Early: 'We Have A Terrific Product'

Orlando Early is quick to point out that his relationship with Mark Gottfried played a major role in his decision to leave South Carolina and accept an assistant coaching position at NC State.

Orlando Early is quick to point out that his relationship with Mark Gottfried played a major role in his decision to leave South Carolina and accept an assistant coaching position at NC State.

"It really starts with coach Gottfried for me," said Early. "I've known him for over ten years, and it goes back all the way to the great run we had together at Alabama.

"We had some great times together there, building that program up to reaching No. 1 at one point, making the Elite Eight. I consider coach Gottfried to be a great friend... I'm excited to be back working with him."

"Orlando was on my staff for four years at Alabama and he is one of the best assistants I've ever had," said Gottfried. "He played a vital role during our most successful years, including our run to the Elite Eight in 2004.

"He's been a successful head coach - he was the coach of the year in the Sun Belt Conference. He's also a tremendous recruiter and will have a great relationship with our players. I'm very excited to have him join us here at NC State."

Early started his coaching career in 1993 as a 25-year old assistant at his alma mater, Gardner-Webb. He spent three years there before moving on to Western Carolina, where he stayed three years... one as an assistant coach, during which the Catamounts captured the Southern Conference Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and his final two seasons as the associate head coach.

In 1998 he was hired as an assistant at Charlotte by Bobby Lutz, and in his three seasons in the Queen City he helped the 49ers to a pair of Conference USA titles, two NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT appearance.

His success at Charlotte caught the eye of Mark Gottfried, and Gottfried hired Early in 2001 to replace Johnny Jones, who left for the head coaching job at North Texas. It would be a great move by Gottfried, as the two worked together to have as strong a four-year run in program history.

The Crimson Tide topped the 20-win mark three times, posted a combined 88-41 record, advanced to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, held a No. 1 national ranking, won an SEC regular-season championship and made an NCAA Elite Eight appearance.

Early's work as an assistant coach was recognized on a national level. Athlon Sports College Basketball magazine tabbed him the No. 3 on its "Top Assistant Coaches" list, one of the "Top 10 Assistants to Watch" in 2002-03, and one of the "Next 10 Geniuses of College Basketball" in 2001-02.

Early draws up a play from the bench.

Regarded as Alabama's top assistant, his success led to an opportunity to take over as head coach at Louisiana-Monroe in 2005 at the age of 37.

"Winning is the key to it all," said Early. "Under coach Gottfried's leadership, our system, and his philosophy, I was able to do a good job within my role to help our program be very, very successful. When you do those things people notice."

His best season at the school came in 2006-2007 when he won 11 conference games and was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year. He compiled a 60-92 record at the school before resigning in 2010 to accept an assistant coaching position at South Carolina. Early believes his experiences at Louisiana-Monroe will help as an assistant.

"I was talking to coach Donovan at Florida last summer and was telling him that I feel like I'm an even better assistant this time around because of my experiences as a head coach," said Early. "I understand some of the things you don't quite understand or see until you're able to be the lead guy and run your own program. I have a great feel for that and understand what it takes, and I believe that will help me now as an assistant.

"You view the game a little differently when you are making the decisions on timeouts and play calls. This may sound weird, but I think going back to being an assistant is like having children. The first time around it's like trial and error... you're not sure on some things, but with that second child, after already being a parent, you have a much better understanding."

Early admits that the move to NC State happened quick.

"It definitely did," he said. "Even after I left Alabama I always stayed in touch with coach Gottfried. He was a guy I could lean on. We stayed in touch and talked about maybe working together again.

"When he got this great opportunity at NC State he contacted me and now I'm here. I'm excited about it. I'm ready to fill my role and get to work."

Early's role isn't easy to define, but you can count on recruiting and landing quality talent being a huge part of it. He's always been able to attract kids and sign top-level recruits.

At Western Carolina he recruited the Southern Conference's top incoming class two years in a row, signing the 1998 Southern Conference Player of the Year, Bobby Phillips. He helped bring in two top 20 classes in 1999 and 2000 at Charlotte, and he played a role in the recruitment of Rodney White, the 2001 ESPN national freshman of the year, conference freshman of the year, C-USA tournament MVP, and top-10 NBA draft pick.

Early's recruiting prowess carried over at Alabama. He helped bring in three Top 25 recruiting classes in a four-season stretch at Alabama (2002, 2004 and 2005) and also signed the 2002 state of Alabama's Mr. Basketball, Kennedy Winston, one of the nation's Top 20 incoming freshman and a candidate for SEC Player of the Year.

"Obviously a major part of my role will be recruiting," said Early. "That's priority No. 1. It's hard to win without good players so a part of my job will be to go out and get the guys needed to win. I think that's very important.

"Overall though it's hard to ever say what your clearly-defined role is because at the end of the day you've got to do whatever you can to help your program be successful. I was fortunate enough with my personality and working with coach Gottfried to realize early on that there are no egos. If making a program better means washing clothes that day because the equipment managers are out, then you've got to do it. You do whatever it takes."

"It's hard to win without good players."

Having played at Gardner-Webb and coached at his alma mater along with Western Carolina and Charlotte, Early knows that he will be spending a lot of time evaluating and recruiting North Carolina's top in-state talent.

"I think it's important to land good players, and the state of North Carolina has some very good players," he said. "We do want to recruit in the state, and we want to get the best guys that we can to represent NC State on and off the court... the whole gambit. I have spent a lot of time in this state recruiting and I know there is talent here."

He was already recruiting the state for South Carolina and now Early will be wearing Red and White on the recruiting trail. What does he think of the product he is now selling to recruits?

"I have an unbelievable job at NC State," he said. "In terms of our facilities, they are definitely second to none and so is our commitment to basketball. I've been here one day and from the feel I get from coach Gottfried and the administration... I know they are committed to winning. You can tell it by our facilities and you can feel it when you talk to them.

"Also, the league is the best in the country. There isn't much you can say about that. We have a terrific product, especially when kids see what we have here at NC State and the style that we want to play."

Early has been on the job literally for hours and he's itching to hit the road and recruit.

"I'm taking care of all the compliance stuff," he said. "I can actually go out today if I need to and then tomorrow.

"We're going to be out on the road when we can, especially in terms of evaluating to 2012 talent. Coach Gottfried and myself, we've been here only a day or two so it's hard to say exactly right now there is to do in 2011, especially with it being so late, but we're going to get on the road here during the evaluation periods and get to work."

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