NC State Basketball 2002-03 Preview - Part 4

The Strutting Wolf reviews the past season and looks toward the future with it's annual Wolfpack basketball preview.

Levi Watkins (So 6'7" 220 3.2 ppg) had all the accolades of a future star coming into the NC State program. He was a Parade All-American and ranked in the top 50 players from the class of 2001. In the early season games, Levi was emerging as one of the Wolfpack's most versatile players. He was strong and athletic. He showed the ability to defend the perimeter as well as in the blocks. He also was beginning to display a nice offensive stroke and looked to provide some real productive minutes for the Pack. However, his freshman season was cut short in the second half of the ACC opener against Maryland in late December, when he had a major ACL tear that forced him to the sidelines. In a recent interview, Charlie Rozanski, NC State's Director of Sports Medicine, updated Watkin's progress. "Levi is doing fantastic. He's six months-plus from his surgery and his range of motion and functional strength have really improved dramatically. He's about 15 percent from full strength in that leg." The short-term goal was to make sure Watkins was ready for individual skill workouts that began in late August. Recovering from ACL surgery can often be slow and tedious. However, there are signs that Watkins will be at full strength by the time the Wolfpack begins official preseason practices in mid-October.

When Watkins went down last season, Ilian Evtimov (So 6'7" 226 7.1 ppg) was asked to pick up much of the slack. Ilian responded with an All-Rookie ACC performance, or did he? When the ACC Freshman team was announced, it seems they left off the native of Bulgaria much to the chagrin of Pack fans. Upon looking into the matter a little closer, it seems the AP writers were unable to spell "Ilian Evtimov" correctly. The result was a computer that kicked out enough votes that would have put Ilian just one vote shy of making the All-Rookie team and number one in the honorable mention group. The recount was on and Ilian got his due for his performance that included tough defensive play, three point shots and unbelievable passes that drew "oohs and ahhs" from fans and opponents. After Evtimov came off the bench to scorch Clemson for 18 points and six boards in the 83-54 victory for the Pack, Tiger coach Larry Shyatt became an Ilian fan. "I think Evtimov is one of the brightest young people in this league, and I mean bright. As an opponent you don't often enjoy anything, but I enjoy watching him play basketball."

The returning Guards for the Wolfpack looked to be formable for any opponent. Scooter Sherrill (Jr 6'3" 190 5.7 ppg) has finally paid his dues. After sitting behind Grundy and Miller for his first two seasons, the McDonald All-American looks like he is set to have a breakout season. Scooter's defense has been a topic for debate for some time now. However, if your reputation is based on performing against and compared to the likes of Anthony Grundy in daily practice, not many could stand up to the test. It is very probable that Scooter's defense is not as bad as most people may believe and the experience of going against Grundy has made him a better player. Sherrill's offense has never been questioned. He displayed a glimpse at the future in January when he lit up Clemson's zone for 19 points. Scooter told the media afterward, "Anytime you're a shooter and you're playing against a zone, your eyes get real big." Sherrill's eyes were huge on that night. He was 5 for 7 from beyond the arc and helped shoot the Pack to the win.

The Pack's lone senior, Cliff Crawford (Sr 6'3" 190 4.3 ppg) has seen his starting role come and go. As a sophomore, he started 25 of 29 games due in part to an injured Archie Miller. This past season, Cliff was used mainly as the sixth man coming off the bench in relief of Miller and Grundy. By all accounts, the point guard position will again be Cliff's to lose. He is extremely quick but has been out of control at times in the past. Senior years seem to have a way to deal with such deficiencies. Each possession is cherished by the great senior players. Their game seems to slow down as decisions become routine and easily made. Control of the game comes more natural for seniors as younger players step up to make the mistakes. The pressure is less, with the yolk of previous upperclassmen now lifted. Cliff Crawford should have a big senior year. It is simply his time to do so.

The heart of the 2002-03 team is without a doubt, Julius Hodge. The McDonald All-American lived up to all he was billed to be as a Freshman. He was a great team player who's practice time is legendary. He was a great individual player, showing skills becoming of a NBA star. He was a fierce competitor that hounded opposing players while drawing the ire of their fans. Nothing during the past season intimidated Hodge. Not a rowdy Syracuse crowd, not Steve Blake and not even a great player like Caron Butler. Julius was not and will not be intimidated because he is focused on his reason for attending NC State. In a 2001 interview with Tony Haynes of, Hodge explained his mission as a Wolfpack player. "I've heard of Jim Valvano and David Thompson," Hodge said. "They are examples of the great people that have passed through this program throughout the years. I'm just trying to bring the success back with this recruiting class. We want to win. That's what we came here to do and that's why we practice so hard every day. I came to North Carolina State University not only to get a four-year academic degree, but to win the National Championship."

With talk like that, how can you not love this team?

This concludes the 2002-03 preview of NC State basketball. If you would like to reach the author, send your e-mail to

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