Keatts Adjusting to Hardships of Coronavirus Crisis

Brett Friedlander

In a perfect world, Kevin Keatts would be coaching his NC State basketball team in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament this week.

Instead, he's at home making lasagna from scratch, becoming an expert at using the web conferencing app Zoom and doing his best to stay in touch with his current players and recruits as life goes on in our imperfect coronavirus-infected world.

Keatts took time Thursday to update members of the local media -- using proper social distancing etiquete, of course -- on what he's doing to stay busy, how his players handled the disappointment of the season's premature end, recruiting and a number of other subjects.

Here is what he had to say:

"I’m like everybody else. We’ve all had to get used to (a new normal). I hope everybody is doing the right thing and kind of staying away from folks and staying in the house. My biggest challenge for me, and I’m talking about our current kids, is on Monday we started online classes and I’ve had a couple of Zoom meetings with those guys making sure they understand how important it is to get back into the academic mode of it, making sure guys are taking care of their business.

“It’s a tough thing, because every team -- we included -- always has some guys that need a little more help academically with tutors. So now I’m having to rely on our guys logging in every day, being able to the tutors and making sure we’re on track. One of the biggest challenges is that kids today don’t check email and a lot of the teachers are now communicating through emails and we’ve had to adjust to that.

“In regard to recruits, the guys we’ve signed, we’re trying to stay in contact with those guys as much as possible kind of keeping them updated on what’s going on. And then without saying any names, as far as future recruits, we’re doing a good job of texting and getting on the phone with those guys and doing as much Facetime as we can, just to make sure everybody understands that this is a tough situation and we’ll all get through it.”

Keatts said that juniors D.J. Funderburk and Devon Daniels plan to go through the NBA's pre-draft process, but added that he expects all the Wolfpack's underclassmen to be back for 2020-21 ...

“All of our stuff is about staying focused and making sure they finish out strong. I haven’t had any indication that anybody is not returning. After the season ended, I had a conversation with pretty much every guy on our team, including the seniors and fifth-year guys.

"I don't have any indication that anybody is not returning," Keatts said. "Two guys, D.J. Funderburk and Devon Daniels will both go through the process with the NBA to figure out what their status is and obviously learn a lot more about what they NBA folks think about them. They'll take the feedback and will make an informed decision about what their future is here.

"That being said, I don’t even know how the process will look. C.J. Bryce and Markell Johnson were both invited to the (Portsmouth Invitational Tournament), but of course that’s been cancelled, and I don’t even know if those guys will be able to have some workouts. We’ll wait for that feedback to determine what happens with those two guys."

Keatts said that the severity of the coronavirus crisis has helped him keep current hardships in perspective ...

“It’s hindered, but it’s something everyone in the country has to do. So I think we have to be creative. … I understand. I’m not complaining. We’re in a situation where we’re fighting a dangerous virus and right now, I’m telling the guys and even the guys I’m recruiting: ‘It’s not about us. It’s not about recruiting. It’s not about athletics. It’s about the safety of the country and the world.’ So everybody’s got to take a step back, put athletics in the back burner and try to get through this.”

Keatts said that administrators at State are doing a good job of keeping him and other staff members informed ...

“Chancellor (Randy) Woodson and our athletic director Boo Corrigan have done a tremendous job of updating everyone, our entire athletic department, our entire school, pretty much on a daily basis. I’m getting very used to Zoom, so that means I’ve had a lot of conversations from those guys. We get information and we got updated early on, I’d say about three or four hours. Now it’s slowed down a little bit to where we get at least one or two daily about what’s going on. As they find out, they tend to share it with us.”

Keatts said that there's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding this summer's recruiting schedule. He also said that it's been strange not having games to play in March ...

"This time this year I was hoping we'd end up in (the Sweet 16). ... It’s tough. This is tournament time, so we would be preparing. If you look back at last year we were still playing in the NIT at this time. I don’t know what the recruiting calendar’s going to look. I would say, if I’m guessing, there would be no April. I don’t know how it will go from that point on. I don’t know what will happen with July. If we’re able to have a July, maybe they’ll add a couple of weekends or days into July. There’s so much uncertainty about what’s going to happen because we’re fighting a moving target right now."

Keatts was asked to go through the sequence of events from the time his team beat Pittsburgh in the second round of the ACC tournament to the time that its season was abruptly ended 24 hours later, just before it was scheduled to play a quarterfinal game against Duke (pardon the brief buffering garble on the video) ...

"We came off a great win. I thought we finished the season with a great home win against Wake Forest and it was great for our seniors. And then obviously we went onto the tournament, had a first-round bye, played Pittsburgh and played very well in that game. Our attention automatically turned to the opportunity to play against a very good team in Duke again.

"I started hearing rumblings that morning of the Duke game that there possibly wasn’t going to be a game. As we got closer to that, I think around noonish, it was confirmed that the ACC was going to cancel the tournament. We were already set up to have a meeting, so I didn’t change the meeting because we were going to meet before we went over ....

(Garble)

"It’s hard for guys like Markell (Johnson) and C.J. Bryce and at that time, we thought it was just going to be just the ACC tournament. We talked about what we were going to do. Either we could stay or we could get on the bus and drive back and we decided after a couple of hours that we were going to drive back. We talked about how disappointing it was. They were looking forward to playing another game, trying to compete for an ACC Tournament championship. We got back to Raleigh about 3 o’clock and we let them all disperse. When the tournament was cancelled that night, I had to huddle those guys up.

When you look at C.J. Bryce ... he had the opportunity to go to three tournaments out of four years, and that didn’t happen. For Markell Johnson this would have been his second one and that didn’t happen for him. And then you look at Pat Andree and Danny Dixon, both of those guys came to a Power Five so they could have the opportunity to play in the biggest tournament in the country and it didn’t happen.

"When the tournament was cancelled, I was disappointed. I really was. I thought it should have been postponed, but as information started coming out, I realized it was the right thing to do. That’s when it hit me that this is way bigger than basketball. It’s really unfortunate.  feel bad for the spring-sport seniors even though there’s a possibility that they get the year back.

"It’s still disappointing because obviously they’ve been building and working hard for this moment. I was in the CAA and we were fortunate to go to two of those tournaments and we beat Hofstra one of the two times to get there. A team like Hofstra and (coach) Joe Mihalich, who's done a good job. He gets his chance to go and he doesn’t get to go. It was so tough. It was the right decision, but at that time, it didn’t feel like it."

Keatts addressed published reports have indicated that Keatts has offered a scholarship to Santa Clara transfer Trey Wertz, even though he doesn't have any scholarships available for next year (without actually referring to Wertz by name, of course) ...

"We're talking to graduates, we're talking to different people. I know everybody loves to do the numbers game and they'll add up and say 'well, you've already got 13 guys and you've only got 13 scholarships.'

"In today's world, I can go to the (transfer) portal tonight and we could have five guys in the portal, not that it's going to happen. What if (someone tells Funderburk) he's a late first round guy or something happens with Devin? You have to continue to recruit just in case those situations happen."

Keatts was asked about how he's managing the mental health of his players during this crisis ... 

Keatts said that injured guard A.J. Taylor is making good progress in his recovery and should be ready to play next season. As for the mental health of his players, Keatts said he's doing his best to stay in touch with them from afar ... 

"It’s tough because the season ended abruptly, but also there’s nowhere really to go play basketball. That’s the toughest thing. I want to make sure all of our guys are doing well during this situation as well as their families. I’m encouraging those guys because a lot of times, they don’t want to stay inside.

"I’m encouraging them to stay away because even though they may not be at high risk, if they catch it, they could infect their parents and grandparents. I’ll even extend it to the next weekend when it’s going to be hot outside, and more people will want to get outside, and I would ask people to stay inside or exercise social distancing."

As for his own mental health, he said he's got plenty to keep him busy ... including time to make his "famous lasagna" ...

"Man, I've done everything. I've lost a lot of 2K games to my son where he won't even play me anymore. That's the toughest thing. I've spent this time trying to hang out with my family as much as possible. It's crazy at it sounds, as coaches we don't get a chance to spend a lot of time with family. Not that they'd want to hang out with me.

"I'm spending a lot of time with my family, doing Tik Tok dancing, We did a tape but we're not ready to release it because I don't think I look good, so they want to make sure I'm looking good. Tonight my wife is telling me I've got to cook my famous lasagna. So I'm cooking tonight and yes, for everybody that wants to know, I cook a nice lasagna. 

"But I've reached out to my parents, reached out to loved ones. We typically do a Zoom meeting meeting or two every day with our administration, I'm talking to my assistant coaches doing those type of things, making sure my family is well, talking to recruits. Even though you're at home, it seems like you're working every hour. That's pretty good and it keeps me busy."

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Brett Friedlander