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NC State Basketball

ACC TIPOFF: Keatts, Joiner, Smith Look to Rebound in 2022-23

October 12, 2022

NC State head coach Kevin Keatts, graduate transfer Jarkel Joiner, and sophomore Terquavion Smith met with the media at the 2022 ACC Men's Basketball Tipoff to discuss the Wolfpack's upcoming season.

Coming off an 11-21 season with a 4-16 mark in conference play, Keatts will look to reverse the Pack’s fortunes with an overhauled roster and coaching staff. Rebelling from his previous team, Joiner comes to Raleigh after leading Ole Miss in scoring with 13.2 points per game to go along with 51 assists and 26 steals. Smith returns to State after testing the NBA waters, averaging 16.3 points per game last season with 67 assists, 42 steals, and 15 blocks.

NOTE: Click on the video in the player above to watch NC State’s press conference.

Coach, you know you're coming off of a rough season, and this is the first time you've had to kind of come off of a losing season. Can you just speak on the challenges of the adversity that you will face, especially with an entirely new team and just bouncing back from the year that you guys had last year?

KK: Yeah, you know, one of the things that we did after last year is as a coach, I always go back and -- whether we had a great year or we had a disappointing year, I go back and evaluate some things that I can get better at and as a team that we can get better, and we did that, and we went out and we addressed a lot of our needs. We struggled because we had young post guys. We went out and got two centers that were post guys who were really good players, and then added a couple guards in Jarkel and Jack Clark to our mix. Then we also have a brand new staff. I just wanted different energy. I wanted some older guys to be able to play with guys like Terquavion and Breon Pass and Ernest Ross. I like the direction that our program is going in. I feel good about it. We want to get back to playing the way we played my first three years. We won 20 games. We were .500 or better in the ACC. I like our team. We've got depth. We can get back to pressing. We can get back to running. That was the biggest changes that we made.

Last year there seemed to be some issues with fit and maybe chemistry, whether it's personality or just positionally. Can you talk about how you're working on improving in that area and if the players could talk about their chemistry, as well.

KK: Yeah, I don't think we had a chemistry problem, we had a depth problem. When we started our season, Manny Bates went down within one minute and then we ended up losing Ernest Ross for the year and then Greg Gantt. Unfair to these guys, Cam Hayes was a sophomore, Terquavion Smith was a freshman, Breon was a freshman, and Dereon Seabron was a sophomore, so we had so much youth at the positions that we needed. I think our chemistry was really good. Our team got along. We just didn't have depth. So we played a lot different than we normally would play. What we have addressed this year is we were fortunate enough to take a foreign trip, and we went to Bahamas. We were able to get 10 practices in because of that. That's certainly going to help with our chemistry. The other thing, we played two really good teams, and we had some adversity throughout some of those games, so we were able to come together. But our guys are tremendous. We've got older guys like Jarkel Joiner who's going to be really good in our locker room, and I think that's going to make a big difference for our guys this year.

JJ: Just building on what Coach is saying, we've got great chemistry, great energy. In practice we're very competitive, hardworking, and looking to have a better year.

TS: Just I feel like keeping our energy up, staying together, and we've got this thing in our facility that says play for the front of the jersey, not the back. So I feel like if we buy into that, we'll be fine.

Following up on the Manny Bates from last year, we left out of here last year with Manny joining us, and then a minute into that first game he obviously sustains what he sustains. What did you learn about yourself during those first couple of days, first couple of weeks?

KK: Well, it's a challenge. I don't know if you guys have ever -- when you lose one of your kids or one of your players, man, it's one of the toughest things for the season. And not that you think about, at that point you think about your basketball program, because you think about that young man and you think about the family and how much time that you spent and he spent trying to get better. I think that was our main concern. But as a coach, you have to figure out how to make some adjustments, and we did. We had two really young post guys in Ebe Dowuona and Jaylon Gibson that we thought would play as a sophomore, and obviously they had to play a lot earlier than we thought. And as you know, when you play in a power league like the ACC, you can't play a lot of guys who don't have experience. So we really struggled in that area. But it was a very humbling experience for me because this is the first time in my life that I had to go through a situation, even when the year before Devon Daniels went down with an ACL, but we were able to overcome it. We finished that year with five road games to give us a 9-8 record in the ACC. I learned a lot as a coach from that situation.

Coach, given the way last year ended and the season that you had, is having a completely new roster or having a lot of different faces, does that kind of serve as a fresh start for you?

KK: Well, it's not so much -- I never blame anything on the players. Those guys last year, they played their hearts out for me and our program. If you want to look at someone to blame about last year, you completely look at me. I'm the coach. I'm the guy who should take all of the heat, and I am. What we did this year is we went out and we got experience. I've said for so long that it's hard to win in college basketball in general when you are young, and, man, I caught myself being young last year. So I went out and I got some older guys that have played and been through some adversity. I know Jarkel is with us. He is a guy who's proven -- he started off Division I, transferred back home to the SEC, has played against some great teams, and certainly he's going to be great for T, he's going to be great for the rest of our players, and all of the transfers, including a guy like Casey Morsell who's been in the program last year all our guys have benefitted from. When you look at college basketball last year, the teams who were really good were the teams that were -- I'm not going to say the word "old," but those guys who were experienced, and that's what happened.

Terquavion, what was the process like after declaring for the draft and deciding to run it back with the Wolfpack?

TS: It was a good process. I enjoyed that process a lot. I feel good to be back with my team, with my family. Great environment in Raleigh, North Carolina and at the school, so there's always great vibes.

Coach, can we say ACC basketball is back to normal?

KK: Yeah, you know, I'm glad you asked me that question. I don't think ACC basketball -- I think ACC basketball has been great the whole time. When you look at last year, I think people from the outside completely judged ACC basketball from November and December. I just don't think it was fair. When you look at what our teams -- the few teams that we got into the tournament, we performed very well. It's the best conference in college basketball. We've got the best coaches, the best facilities. Our guys do a great job. It's ran very well. We have to do a better job as a conference. We've got to root for each other in November and December, because if the committee is going to look at those things over December, January, and February, then we've got to figure out how to get more teams in. I think the way we do it is we've got to change the narrative and we've got to win early. What's happening is when we get into our league, everybody has kind of made their decisions about how good the league should be. You think about the two Final Four teams, that says a lot.

 Jarkel, the note I have says that you have already assumed the role of vocal leader. How long did it take for you to become the vocal leader? And what is your style in being a vocal leader?

KK: Well, first of all, he talks all the time, so that's how he became vocal leader. We have no choice of that. Go ahead. I'm sorry.

JJ: I just want to say, I love to talk. I love to communicate. This team is amazing to be around. I'm very vocal. I like talking. Like I said, to my teammates, being a communicator, and just learning my teammates from day one was the goal.

Coach, do you ever find a time in which you ask Jarkel to not talk so much?

KK: Oh, all the time. No, he's been great. I'll say this about T, too. Going through this process and going through the NBA combine and having the opportunity to go meet at some great programs in the NBA, man, he's a different guy, and he's matured. A lot of that is because he became a sophomore, but a lot of it is what he went through as a freshman. These two guys, they will have to be our leaders, and they've got to lead both on and off the court I think is what's important to us to be successful.

Terquavion, Coach talked about the lack of depth last year, especially in the front court. This year you've added two transfers in D.J. Burns and Dusan Mahorcic. What have you seen from those guys in practice and what they add to this rooster?

JJ: Those guys are very competitive, they go hard every day, and with those two you're going to get your all from them every time I feel like.

Coach, how much pressure do you feel like you're under to win now? You've brought in the experienced guys, which would signal you obviously want to win. But how much pressure do you feel to get those results?

KK: I feel the same pressure that I did when I was the head coach at UNC Wilmington and when I was the head coach here when I took the job. The only pressure that typically comes from a coach is what he puts on himself. I feel very confident in the program that we've built over several years here at NC State. We just want to get back to if you look at our first three years, we won 20-some games. We were 11-7, 10-10. Even the year when Devon Daniels went down, we found a way to finish up 9-8 in our conference, winning five road games at the end. We want to look at last year as, hey, it happened, it's behind us, we've addressed some of our issues, and we're completely ready to move on. We don't talk about it anymore. As a matter of fact, there's really only three guys on our team that played last year. That was Ebe Dowuona, Casey Morsell, and Terquavion, and everybody else is gone. So I think our new guys are hungry. They've got a new opportunity. I love our staff. Our staff has brought something different and a lot of energy to our program. So the pressure is hey, let's figure out how to win and get back to winning like we're used to.

Terquavion, you do have new faces on the bench from a coaching standpoint. What have you learned about the process of this transition, about you, about the program? What is it that gets you excited about 2022-23?

TS: Just to be around a lot of new people. We've got a whole new different staff and team, so I'm excited about that. The new coaches are great. Never had a doubt about them, so that's great. And just a new team. I'm happy that we've got a team who is ready to compete.

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