Last season the Pack exceeded expectations and won 25 games while reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years in Moore’s debut season. While the veteran coach felt like the learning process meant it was “like having 13 or 14 freshman” in the beginning of the previous campaign, there has been a different in the buildup to the 2014-15 season as the returning players now know what to expect.
“In that way, we almost have a head start,” Moore said. “It is like we have extra assistant coaches out here.”
However, NC State will have to overcome the loss of several seniors, including top-10 WNBA pick Markeisha Gatling and three-time Academic All-American Kody Burke. The Wolfpack will have two senior starters returning in the backcourt in Len’Nique Brown-Hoskin and Krystal Barrett, along with Miah Spencer—who entered the starting lineup late last season and flourished.
Moore, who was an assistant under Kay Yow at State for three seasons, considers his first season in charge a success. He is looking forward to the challenge that rebuilding in the ACC brings and feels the Pack will rely heavily on his returning perimeter players initially.
“Obviously, last year was a phenomenal way to start back here at NC State,” Moore said. “Winning 25 games and going to the NCAA Tournament was just a great ride. Now we are ready to start a new journey. That is the thing about college athletics; we are here to help these kids earn a degree, not just for the four years they are here but the next 40 years. I feel like on the perimeter we have some good experience. The question marks will probably be inside. At the four-position and the five-position we really have mostly new players.”
Spencer entered the starting lineup late last season versus Virginia after senior guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman tore her ACL at Duke. The 5’8” guard from Decatur, Ga. struggled initially but ended the campaign with double-figure games in scoring in each of the final seven contests.
“I am way-more comfortable,” Spencer said. “I feel more experienced since I have played here a year and I feel like I had to grow up so fast. My confidence level is up there and I just trying to help the younger girls get their confidence level up; let them know that they just need to keep working every day.”
Brown-Hoskin and Barrett will round out the trio that will lead the Pack from the backcourt, a stark contrast to last season.
“We won’t see [Gatling] down there, so we are more inexperienced at the post positions,” Brown-Hoskin said. “I feel like last year we focused more on pounding the ball on the inside and working to score from the inside. This year we might be more guard-oriented.”
“We have a lot of speed,” added Barrett. “The guards are more experienced. We have some explosiveness with the backcourt.”
Moore acknowledges the will be a void down low, at least until the Wolfpack forges its identity. There are however some returning parts and freshman Carlee Schumacher performed well in NC State’s exhibition victory over Lenior-Rhyne on November 7th.
“When you take a Kody Burke and a Keisha Gatling, two players who were drafted by the WNBA—with Keisha being a top-10 pick—that is big shoes to fill,” Moore said. “So we’ve got our work cut out for us. Jen Mathurin and Ashley Eli are two returners but other than that we have got new faces. That is going to be a big challenge for us, to figure out who can come in and learn the system and adjust to this level of basketball.”
The Wolfpack was picked to finish in 10th place in the ACC last season but surpassed expectations to finish in the top-four of the league standing and earn a double-bye in the conference tournament.
The consensus this season is that NC State will have a hard time replicating the success of Moore’s first team. The second-year coach, who spent 15 years in the Southern Conference leading Tennessee-Chattanooga, is looking forward to the challenge.
“We are anxious to get started,” Moore said. “It is exciting playing in the ACC. Every night is a challenge. I see the blemishes and the things we have got to get better at but I do see the bright spots with those kids on the perimeter. They have the potential to be good.”