The Wolfpacker

November 2015 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 57 of 155

56 ■ THE WOLFPACKER 2015-16 WOLFPACK BASKETBALL PREVIEW BY JACEY ZEMBAL N C State head coach Mark Gott- fried usually prefers to rotate three post players, and he will have an experienced trio to work with this season. NC State returns juniors BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman, plus sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu. Freeman and Abu can play either frontcourt position, while Anya is strictly a center despite making the Karl Malone Award preseason watch list for the nation's top power forward. Abu is the most gifted of the three of- fensively, and the Wolfpack is counting on him to become a go-to scorer this season. Anya is a bit of a wild card because he has slimmed down to around 285 pounds af- ter getting as high as 350 in the past. The coaches know exactly what Freeman will give them, but he missed the summer after having surgery to heal a lower leg fracture. The offense will likely lean on the perim- eter players for the third straight year, but in order for NCSU to improve upon its 22-14 record and 10-8 mark in the ACC, the inside players will need to provide added balance. Abu can help in that regard and showed why he was's No. 45-ranked player in the class of 2014. He averaged 6.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, and added 18 blocks. During his freshman year, he earned a starting spot at the start of the ACC schedule and never gave it up. The athletic forward flashed his potential with a dominating first half en route to 19 points at Miami, and he followed that up with 15 points and 12 boards against Clem- son two games later. Abu had 13 points and 12 boards in the upset win against Villanova, and he finished the season with eight games of at least 10 points or more. "I thought Malik, it took him about half the year to kind of get his feet underneath him, get settled in and learn what we were doing offensively or defensively," Gottfried said. "[Once he did] I thought Malik took off to another level." Gottfried is hopeful Abu will be a top- three point producer for the Wolfpack — the kind of low-post scorer the guards can dump the ball into and let him go to work. He flashed that ability by ending the season with 10 or more points in three of the last four games. "He's gotten better," Gottfried said. "Fun- damentally, he's getting better, and he's learning how to use the backboard a little more. He's trying to take shots that are a good high percentage shots for him, outside of dunking the ball, which he's pretty good at that." Abu's work ethic during the summer is a sight to behold. He experiences Ramadan each July, and Gottfried once followed him through that month during the recruiting process in 2013. Ramadan is a period of prayer, fasting and self-accountability for Muslims. "I'll tell you what, it shows me disci- pline," Gottfried said. "I don't know if a lot of us could do it. I'm not sure I could do that for that long. "To have no water and no food from sun up to sun down when you are working out, going to class and doing all the things that you have to do." Adjusting to both NC State and experi- encing Ramadan proved tough for Abu to handle in the summer of 2014. "I thought the first summer prior to his freshman year, he was overwhelmed," Gott- fried said. "The school was brand new to him. The amount of studying he had to do was brand new. At the same time, we are working him out, lifting, we are running, and at the end of the day the guy is com- pletely whipped." Abu lost weight the first summer at NC State while making the adjustment, but Gottfried said he's handled the rigors of bal- ancing that challenge with being a student- athlete better this past summer. "He handled it much differently, much better, but to me I'm impressed every year," Gottfried said. "It tells me how disciplined he is as a young person to do that and do it the way he does it." Freeman proved to be the glue guy the team needed to come together down the stretch. He didn't need to have the ball in his hands, and his rebounding and defense helped give the Wolfpack more possessions for his teammates that did need to get shots. "I can remember sitting in our conference room after about three or four games, and I kept saying to myself, 'I got to get Lennard Freeman back in there,'" Gottfried said. The coach made the tough decision to bench Kyle Washington (who has since transferred) and insert Freeman into the starting lineup at Louisville Feb. 14. NCSU upset then-No. 9 Louisville 74-65, igniting a stretch during which the Wolfpack won six out of their last eight games going into the NCAA Tournament. Freeman averaged 3.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and had seven blocks on the season. "Sometimes it is like that Rubik's Cube where you just keep twisting and turning," Gottfried said. "We were just trying to fig- ure it out. Sometimes you just have to keep figuring your team out as we go." Freeman had nine games of at least eight rebounds and enjoyed a strong start to his sophomore season with three straight games of at least 10 rebounds. The forward had 10 points and 12 boards against Jacksonville during that stretch and notched his second double-double of the season at the most op- portune time. He busted out for 11 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in the huge NCAA Tournament win over No. 1-seeded Villanova. However, Freeman had surgery in early June for a fracture in his lower leg. He wasn't completely cleared at the start of October practices but has had shin issues off and on during his college career the proce- dure hopefully corrected. "Lennard has been cleared for some ac- tivities, but he can't go through a two-hour practice," Gottfried said. "We'll put him in for spurts here and there, and just let him go for a little bit. It's going to be limited and I'm going to be very conservative with Lennard." Gottfried could eventually go with the status quo of having Freeman and Abu up front, and that would definitely ensure that Freeman is on the floor. However, a thinner Anya and his shot-blocking abilities could be another worthy option. The post battle is not likely to be as intense as the small forward showdown, but it is an early-season ■ 2015-16 NC State Frontcourt No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Cl. Hometown (Previous School) 0 Abdul-Malik Abu PF 6-8 240 So. Boston (Kimball Union Academy [N.H.]) 1 Lennard Freeman PF 6-9 250 Jr. Washington, D.C. (Oak Hill Academy [Va.]) 21 BeeJay Anya C 6-9 285 Jr. Gaithersburg, Md. (DeMatha Catholic) TIME TO SHINE An Experienced Trio Is Expected To Elevate Production Junior center BeeJay Anya led the team with 39 dunks and 91 blocked shots last season. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN

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