The Wolfpacker

March 2018

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 13 of 79

14 ■ THE WOLFPACKER TRACKING THE PACK Sophomore point guard Markell Johnson ranked third in the NCAA in assists per game through Feb. 27, and led the ACC by a sizable margin in league games only. The 6-1, 165-pounder from Cleveland was averaging 7.7 assists per contest in 22 games played, and had distributed 8.7 dimes per outing in 12 ACC games (Notre Dame senior Matt Farrell was second with 5.8 assists per game in 11 ACC contests). Johnson dished out at least 10 assists in five straight games, including a season-high 14 in the 86-81 loss versus Miami Jan. 21. However, his impact hasn't just been felt with his passing. Johnson had 20 points and 11 assists in the 95-91 overtime win at North Carolina Jan. 27, dominating the end of regulation and the extra session. He also hit a big three-pointer with 33 seconds left to help the Wolfpack top Syracuse 74-70 Feb. 14. Johnson missed six games due to a school suspension after he was indicted on assault charges for a fight in his home state of Ohio Oct. 8. The charges were dropped right before the Clem- son game Jan. 11, but he was held out of the contests against the Tigers. NCSU went 4-3 without him, and was 8-4 with two games remaining in the regular season since his return. Johnson recently took some time to discuss with The Wolf- packer what it has been like to return to the court, his per- formances against Syracuse and North Carolina, and also his love for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. — Jacey Zembal Getting To Know: Sophomore Point Guard Markell Johnson Quick Questions How do you keep the big goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament and not get overwhelmed by it? "We just have to stay focused and stay locked in. We have to take it one game at a time." What was it like to hit the big shot to help beat Syracuse? "They were playing their 2-3 zone. Omer [Yurtseven] set a great screen on one of the guys up top, and I came off and shot it with confidence. That was it." Do you think about passing or shooting when you get the ball or is it just a reaction? "It's just a reaction to how some- body is playing me. If I feel that I can shoot, I'm going to shoot. But if I want to pass, then I'll pass it." What was it like to work the pick- and-roll to perfection with sopho- more center Omer Yurtseven down the stretch of the UNC win? "It was key because I knew they were going to go under a lot of my screens. I know Omer will get open, and I have the passing ability to see the court. "I felt confident. I know the coaches always believe in me. It just clicked down the stretch. We didn't go this far to go into overtime and not win." What went into your tweet about Popeyes being better than Bojan- gles'? "I feel there is no follow-up because Popeyes is better than Bojangles', all- around. I'm going to drive right past Bojangles' to Popeyes every time. "I'm from the Midwest, so I didn't grow up with Bojangles'. I grew up with Popeyes. I just stick to what I know. We didn't have Popeyes last year, so I was a Bojangles' guy. Now Popeyes is there, and I'm a Popeyes guy now." What is your go-to meal at Pop- eyes? "I get a platter, spicy chicken ten- ders with sweet Cajun fries, sweet heat and ranch." Through Feb. 27, Johnson led the ACC and ranked third in the coun- try with an average of 7.7 assists per game. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN PODCAST HIGHLIGHTS The Wolfpacker staff has enjoyed getting to know various guests on their podcast every Tuesday around 12:30 p.m. at Amedeo's Italian Restaurant in Raleigh. The pod- cast is always available to listen to at, iTunes and most everywhere else podcasts can be downloaded. Here are some excerpts from longtime Fayetteville Observer football recruiting guru Sammy Batten, who was a guest in mid- January: How is the class of 2018 in the state of North Carolina compare to past classes you have seen? "I think every year in this state it gets better at the top. There were 80 kids in the 2018 class that were committed or signed to FBS programs. When I first started, North Carolina might have produced 40-45 kids a year. Now you are looking at 60, 70, 80. "Obviously, Florida, Texas [and] California are the main states producing major college football players. We are right there in the top 10, and a lot of people don't think of us like that because of the basketball prominence in the state. When it comes to football, we have some of the best around. "The Raleigh area, just five or six years ago might be producing one or two guys. Look at all the players that are coming out of her now. They almost matched Charlotte this year. "A couple of decades ago, I remember when [quarterback] Chris Leak came out of high school at Charlotte Independence, There were just two players, Chris Leak and another guy, who signed with high Division I programs coming out of Charlotte. Now Charlotte is putting out 25-30 kids a year." What stands out about NC State running back signee Ricky Person Jr.? "Everything, and I probably underrated him. I think I had him four or five on my list, and had Zamir White of Scotland County who is going to Georgia No. 1. In hindsight, I'm not so sure that Ricky Person is not every bit the prospect Zamir White is. "With Nyheim Hines going to the NFL, that leaves Reggie Gallaspy and maybe Will Eason as running backs at NC State who have taken a carry in a college game. Ricky might have a real chance at getting some significant carries next year. "He is so impressive on the offensive side, but he's a great defensive player, too. He closes on the ball carrier and plays physically and fearlessly." What made NC State linebacker signee Payton Wilson so coveted? "The first time I became aware of him, one of my fraternity brothers who played football at UNC, went to a lacrosse game between [Hillsborough] Orange and Chapel Hill. He goes, 'I saw this kid who was really big, about 6-4 and he scored five goals in a lacrosse game.' I said, 'What is his name?' He goes: 'Payton Wilson.' I had heard Wilson was a great football prospect. "Then you watch Payton Wilson on the field. He has a real long frame, and he's extremely quick and agile. He gets to the ball really quickly. He is just a prototypical outside linebacker. "He is a guy that can disrupt the passing lanes when he comes in off the edge, yet he is agile enough to drop back and cover a tight end or maybe a receiver. It was a steal for NC State to get that guy. Unfortunately, his senior year got shortened with a knee injury." Extra Points The Raleigh News & Observer high school sports editor J. Mike Blake on cover- ing former NC State pitcher Carlos Rodon at Holly Springs (N.C.) High: "The first game I covered, he was a sophomore, and he was not pitching that year. I think he had a scary injury that summer. They wanted to be cautious with it so he wasn't going to pitch. "I saw him hit a grand slam and a two-run double. I thought he was one of the top first base recruits in the country. I had no idea he pitched. "I came back the next year, and he had thrown two no-hitters to start off the year. I went up to his coach and said, 'I didn't know he could pitch.' He gave me a look and replied, 'Oh, he can pitch.' Sure enough, the rest is history."

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