Pack is Prepared for the "Redeem Team" Role

When the Pack tips off its 2008-09 season at New Orleans tonight, the team will be taking the first step toward erasing the bitter memories of last season and putting themselves back on a winning track.

One could even think of them as NC State's own version of the "Redeem Team" – eager to reclaim the promise they showed two years ago during their amazing run through the ACC Tournament in Sidney Lowe's first year. It will be a long process throughout, but even Coach Lowe hinted at reasons for fans to be more optimistic about the upcoming season.

Eager for Redemption, but Focused on the Goal
as Coach Lowe stated, the team will "try to take it one game at a time." However, even as the first test in New Orleans approaches, it's clear the team is eager to put the past behind them. The Privateers' stunning upset in Raleigh last year was a clear sign that the Pack would have a tough time living up to their preseason hype – and this year's squad doesn't will do anything to avoid a repeat of the same pattern.

Yet, the key for this team is to maintain the focus on themselves, and avoid getting caught up in the revenge factor. "The main thing for us is to be focused on us and how we want to play and do the things we want to do," said Lowe. "When you step on the floor and you have something extra in you that you feel from last year, I think you use that. But we haven't really talked about a revenge game or anything like that – we've got to go down there and be focused…"

If the Pack is to reverse last year's trend, they will have to keep their heads on straight and do it from the inside out. And clearly, that's what Coach Lowe is pushing this team to do.

New Blood in the Lineup
Despite a lack of recruiting hype, freshmen C.J. Williams and Julius Mays could have a more significant impact on this year's team than most analysts think. In fact, the coaching staff has been so high on Williams, that he has been listed as a probable starter for tonight's season-opener. The reason behind the move was less about his athletic ability and more about the basketball smarts he brings to the lineup.

"I said from day one… that they had high basketball IQs." said Lowe. "And that's a talent, because all players don't have that. It takes a player that's willing to do whatever he has to do to play and to help the team win—a player that's really going to listen to what the coaches are saying and try to improve every day."

That kind of ability is something that was missing from the Pack's execution several times last year, and it appears to be a point of emphasis for the team this season. Getting Williams and Mays more time on the floor may be difficult as the season wears on, but having them contribute early on may actually help the team make better decisions on the break and in the half-court sets – and that will go a long way toward winning tight games down the stretch.

Back to Team Rebounding
Without a physical presence like J.J. Hickson in the lineup, the Pack will have to revert to a "gang rebounding" concept that focuses more on positioning and aggressiveness – much like the team did at the end of the 2006-07 season. As Coach Lowe said, it's not just a question of blocking out, but also attacking and securing the ball. At times (and too often), most of the team sat back and watched Hickson attack the glass. This year, the coaching staff is looking for more – especially post players Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley and Tracy Smith.

"Let's face it," said Lowe. "We can't have Simon Harris playing 11 minutes and lead us in rebounding—twice. We can't have that. We need our bigs to rebound, and that's it. We get that done and we'll be fine."

The fact that some of the players, especially Costner, have greatly improved their conditioning in the off-season will have an immediate impact in this area. Also, with Courtney Fells spending more time at small forward, the Pack will have a more athletic frontcourt overall than they did with just Hickson last year. The key will be getting those players to dig deep and find that mean streak to consistently win battles on the boards. After all, rebounding is mostly a function of drive and desire – and the Pack should be loaded with both.

Leadership from Needed Sources
Coach Lowe was up front about the fact that he doesn't actually look for his senior players to lead, but Fells is one player that has been stepping up at the right time. Fells came into the program with the hype of being a potential superstar, but never quite assumed the mantle of being that type of player. He's even been challenged by Lowe several times, prodding "When are you going to become the best player in the ACC?" Now, in his senior year, Fells is doing the necessary things to not only become a more consistent competitor, but also a team leader.

"I don't feel that you have to be a senior to lead—I just think you have to be a leader," said Lowe. "Whoever wants it, that's who gets it. The leader is going to evolve from within. That's kind of where we are; but right now, we do have some guys that are doing it. And Courtney has really been stepping up in that regard."

Lowe will look to Farnold Degand and Javi Gonzalez to run the team from the point, but someone will have to take control of the team and fire up the troops from a peer perspective. At this point, Fells is taking on that role, and only time will tell if he can translate that into on-court success.

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