RALEIGH – The message board vitriol that has been directed toward N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe since the end of his disappointing second season in Raleigh has lessened considerably as the summer has worn on.
The reason isn't the emergence of a softer, fuzzier side of Wolfpack fans. (Just ask athletic director Lee Fowler about that.) Rather, State fans are starting to get good vibes about Lowe's 2009 recruiting class.
It seems obvious that Lowe's ability to bring in talent in the 2009 class will have a much greater bearing on his future job security than what State does on the court next season. The Wolfpack could miss out on the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year – a very real possibility unless someone, anyone, emerges at point guard – but State fans probably would remain tolerant if they knew blue-chippers were on the way.
It's no wonder, then, that so much attention has been paid to the recruitment of Raleigh point guard John Wall, who is considered by one recruiting service the top prospect in the Class of 2009. Wall, though, actually may be the third piece of State's 2009 puzzle, instead of the first.
No disrespect to the Wolfpack's current commitment, Indiana shooting guard Scott Wood (who has impressed after fully recovering from a leg injury), but the first big prize State could land is 6-4 combo guard Lorenzo Brown. The Wolfpack already looked like the clear leader for Brown before he attended State's summer elite camp, another very good sign. Some recruiting observers now believe that the commitment of Brown (No. 14 nationally by Scout.com, No. 35 by Rivals.com) looks more like a question of when, rather than if.
The next piece may yet turn out to be Derrick Favors, the top big man in the Class of 2009. He's certainly not a foregone conclusion for the Pack, either, but he's also no longer considered a total lock to remain in-state at either Georgia Tech or Georgia, as was previously thought. Of the schools not within the Georgia borders, N.C. State has as good a chance as any.
There are two main reasons for this. First, the Wolfpack's top recruiter, Larry Harris, has built up strong contacts within the tight-knit AAU community in the Atlanta area. Those contacts were instrumental in helping to land Lowe's first top recruit, J.J. Hickson.
Hickson, by the way, is the second major reason why the Wolfpack's chances of landing Favors are improving. As noted previously, folks in the Atlanta AAU community have watched approvingly how Hickson was handled by Lowe during his time in Raleigh.
They liked that Lowe didn't pull a bait-and-switch once Hickson signed with the Wolfpack, making him the centerpiece of the offense despite plenty of criticism. They liked that Lowe didn't try to muddy the waters when Hickson entered the NBA draft. Instead, it's believed that Lowe actually told NBA teams that Hickson was worthy of a lottery pick. Hickson also has warm feelings for Lowe and has been telling his story to several notable Atlanta-area recruits, including Favors and Brown.
This might seem like blasphemy, but would landing Favors necessarily be a great thing for the Wolfpack?
It probably would be, considering that Favors often is dubbed as the next Dwight Howard. And if landing Favors increases State's chances of bringing in Wall – a potential scenario many observers could see playing out if Favors chooses the Wolfpack – then it's hard to find much downside to bringing in the Atlanta big man.
But consider this note of caution. One of the reasons it was originally believed that Favors was likely to stay in-state was because he was looking for a low-maintenance, one-year situation, a place where he could check in, get the playing time and attention he needed to keep his draft stock high, and then move on to the pros.
That doesn't exactly sound like a guy who's coming in to play for conference and national titles does it? If Favors is attracted to Hickson's stories about State, then he may not be that concerned that State went only 15-16 while Hickson was with the Wolfpack.
Then again, it's not hard to cite situations (Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse, Derrick Rose at Memphis, and Kevin Love at UCLA, for example) where bringing in one-and-done talent has paid off for the program.
"There's definitely a reward there," Lowe said at his summer press conference.
In the situations that have worked out, the one-and-done has come into a team where his role was pretty clearly defined beforehand, and the rest of the squad welcomed his presence.
Obviously, everyone knows that the Wolfpack failed both of those requirements with Hickson last season.
ANOTHER CHEMISTRY LESSON?
Those "chemistry" issues were brought up to Lowe recently, and once again he showed that – despite his pro pedigree – he's still a bit of an amateur when it comes to media relations.
First, there was his revelation this spring that Brandon Costner might opt to leave N.C. State after the past academic year was finished. This didn't turn out to be the case, which makes one wonder: Why even publicize the possibility in the first place?
Then came Lowe's clumsy attempt during his summer press conference to put the "chemistry" issue to rest.
"In my dictionary, chemistry only means one thing, and I am going to stay away from that," Lowe said, before plunging ahead nonetheless. "But I'll say this. Kevin Garnett went to the Boston Celtics and became the guy. Paul Pierce had been there for eight, nine, 10 years, great player, but he welcomed him in. Ray Allen welcomed him in, and they win an NBA championship. Now, if they didn't like him, they didn't want him, chemistry probably would have been bad."
Could this have been any more thinly veiled? It's pretty obvious that in this metaphor, Garnett refers to Hickson. It's also not hard to conclude that State's version of Pierce would be Costner (with Ben McCauley perhaps as Allen?).
So rather than just saying, "We're putting last year behind us," Lowe instead made it pretty clear that he feels that a considerable share of last year's disappointing record lies at the feet of Costner for not adjusting to the presence of Hickson. Certainly there are plenty of others who feel the same way, but again, why fire that warning shot over Costner's head so publicly?
Later in the press conference, though, Lowe had words of praise for Costner.
"He looks good, his mind is right," Lowe said. "I really expect Brandon to have a big year for us."
So is Lowe still trying to light a fire under Costner, or is he trying to boost the junior forward's sense of worth? It's still confusing, but it's something that needs to get sorted out by the time the preseason rolls around.