Eye-popping athletic talent and an ability to show up on the highlight reel will get you a long look in the NBA draft. Many times, offensive skills will get you into the lottery. In the case of UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, a surprise No. 1 pick was the result.
But ability to “score the ball” isn’t everything, not by a long shot. Victor Oladipo (No. 2), Alex Len (No. 5) and Nerlens Noel (No. 6) have the potential to score plenty after they get used to the NBA game, but you can bet their reputations as defensive stoppers preceded them, and moved them up draft boards from day one.
We write about college hoops, so what does this have to do with us? We have to get in the (a little) wayback machine and think about where we started in November of last year. Specifically, our general feelings about who would rule the roost in the ACC. Local media who covered the conference chose N.C. State as the league’s best team, and few disagreed. I know I was blinded by the light – believing that the Wolfpack would build on their surprising performance in the 2012 tournament and take the next step. I mean, they had such dominant athletes, right?
Cut to my midseason Conference Catchup, and cracks began to appear. Duke took over the head parade float and N.C. State became merely “contenders”. By late January, our lead writer Rob Dauster put his finger on the problem that was keeping the Wolfpack from achieving to their potential: poor individual and team defense.
Eggs were broken, omelettes were rethought as scrambled eggs, and NC State ended up as a disappointing 8 seed, bombing out of the NCAA tournament against Temple in the first round. And what about all of those superior athletes Mark Gottfried had at his disposal?
Lorenzo Brown, the N.C. State point guard, went to the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 52nd overall pick. Both Brown and C.J. Leslie, the forward, departed N.C. State after their junior seasons. Both were projected as early- to mid-second round selections but Brown slid toward the bottom of the first round and Leslie wasn’t picked.
Bilas during the ESPN broadcast described Brown as a “first-round talent” but criticized his defense. “He did not defend with passion, but really nobody on (N.C. State’s) team did,” Bilas said.
When we look at recruiting and talent, and player development, this is kind of a cautionary tale. John Calipari takes mega-talented players and keeps them on track to the lottery. So far, N.C. State has taken lottery-ready players and watched them spiral into professional irrelevance. As Robarino pointed out recently – you have to develop talented players by teaching them. In this case, teaching them to play D. For N.C. State, that teaching would count as development.
I say, if Richard Howell doesn’t catch on with Denver, Gottfried should put him on staff as soon as possible. If there’s one guy on last year’s Wolfpack team who knew how to bust his butt, it was Howell. Maybe his attitude will catch on with the next wave of talented N.C. State recruits.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.