lot of people would be thinking that winning the ACC would be enough. People would be satisfied, but not in our locker room. When we got into the tournament, even before Selection Sunday, all we thought about is, “Let's take one game at a time.” We wanted to come in and have a chance to compete for a national championship, and you do see that. With us winning the tournament, our guys could have been relaxed a little bit. We played a great Texas Tech team,  then you got a team in Oakland who’d just beaten Kentucky, and they stayed focused to finish that game. Then you go on to play a good Marquette team who's really good, who can beat anybody on any given night. Then, by the way, you face your opponent in Duke who's really good. It was a rivalry game, and they were able to respond. I think the biggest takeaway of that is our guys are locked in. They've responded to every different situation that we’ve had, and not only have we responded, we've kind of gotten stronger each game.

On recruiting D.J. Burns...

Well, when D.J. Burns went to Tennessee, I think he was a really young kid and may even graduated a little earlier, so he was a little immature. I can't remember if I recruited him before he went to Tennessee or when he was leaving Tennessee; I think it was before. I think what we're getting is the more mature version of D.J. Burns than when he was five or six years ago, but the one thing that has stayed consistent about him is he's a tremendous personality. I think he's always been that. His mom and dad have done a great job of building a great foundation and surrounding him with great folks. I don't have a funny story, but the guy's a great personality. He really is. It’s really helped our team. People in Raleigh and people in South Carolina where he's from, they know D.J. Burns, but it's so great to see people on a national level be able to interact with him and really see his true personality.

On what’s stood out since returning from Dallas...

What’s stood out and what makes me really happy is that we have students on our campus that have never experienced this. I was walking around campus yesterday, and they were so excited about what our team is doing, so excited about what our ladies are doing. They just never experienced that. Most of our students can only experience that through what their parents may have told them or maybe even grandparents. I think that's the biggest thing that makes me happy. This is a proud university with great alumni, but when you see our current students and our players feeling and excited about what's going on, I think that's a great thing.

On Casey Morsell’s impact...

First of all, I love Casey Morsell.He's a first class person. I'm so grateful that he came to NC State to play for me. I think I've started him more than anybody I've started in my career, so you know how I feel about him as a basketball player. He's what student athletes should be about. He’s just a great person, a great ambassador both on and off the court. He does a good job within our program. Every team has a glue guy, and we can make an argument that Casey's one of our glue guys. He may not be getting the national attention that D.J. Burns or D.J. Horne is getting, but the things that he's quietly doing on the court have been so important to our program. I kid him a lot. I talked to him about Jarkel Joiner coming in and being a better defender than him and also Jayden Taylor, but I'm telling you the last few games, he has been one of our best defenders. He has done whatever his team needed to help us win.

On the advantage of having Covid-year seniors on his team...

It's been great with just the experience that these guys have had and brought to the table. All of those guys have found their voice, and that's a great thing. I think it's great for our locker room to have some older guys that have been through different programs but have come together to make this program successful. It's been a blessing. We've only got one freshman on our team in Dennis Parker, Jr., and then you add guys like Michael O'Connell to the mix of it and even Ben [Middlebrooks], those guys have been great. Everybody now is talking. Everybody now has found a voice to help our team and help everyone along.

On what O’Connell brings to the team...

He's one of those guys, probably, people doubted and didn't give credit because he's not one of those guys who scored the basketball. In college basketball, everything is about how much you score, but when you really look at what he's done for a team, he's allowed other guys to be great. He's a willing passer. He's also been a really good defender for us, but he's the guy that kind of runs the show and gets everybody involved. The one thing that he's done better now is, when I walked in at halftime earlier in the year, you wouldn't hear anything from Michael; now, he's talking. Now, he's got a voice. He is coaching as a player which is always good when your point guard is on the floor. He's become an extension of our coaching staff, as opposed to just a point guard that's out there.

On the players capitalizing on NIL deals with the team’s tournament success...

I think it's great. I think this is exactly what NIL is about. I think it's a wonderful thing. These guys are fully taking advantage of it. I will say this: they haven't let it get in the middle of them being really good teammates and giving everything to the team. When you think about what's going on now, this is a time where kids get an opportunity to showcase themselves and obviously take advantage of their name, image and likeness.

 

On outscoring almost every team after halftime during this postseason run...

I just think we're in great shape. We've always prided ourselves for being in great shape, and it's even more impressive because our rotation has been seven, maybe eight guys. At halftime, it seems like these guys are coming back locked in, and our conditioning is really playing paying off.

 

On going into halftime against Louisville down by one point...

Well, we just want to stay the course. If you're a coach, most coaches will tell you that the toughest game of any tournament is typically the first one. Everybody's nervous. Everybody's trying to figure it out. We wanted to stay the course. I thought Louisville came out and played extremely hard. Skyy Clark had a tremendous game against us, but I thought we would just stay the course and focus. I was a little bit nervous, because we didn’t have D.J. Horne and didn’t know who would step up in his absence, but we had some guys that played well.

 
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