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Gottfried begins work reshaping Wolfpack

By Aaron Beard
AP Basketball Writer / October 25, 2011

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RALEIGH, N.C.—New North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried isn't letting anything slide in his first season, whether it's players arriving late to study hall or not showing the competitive fight he wants to see in practice.

After five underachieving years, Gottfried wants to change more than just the style of play for the Wolfpack.

"I think it's kind of become a fashionable thing to say when coaches say, `We need to change the culture,'" Gottfried said. "I do think that's kind of where we are, and what I mean is when you start to define culture, it means how hard we're going to work every day, how well do we pay attention to detail. how much we want to compete and when the going gets tough, how do we respond to that?

"I've seen it early in our practices already where either an individual or groups, it may not be going their way and the first reaction is to point a finger. Those are things that have to change."

A lot of things must change after the past five years under Sidney Lowe. He went just 86-78 overall, 25-55 in Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season play and never finished higher than ninth in the league. N.C. State also lost 16 of 19 against nearby ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina.

Lowe managed to bring in talent, including holdovers C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell and Scott Wood. Gottfried's job is to get more out of the players that never seemed to meet their potential under Lowe.

That meant making sure players knew it was unacceptable when they arrived 20 minutes late for study hall or for weightlifting sessions shortly after Gottfried's arrival in the spring. It meant forcing his players to increase their competitiveness by matching them up 1-on-1 in drills that end when a player scores or the other gets the defensive rebound.

As Leslie pointed out, Gottfried "don't like softies."

One look at Howell shows the results. With Gottfried pushing him to get in better shape shortly after his arrival, the 6-8 forward has shed about 20 pounds since the spring.

"They want to win," Gottfried said. "They're hungry. They're wanting for somebody to come in here and help them in a way. They know they have to work hard. I think overall that has been pretty positive since we got here."

Senior C.J. Williams said it hasn't taken long for players to get the message.

"Guys knew things were going to change," he said. "We came in with the mindset of let's take what the coach is giving us, that knowledge he's giving us and use it to the best of our ability," he said. "We want to win. We're not coming here to rebuild."

While N.C. State hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since Herb Sendek's final season in 2006, Gottfried figures his group is a "mystery team" in the ACC race with three starters back in Leslie, Wood and Brown, as well as Howell off the bench.

Leslie, a 6-foot-8 forward was one of Lowe's most heralded recruits, was the team's second-leading scorer with 11 points and the top rebounder (7.2). He had games when he used his long-armed frame to create matchup problems for opponents, but in other games he looked unfocused and erratic.

Perhaps that's part of the reason why Gottfried keeps calling Leslie by his first name -- Calvin -- and saying "it's time for a new start with him."

Wood averaged nearly 10 points and has been the team's best outside shooting threat, while Brown will become the full-time point guard after playing both guard spots as a freshman.

The team also benefited when point guard Alex Johnson transferred in after graduating from Cal State-Bakersfield. He can play immediately after enrolling in graduate school, giving the Wolfpack some help at the point.

"We're laying a foundation now," Gottfried said. "The next part of it will be when we get into games, the popcorn's popping and the bright lights are on. Now how do you respond?"