NC State turns to Kevin Keatts to revive Wolfpack program
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State hopes it caught a rising star by hiring Kevin Keatts.
The 44-year-old's career has been on the fast track: Six years after leaving his job at a prep school in Virginia, he earned his first head coaching job at a power conference school.
During his formal introduction Sunday as the Wolfpack's coach, Keatts said he's a winner ''and I've always been one.
''And I'm not bragging about being a winner. I'm not saying I'm the best coach in the world,'' Keatts said. ''But what I do know how to do is, I know how to motivate guys and I know how to win games.''
Athletic director Debbie Yow said Keatts - a former assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville who coached UNC Wilmigton to two straight NCAA Tournaments - has ''what I call the stuff, which is the right mindset, the ability and the wisdom to maximize every opportunity for success.''
Keatts embraced the challenge that comes with being in the same neighborhood as perennial powers North Carolina and Duke - and the lofty expectations from a proud N.C. State fan base that holds its team to the same standards as the Tar Heels and Blue Devils.
''Everybody's so tough on our fan base,'' Keatts said. ''Don't you want a fan base that wants to win? Don't you want a fan base that wants some bragging rights?''
It's been a quick climb up the coaching ladder for Keatts, a former assistant at Marshall who spent 10 total seasons covering separate stints at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia - where he coached, among others, former N.C. State guard Lorenzo Brown - before he joined Pitino's staff in 2011.
He spent three years with the Cardinals, helping them reach two Final Fours and claim the 2013 national title, before UNC Wilmington brought him in in 2014 to turn around a program that had sagged to the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association.
Keatts won the CAA coach of the year award in both 2015 and '16, and led the Seahawks to tight NCAA Tournament losses to Atlantic Coast Conference opponents in each of the past two years, falling to Duke by eight points in 2015 and to Virginia by five last Thursday.
He was hired by N.C. State the following day with the hopes that he'll be even more competitive with the Wolfpack. They fired Mark Gottfried on Feb. 16 - one day after a 97-73 loss to rival North Carolina that marked the latest in a string of blowouts late in the season.
The Wolfpack finished 15-17 and had managed just a 9-27 record in ACC play the past two years.
''I think this is a good bunch of guys, but I'm not so sure that they didn't always play for the name on the (front) of the jersey,'' Keatts said. ''If we can get everybody to play together and play for N.C. State, then certainly, we'll go a long ways.''
Keatts stressed the importance of developing an identity for N.C. State's program and wants to implement the same uptempo, pressing style that worked well in Wilmington. UNCW UNC this season ranked 12th in scoring, averaging 84.8 points, was 10th with 336 3-pointers made, and was sixth in turnover margin at plus-4.1.
He said big man Abdul-Malik Abu is ''probably going to lead the country in dunks next year'' and compared his favored fast-paced play to Tony Bennett's patient system at Virginia and Jim Boeheim's trademark 2-3 zone at Syracuse.
''It'll be fun. I think you'll love it,'' Keatts quipped. ''If you don't, come see me after about a month of us playing, and I'll take you to dinner.''
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