The Wolfpacker

November 2012

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 129 of 131

■ PACK PERSPECTIVE I Favored Wolfpack Must Learn To Handle Being The Hunted BY TIM PEELER t's strange to arrive at Operation Basket- ball, the annual media gathering for ACC men's basketball, and be treated even better than usual. To some degree, the players and coaches from all 12 ACC schools are treated like college basketball royalty, with a room at the Ritz Carlton in Charlotte, gourmet meals and a day of pampering that includes everything but the spa treatment. But for Wolfpack senior forward Rich- ard Howell, junior forward C.J. Leslie and head coach Mark Gottfried, the day was even more eventful because the Wolfpack — for the first time since David Thomp- son's senior season in 1974-75 — was picked as the league's preseason favorite. Leslie was named preseason Player of the Year, teammate Lorenzo Brown joined him on the preseason first-team All-ACC squad and newcomer Rodney Purvis was named preseason Freshman of the Year. It was practically a clean sweep for a pro- gram that has as many surprise champions — see tournament titles in 1959, '65, '70, '83 and '87 — as expected ones. On the same day, the USA Today poll of college coaches put the Wolfpack in at No. 6 in its preseason rankings, which is also the highest preseason listing for the Wolfpack since that 1974-75 team was ranked No. 1 coming off its NCAA cham- pionship the year before. Both Gottfried and the players were the most sought-after interviewees for the as- sembled media that had not already met with them at the Wolfpack's own media day or at "Primetime with the Pack," the two events that kicked off the highly an- ticipated season. Almost as notable as which media members clamored to ask them questions were the opposing coaches that suddenly averted their eyes or changed directions in the hallway when representa- tives of a program that dares to return to the top of the ACC standings and national polls approached. Gottfried, of course, knows the deal: All this attention being heaped on his program is because of two solid weeks of play dur- ing last year's NCAA Tournament, when the Wolfpack advanced to the Sweet 16 for only the second time in nearly a quarter century. He has four returning starters from that team, plus a trio of McDonald's All- American freshmen who will be fighting for playing time. It would be an embarrassment of riches 128 ■ THE WOLFPACKER NC State head coach Mark Gottfried said his team is in the process of learning how to handle the responsibility of being favored to win the ACC. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN if the Wolfpack's overall fortunes hadn't been so poor for so many years. Gottfried certainly expects his second edition of the Wolfpack to be dangerous, but his duty is also to temper the expecta- tions that are so high Felix Baumgartner could look up at them from his hot-air- balloon platform before he jumped from 24 miles above earth. "We have to learn how to accept that responsibility [of being favored to win the league]," Gottfried said. "I think it's some- thing that our guys are in the process of doing right now." Processing the expectations will fall on the shoulders of Gottfried and his high- powered staff of assistants Bobby Lutz, Or- lando Early and Rob Moxley, plus director of player personnel Larry Farmer. All have previous experience with highly anticipated seasons and know how to keep their players as grounded as possible. There are notes on the locker room board, and daily reminders that the Wolf- pack's 2011-12 season had 13 losses along with those 24 wins, which matched the most for the program since the 1983 team went 26-10 en route to the NCAA cham- pionship. "One of the things he tells us is that we don't just wake up one morning and become ACC champions," Howell told re- porters during his interview session. "Peo- ple might be predicting big things for us, but we still have to come to practice and work hard every day. We can't take drills off or not go hard every play. Just because we have some high expectations, doesn't mean the other teams in the league are go- ing to roll over. "We have to go out and earn what people are predicting for us." Gottfried knows that his team has to play an entire season the way it played for a few weeks in March. "Everybody says what a great season we had last year, but the reality is that's not true," Gottfried said. "We had a good end to the season last year. We did some really nice things down the stretch and made it to the Sweet 16. But earlier in the year we were not great. "There were games last year where we could have done better, against Syracuse, against Stanford. If we want to be really good this year, we have to play well the entire year." He also knows, deep down, that he has a total buy-in from his team. He's had a full summer, preseason workouts and a weeklong trip to Spain in August to ham- mer home his UCLA-inspired philosophy, which brought him success at both Murray State and Alabama. "We've been able to say 'Here is our expectation for you' and 'Here is how you are going to get there,'" the coach said. "All those things had to change for us to have a chance. "I think anytime you win, it helps people believe what you are doing. Success breeds confidence. When we have success, we feel more confident. The way we finished last year gave everything we are doing cred- ibility." The Pack is the popular pick in all the preseason polls. It has been in the top 10 of all the major ones released so far. It earned 26 of 53 first-place votes in the balloting of the ACC's media. Duke, North Caro- lina and defending ACC champion Florida State were immediately behind. Leslie, who thought long and hard about returning for his junior season, is hardly going to shy away from all the expecta- tions. That's what he returned for, to have a chance to win and win big. "But expectations are not what's going to win us games," he said. "We have to go do that ourselves." ■ You may contact Tim Peeler at

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