The lights are on. The ball is about to be tipped. Fans are ready and scouts are watching. It is game-time for NC State and eyes are on the Wolfpack.
This season is somewhat different for the team, not that NC State basketball is typically cast in the wilderness, in that the Pack has two genuine prospects that could leave for the allure of the NBA after only one season in Dennis Smith and Omer Yurtseven.
Yurtseven was forced to wait but Smith has been given the reigns from the beginning. The freshmen have shown glimpses of what could be a long and prosperous career with their respective talent levels still a long way from being harnessed. Smith in particular has displayed athleticism and instincts that bely both his age and the serious nature of the ACL injury he suffered prior to his senior season of high school.
Simply put, Smith is almost certain to play only one season of college basketball and the demand for Yurtseven may be such that he also forgoes his final three years of eligibility as well. There will not be any Senior Days for this duo.
As they and the NC State team as a whole navigate through the rigors of an annually brutal ACC slate it is important to remember -- both for the sake of the team and their own individual development -- that the players that are hyped also inspire those who will square off with them. Each respective league encounter is a chance for others to show the legions of observers their own worth against the best there is to offer. The intensity of the opposition has to be surpassed.
The Wolfpack received a bitter taste of this in Coral Gables, Florida against a Miami team that looked and played like it was more hungry.
NC State head coach Mark Gottfried, in what will certainly be a quote that gets recited for years, stated as much in his own unique way.
"You come out with your cool jacket on, you're going to get your ass kicked," Gottfried said. "That's just the bottom line in this conference. That's part of learning what it takes at this level. I think the most important thing for me right now is every practice we have, they better understand it. It needs to be addressed. It's not because there's not a will to or a want to, it's learning how to. You better learn how to play at this level."
And that is where NC State is heading into its ACC home opener against Virginia Tech Wednesday. It is a young team, even redshirt-senior Terry Henderson has limited experience with the Wolfpack and had not played extensively in two seasons. There are parts, like Yurtseven and Ted Kapita, that came in late and those like Maverick Rowan who have missed time due to injury.
There is both a melding process and a compelling need for maturation for NC State while also playing in a league that has no mercy for teams that are trying to figure things out.
The Wolfpack has a minimum of 17 regular season games and at least one ACC Tournament contest to sort things, so there is some time. NC State can still have a better-than-good season and there is ample talent and depth around to do it.
To get there top-notch players like Smith and Yurtseven, newcomers like Kapita and Markell Johnson (who has missed one game due to an undisclosed discipline issue) along with "new" veterans like Henderson and Torin Dorn Jr. will have to bring the intensity every night.
And leave the cool jacket in the locker room.null