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NC State Basketball

ACC KICKOFF: Kevin Keatts, Manny Bates, and Jericole Hellems PC

October 12, 2021
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NC State's Kevin Keatts, Manny Bates, and Jericole Hellems answered questions from the media at the ACC Kickoff.

NOTE: Click the video above to watch the press conference.


Coach, this is for you. I'm sure it's a fair assessment to say that in terms of the national scope, NC State has been the perennial bronze medalist in the triangle ACC teams. With Coach Williams retired and Coach Krzyzewski on his way out the door, no disrespect intended to Coach Davis or Coach Scheyer, but do you see this as a prime opportunity to kind of shift the hierarchy in the region and by consequence the conference?
Yeah, first of all I'll say this: It's good to be back in front of you guys. I know you may not believe this, but I miss you guys and I'm glad we can be face to face. I hate -- I don't like the bronze medal thing. I can tell you that now because we're not bronze medal to anybody.

That being said, I'll spend -- because I know I'll get a couple questions about this, and it is important, what Coach K and Roy Williams did for college basketball is probably second to none. When you look at those guys, between the two of them they have eight national championships, and Coach K has six gold medals.

So they have both been tremendous, not just for the ACC, but for our entire basketball programs across the country. So they will be missed. They'll be missed not just on court and what they've done, but also just behind the scenes and things that they fall for.

As far as the opportunity, you know, we look for opportunity from the day that I got here. We're NC State. We don't try to be Duke. We don't try to be Carolina. They have their own programs. And we fight for us. I like the brand that we're building. We're getting there. We're putting some pieces on the floor that can be effective every night. I like the direction our program is going in.

Coach, you said you missed being back in here, being in front of people. What has the last 18 months taught you in kind of dealing with not only the pandemic, but the ever-changing culture of collegiate athletics and amateurism kind of seemingly going out the door.
Yeah, when I say I miss being in front of you guys, I don't ever take for granted what you guys had to go through just to cover our teams. And I don't take for granted what you guys go through at the house. The pandemic is not just for basketball or athletes, it's kind of everybody.

The last 18 months has been probably the most challenging time that I've had as a coach. It's been different. It's been unique in a bad way. We had for us, just to talk about us, last year we had two separate pauses that I thought we were playing really good basketball, and then because of the pandemic we kind of got set back.

And then when you add the fact that our best leading scorer in Devon Daniels, who was averaging about 17 points a game and close to five or six rebounds went down. We had to completely shift who we are.

NC State, our fan base is tremendous. They're passionate. We've had a top 25 attendance -- been top 25 in attendance since 1999. And when you walk out in the P&C and you basically see 150 people, man, that's not a great experience.

We've had a lot of wins in that building. We've been able to beat a lot of top 25 teams because of that, and it completely changed it. I have guys on my team, in particular Cam Hayes who has never played in front of 20,000. These guys have, and it was completely different. And hopefully we can get back to being a little bit close to normal.

Coach, to have Manny back and DJ, how much confidence do you have in that veteran front court?
Well, I got Manny back. I don't have DJ back. DJ is gone. But that's okay.

Listen, I thought you knew something I didn't know. I was like, It's good.

No, having Manny back is tremendous. During the off season there was a lot of communication -- and if you guys want to let Manny touch on that I will, about possibly Manny Bates going somewhere else to play.

I will tell you in college basketball with the landscape of what basketball is about, those conversations will happen very often. It won't just be Manny Bates. It won't just be NC State. It will be every program, every coach.

But at the end of the day, after having a conversation with Manny and his mom, who is a tremendous lady, I think Manny understood the value of being at NC State, how he has developed, and we're so glad and grateful that he's with our program.

When you talk about these two guys here about NC State, they are two guys I recruited straight out of high school, and each one of them have gotten better every year. They've added some to their game.

For Manny Bates I know a lot of you guys look at him as a defensive player, but I think you saw a glimpse of how good he could be offensively last year. You're not going to believe me. We just had a conversation and I asked him right at lunch, I said, Where do you think you rank as a three-point shooter on our team? And he said he was in the top six. So he's improved his game. He's been able to make shots from outside. You will see him take some threes. The more he makes the more opportunities I'll give him. The more we miss, then we're going to have to have a conversation. But I'm excited. Manny not only is just a good basketball player, but he's a tremendous person. He's a great ambassador for NC State and our basketball program, so I'm ecstatic that he's back.

And DJ was a good player. We would have taken him back too but it was better for him to go make some money.

Manny, would you like to respond to any or all of that?
Just like Coach said, that kind of stuff is going to happen. I just want to have an honest conversation with him and my mom, and honestly I'm just glad to be back.

Coach, this time of year everybody is optimistic and everybody is positive about looking forward to the season, but what's one thing or a couple of things that are kind of keeping you up at night? Any things you want to see on court or played out in front of you?
Yeah. I think the thing that keeps me up at night is that the pandemic is not over, and I think sometimes we forget that. And as a coach that was sitting at the ACC tournament with the opportunity to go play Duke again to advance and for it to be taken away from you, obviously what we went through last year, that concerns me, that bothers me.

I hope that we continue to practice safe and make sure that we all fight together to defeat the virus, because obviously the more we work together the better opportunity we'll have a chance to be able to play in front of people and you guys will be able to cover us live.

And so I would say that's the one thing that really bothers me. Most of the stuff that bothers coaches doesn't have to do with their team at the moment, it's everything surrounding the team.

Coach, you actually just touched on my question. But this is more so for Manny and Jericole. Coach can be at NC State for the rest of his life. You guys only have a few years to be there. And he mentioned it. You guys maybe beat Duke in 2020, make a run go to the NCAA tournament. That's taken away. The pauses last year that also impacted the health and how many players were available. What type of hunger do you guys have personally for this year to try to make a run to get to the NCAA tournament since your run as college basketball players is only a short amount of years you guys have to accomplish those types of things?
JERICOLE HELLEMS: About being hungry, it's a great opportunity, like Coach said, to be able to come out. I just think being on court is just a blessing anyways besides the fact that we have pandemic going around. Just got to take everything as it is and just keep working. I'm really excited so...

MANNY BATES: We're just hungry to get back in play in front of our fans. We have some of the best fans in college basketball, so for us to miss out on that last year, it's going to be even better for us to come out this year and play in front of them.

Jericole, this question is for you. I wanted to ask, going into the season obviously the opportunity is much higher for you than it has been in years past. You've been more of a role player in the last few years and you got to step up at the end of last season. How much have you tried to change your game and tried to get ready for that? But also, what role do you see yourself playing at this point because there is opportunity there at both the 3 and the 4?
JERICOLE HELLEMS:
As far as my role on the team, I feel like being a leader is the number one aspect and thing that I need to focus on as far as the team, doing whatever I need to do to kind of get back to the team. So that we can win games because that's the overall goal and trying to get a championship at the end of the day, and enhancing anything that I need to do as far as ball handling, shooting the ball playing defense and just being an all around player.

You mentioned it a little bit earlier with Manny coming back, but what makes him such a unique defender for him to have back? And I guess you've called him one of the best players you've coached in terms of defense; what makes him that?
KEVIN KEATTS:
Yeah. He's a game changer. The way we play is we like to extend our defense. We like to pressure the ball. We take gambles. We love steals. We try deflections. We try to get 40 deflections a game. And because of Manny Bates, we're allowed to play that way. He is without a doubt the best defensive player that I've ever had assistant or head coach. His timing is unbelievable. He's a great shot blocker. But we don't give him enough credit for the shots he don't block but the ones that he alters, but I think that's what's made him special.

He's gotten better every year. And now with his shot blocking ability it's allowed him now to be a little bit better offensive player where he can score in the paint and do some other things. So I just don't want to label him, though hi is the best defensive player we've had, I think it's so much more to his game that you'll see other than just defense. I don't want him to stop blocking shots now just because of that but he's a tremendous shot blocker and a good offensive player also.

Jericole, you mentioned earlier about being a leader, being the most experienced guy automatically puts you in a leadership position, but what do you kind of do to step out and make sure the guys follow your lead? And as a follow up, Manny, how have you seen him take over and lead his team in the off season?
JERICOLE HELLEMS:
I feel like being a leader doesn't even always have -- actually, I would say leading by example is the first thing. Just trying to do whatever I can to help guys along the way. And if they need somebody to talk to or just be there for the team. Not necessarily -- little things actually. Focus on little things that people don't notice. And just spreading love.

Coach Keatts, I just want to ask you about the 336 guys on the team, Breon Pass, Cam Hayes looks like he's added some weight looks like he's been in the wait room. Can you just speak on those guys and losing a 336 talent in Shakeel Moore?
KEVIN KEATTS:
Yeah, you know, you know this, I love -- I love all my players but even when able to get a special bond, certain guys that have attended NC State that are in state, and those guys, they played with pride.

You know, their pride is, you know, we're born and raised here in this state and we want to represent NC State the right way. When you talk about Cam Hayes, Cam Hayes is a guy who I kind of threw in the fire last year. He was a freshman. He's a guy who has covered the ACC for a long time know it's really hard to compete and perform as a freshman, especially at the toughest position in college basketball as a point guard. But he did well. He had moments. He was really good. He's completely changed his body. He's put on some good weight. He's starting to finish around the rim. He's starting to become a better leader. And I think that will help us as he matures as a basketball player and as a leader.

And then Breon Pass, his story is so incredible. When you think about this young man. He's won three state championships in football. And because of his dad and his relationship with his dad who passed away wanted to be involved with basketball, it's a great story. One of the hardest workers on our team. The other day in practice, he took three charges, he got on the floor twice. He brings the mentality of a football player to the basketball court and he's going to be a really good basketball player.

So we love our state guys. They represent us well. We've had a couple guys, as you talked about, Shakeel Moore, who I think is going to be a really good player as he transfers. I thought in his situation it was better for him to go somewhere else because some guys being close to home is not a strength. Sometimes it's a weakness. And in his case, I thought it would be better for him to be somewhere else.

Jericole, you had a birthday last week. Happy belated birthday.
JERICOLE HELLEMS:
Appreciate it.

KEVIN KEATTS: He was looking forward to these guys singing him happy birthday.

 
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