RALEIGH – During clutch-time in basketball recruiting, N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried delivered when he picked up what ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman tweeted was the “most important recruit in the Gottfried era.”
Power forward Abdul-Malik Abu of Meriden (N.H.) Kimball Union Academy chose the Wolfpack during a press conference in his hometown of Boston on Sept. 7 and represented a significant coup for N.C. State.
Abu had a whirlwind month of recruitment. After narrowing his list to include Connecticut, Florida, N.C. State and Providence in early-August, Abu made visits to all four schools, often scheduling the trips with just days notice. Then, Abu made a pair of visits in the week leading to his decision, tripping to Florida and NCSU and perhaps tipping off his top two schools in the process.
“Coach Gottfried’s just a real personable guy. He’s laid back, and we just have one thing in common – we want to win national championships,” Abu told TheWolfpacker.com. “I feel like together, with me, that’s possible. I hope to have a great season this year, but I’m looking forward to getting there and working to win a championship.”
Abu is considered a prized, top-50 caliber recruit. He has a good frame for a power forward at 6-8, 230 pounds, and he is a good fit for the Pack’s high-low offense. Abu is skilled offensively, comfortable facing the basket and backing his defender down, and he’s a good athlete, too. Abu’s decision was an important chip to fall for N.C. State. Securing an inside player was the missing element in the 2014 class.
The Pack already had commitments from the Martin twins of Mocksville, N.C. Calebis the more touted of the two, possessing a smooth perimeter game, good size (6-7, 185 pounds) for a shooting guard and a jumper that looks promising. He is generally considered a fringe top-50 player in the 2014 class.
His twin, Cody, is not ranked as high, sometimes listed as a top-100 prospect in the class, but like Caleb, he has good size (6-7, 195 pounds), is a good athlete and is the type that will battle for rebounds, loose balls and do other little things necessary for all successful teams.
N.C. State will also have the services of talented guard Trevor Lacey starting next year. The Alabama transfer was a five-star recruit by some scouting services in 2011 and averaged 11.3 points a game as a sophomore for the Crimson Tide.
Looking Loaded For 2014-15
That trio of the Martin twins and Lacey combined with current makeup of the roster should sufficiently supply the Wolfpack with wings and guards for next year, barring an unforeseen mass exodus following the upcoming season.
N.C. State, however, loses senior center Jordan Vandenberg, and while Vandenberg himself is not a huge hole that will need filling, his departure leaves the Wolfpack with just three true low-post players on the 2014-15 projected roster.
All three will be freshmen this year: long-armed but weight-challenged Beejay Anya, whom Gottfried noted earlier this summer will be on the Jenny Craig diet leading up to the start of the year; talented but raw Kyle Washington; and Lennard Freeman, an unheralded bruiser who was a late signee in last year’s class but had a solid offer list.
Most college head coaches would be uncomfortable with the thought of going into a season with just three low post options on the roster. The challenge Gottfried and his staff faced however was convincing viable post options in the 2014 class to give the Pack a hard look one year after NCSU had just inked three power forward/centers.
With Abu’s decision, the only other known name that N.C. State is involved with is local product Gary Clark. Clark has built up quite a following in the Triangle region after he averaged 24 points and 14 rebounds a game for Clayton High.
Although undersized at 6-7, 205 pounds for a power forward, the skilled Clark still put on a good showing at the prestigious Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., over the summer, averaging 21.3 points and 13.3 rebounds in a three-game tournament run for the CP3 All-Stars that resulted in a runner-up finish at the event.
Clark also reports offers from Cincinnati, Clemson, Maryland, Miami and Wake Forest, but with the commitment of Abu, it is unclear where the Pack would stand with Clark, who was supposed to take an official visit to N.C. State in September.
Regardless of what Clark decides to do, N.C. State seems to be potentially well positioned for the future, even if deluxe scoring forward T.J. Warren, a sophomore, bolts for the NBA with a good season. Both of those seem safe bets entering the upcoming season, especially after Warren entertained the thought of going pro after last year.
Abu solidifies the interior with a pair of power players who can face the basket (in himself and Washington) with a pair of wide-bodied low-post options in Anya and Freeman, whose forte will be rebounding and finishing around the hoop. Both are crucial elements in the high-low offense.
In 2014-15, N.C. State will also have a pair of point guards in Tyler Lewis and Anthony “Cat” Barber, assuming both return, that would be the envy of many in college basketball. The wing, which will debut former LSU transfer Ralston Turner and juco import Desmond Lee this season, will be solidified by the presence of Lacey and Caleb Martin.
That is a well-balanced roster that fits the system and structure Gottfried prefers, and it’s worth noting that all come into Raleigh with generally good reputations off the court, especially Abu.
As Goodman noted via Twitter: “Abdul Malik Abu can help change the culture at NC State. Basically the anti CJ Leslie. Motor, coachable, high IQ.”