A Benchmark Effort

NC State basketball fans are in a good mood these days. With the recent commitment from local product C.J. Leslie, the Wolfpack has the talent, on paper, to compete with the top programs in the conference and nationally.

NC State basketball fans are in a good mood these days. With the recent commitment from local product C.J. Leslie, the Wolfpack has the talent, on paper, to compete with the top programs in the conference and nationally.

Even Leslie feels that way, as he told 620 AM The Buzz earlier this morning.

"We have a chance to be real great and go far," said Leslie. "I definitely didn't come to lose. We're going for that ACC Championship."

State is expected to return three starters in seniors Javier Gonzalez and Tracy Smith and sophomore wing Scott Wood. Five other scholarship players who received solid minutes last season will also be back.

However, it's the three-man class that head coach Sidney Lowe has landed which has Pack fans excited and observers intrigued. Potentially a top-five class nationally, the dynamic trio should add a lot of firepower.

"This is the benchmark effort that Sidney Lowe has been looking to deliver," said Scout.com National Basketball Director Dave Telep. "Three players, each amongst the best at their respective positions in the country.

"Now its up to them to forge together and deliver the wins a class of this magnitude is expected to bring."

"Sidney Lowe has put together an impressive group of players that should be ranked among the top five recruiting classes," stated Scout.com Recruiting Analyst Evan Daniels. "There's a lot of athleticism in this three-man group, and they should have a heck of a backcourt for the next few years."

The backcourt additions, five-star guards Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow signed with the Wolfpack last fall, and everyone believes they have the talent to compete for a starting spot in 2010-2011.

The biggest prize though could be Leslie. A 6-foot-8 combo forward from Raleigh (NC) Word of God Christian Academy, Leslie is the Pack's highest-rated pickup under Sidney Lowe. He's a consensus top-15 prospect nationally, one of the top three or four power forwards in the country, and a McDonald's All-American.

When examining the Pack's projected roster, State seemed to lack an explosive run-jump athlete who could consistently finish above the rim and contest shots defensively in the paint.

Leslie has the physical upside to be a game-changer in that regard, and when he picked the Pack over Kentucky and UCONN it essentially neutralized that possible weakness.

"Athletically, he's got few peers," Telep said. "The guy has a special skill to play looking down through the rim. He's a combo forward in the making."

"There aren't many guys in the 2010 class that are as gifted as Leslie," said Daniels. "He's a high-level athlete loaded with talent and potential."

"Athletically, he's got few peers."

A lot of folks speculated that NC State wouldn't land Leslie. Rarely does a player re-commit to a program after opening back up his recruitment, which Leslie did early in 2009. Leslie verbaled to Lowe and NC State following his freshman season but didn't believe he had fully taken advantage of the recruiting process.

"I wanted to see what else was out there and that's something I did," said Leslie. "At the end I felt like it was the right situation for me to be in."

Being the hometown program certainly didn't hurt State's chances. Leslie remained around the team over the past 12 months and has played with both Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow. Recently he was on campus virtually every day participating in pickup games with the current players and has a strong friendship with star Tracy Smith. Did his familiarity with the team factor into his decision?

"It did," said Leslie. "I played with everybody before I committed, and I already know how everybody plays. I've played with Lorenzo and Ryan a lot, and I've been going over to campus and playing pickup with the guys all the time. Tracy and all the guys have been cool with me and it made me feel like I'd fit in great. I'm excited about it for sure."

At the end of the day players want to improve enough in college where they will have a chance to play professionally in the NBA. Sidney Lowe coached several seasons in "the league," and that appealed to Leslie as well.

"Coach Lowe has coached on that level and played on that level so he knows what it takes," said Leslie. "I've seen where J.J. Hickson got drafted and is playing in the league, and I also noticed how the team is improving... and the players.

"That was one of the reasons why I committed back [to NC State]. Guys like Tracy improved over the last couple of years, and I think we have a great chance to win. It was a very tough decision, but I kept my head throughout the whole process and realized it was the best place for me."

Capable of playing both forward positions, Leslie isn't ready to be pigeonholed into a spot. He's looking to enroll at NC State and improve as a player but also win games.

"Coach Lowe sees me doing a little bit of everything," said Leslie. "We're going to be playing a different style, and he talked about how we have a chance to be great.

"If all of us come in and play with the other guys and we all do our jobs, we have a chance to be great. We can go far. I think we can win a lot of games."

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