January 29, 2008
RALEIGH If you're an N.C. State fan and a Sports Illustrated subscriber, don't read the article in the Jan. 28 issue on Chris Warren.
Who's Chris Warren? Good question. He's the freshman point guard on a surprising Mississippi squad. He's also a painful reminder of what appears to be Sidney Lowe's first recruiting mistake.
Back in the fall of 2006, N.C. State had just missed out on Chris Wright, a McDonald's All-American point guard who chose Georgetown over the Wolfpack. The State coaches then turned their attention to Warren, an overlooked point guard from Dr. Phillips High in Orlando.
Primarily because Warren played for his local AAU team, the Champion Wildcats, and not a bigger-name organization, he stayed largely under the recruiting radar until late in the summer before his senior season. When N.C. State jumped in on Warren, the primary competition for his signature consisted of Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and Ole Miss.
It didn't take long for State to get Warren in for a visit. But the Wolfpack did not make an offer to him when he traveled to Raleigh. Ole Miss, which had offered Warren, got his last official visit. Just over a week later, Warren committed to the Rebels over VCU and ODU. N.C. State, according to Warren's high school coach, had backed off.
The concern, apparently for the Wolfpack coaches, was Warren's size. He is generously listed at 5-11 and 170 pounds.
Obviously, that hasn't been much of an issue so far for Warren, who leads the Rebels in scoring (15.9) and assists (5.3). He also has a steady 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. Warren hasn't wilted in SEC play, either, scoring 24 against Tennessee, 25 against Auburn and dishing out 10 assists against Florida.
Think State could use that sort of production at the point?
What has to be frustrating for Wolfpack fans is that State backed off on Warren because of his size but then signed Javier Gonzalez, whose listed measurables (6-0, 176) also seem a bit overstated.
Gonzalez has appeared overmatched physically at times, as he did when he was physically overpowered by Georgia Tech point guard Matt Causey in a recent loss. And unlike Warren, Gonzalez has been an offensive liability thus far. He has struggled to beat defensive pressure off the dribble and to get the Wolfpack into the offensive sets that Lowe dearly loves to run.
Teams have picked up on Gonzalez's tentative play and essentially are daring him to beat them with his jump shot, something he has yet to be able to do. Witness his duck-hook airball on a potential game-tying three-pointer at the end of the loss to Georgia Tech.
"They're leaving me wide open," Gonzalez said afterward.
Maybe Gonzalez eventually will develop into a serviceable ACC point guard. Maybe State wouldn't have gotten Warren anyway, even if it had offered. But it seems clear now that not even giving themselves a chance at Warren was a bad call by the Wolfpack coaches.
LOCAL TARGET WALL IMPORTANT
With Gonzalez and his fellow point guard Marques Johnson struggling and previous starter Farnold Degand out with an ACL tear, State fans already are looking to future recruiting classes to see where the Wolfpack will find the successor to Engin Atsur at the point.
We've already discussed the recruitment of Raleigh standout John Wall, but the problem is that Wall is just a junior. Incoming recruit Julius Mays is really viewed as more of a shooting guard than a point, despite his 6-1 height.
It's hard, then, not to wonder about worst-case scenarios already, even though it's just Lowe's second season. Barring significant changes, it's not an overly pessimistic judgment to say that State won't make the NCAA Tournament this season. Next season, with Gavin Grant and possibly J.J. Hickson leaving, the Wolfpack may still struggle if it hasn't found a solid point guard.
If that occurs, what would the effect on Wall be? As mentioned previously, the Wolfpack appears to be in good shape for Wall, who is one of the top point guards in the Class of 2009. His mother and his high school coach both like Lowe, which should balance out the rocky relationship Wall's AAU coach, Brian Clifton, has with top State recruiter Larry Harris.
Locally, UNC is no longer a threat, after it landed New Jersey guard Dexter Strickland. Duke has expressed interest in Wall but appears to be more enamored with Kenny Boynton, whom the Blue Devils see as potentially another Jason Williams. The biggest contender for Wall appears to be Kentucky.
Wall is so critical to State, because he has the potential to be a domino-tipping recruit. If the Wolfpack can land a player considered by some the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2009, it would give it another strong selling point for prospects such as blue-chip center Derrick Favors and versatile wing Lorenzo Brown.
"I know that a lot of people like to play with me because I'm working on being a point guard that just doesn't only score, but one that can pass and get my teammates involved," Wall recently told The Wolfpacker.
But if State continues to struggle and that turns Wall off, the Pack could come up empty on what may potentially be a critical 2009 recruiting class.
FOOTBALL PLEDGE LOOKS TO SEC
We've written recently about the recruiting forays N.C. State has made into Georgia. It's a fertile talent area, but it's also SEC turf, so that means recruiting battles sometimes rise to a level above what's normally seen in the ACC.
Witness the recent case of Chattahoochee High safety Elton Ford. State's coaches thought they'd found a sleeper when they got a commitment from Ford in late November.
Then new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino came on the scene. The Razorbacks went after Ford hard, and he was clearly intrigued, telling an Arkansas website in late December that he would visit Fayetteville on Jan. 25.
That clearly didn't sit well with the Wolfpack coaching staff. They reminded Ford of his commitment, and it's believed that they told him that if he took an official visit to Arkansas, his scholarship offer from State would be pulled.
That appeared to have an effect on Ford. Just two days before the date of his visit to Arkansas, he told N.C. State-centric sites that he was solidly committed to the Wolfpack, and that he wouldn't be going to Fayetteville.
Then came Jan. 25. A website called HawgsIllustrated.com took photos of all 16 recruits in for official visits to Arkansas. Right in the middle was Ford.
In other words, don't expect him to be on the list of N.C. State signees on signing day. As a former Wolfpack coach once said, "That's life in the fast lane."