April 12, 2004 RALEIGH Herb Sendek's recruiting class is looking better all the time, mainly because of ACC subtraction. N.C. State's three incoming freshmen 6-10 Cedric Simmons, 6-9 Andrew Brackman and 6-7 Gavin Grant haven't suddenly blossomed into NBA lottery picks, which, in the mixed-up world of college basketball, is a good thing nowadays. The reason Sendek's class looks so good right now is precisely because all three of those players are very good high school players who figure to get even better in college, yet they're not so good that they had NBA scouts following them around throughout their senior year. Simmons hopes to give the Wolfpack an inside presence it would have had this year had Josh Powell stuck around, while Brackman improved as much from his junior year to his senior year as any player in the Midwest. Brackman was named the state's Division I co-player of the year after his senior season at Moeller High in Cincinnati. Grant is a wing player who can spend time developing his game next season, without the responsibility of stepping in and producing immediately. The Wolfpack may even have another productive Class of 2004 member, if it can land 6-7 Alex Galindo, a former Texas-El Paso signee from Newark, N.J., who recently got out of his letter of intent after a coaching change at UTEP. Galindo is considering the Wolfpack, among others, now that he's available. He's ranked by some analysts among the top 100 seniors in the nation, which automatically makes him one of the most desirable spring targets left on the recruiting trail. All of that should equal good news for the multitude of Eeyore-sounding Wolfpack fans, who sometimes can see grimness in a sunrise. At least the Pack isn't in danger of losing its top players, as are rivals Duke and North Carolina, which both have signees who might never make it to campus. The Blue Devils could lose Shaun Livingston, while North Carolina already has lost JamesOn Curry (six felony counts) and is worried about losing J.R. Smith and Marvin Williams to the NBA's lure of riches. That leaves the Wolfpack in a pretty good position, even if, as anticipated, rising senior Julius Hodge does indeed decide to declare for the NBA draft. According to some (others strongly disagreed) projections in mid-April, Hodge has a chance to be a mid-first round selection. If that turns out to be the case, Hodge might not just declare and see. He might declare and stay in the draft. That would leave the Wolfpack without its top three scorers from last year, since both Marcus Melvin and Scooter Sherrill have finished their eligibility. It also would seem to leave a huge leadership gap on the roster, since the team would be losing a three-year starter in Melvin, a three-year starter in Hodge and a two-year starter in Sherrill. Experience like that is hard to come by for any college program these days, and having that trio on the floor for most of the season was the main reason the Pack managed to win 11 regular-season ACC games and finish second to Duke in the conference standings. Even if Hodge doesn't return, though, the Wolfpack still will have a relative abundance of experience on the floor. Ilian Evtimov, who will be the team's unquestioned leader, will be a redshirt junior next season. Rising junior Cameron Bennerman, who came on at the end of 2003-04 after Sherrill hurt his ankle, may be poised to have a break-out season, just as Sherrill and Anthony Grundy did at this point in their careers. Bennerman showed flashes of that at the end of the year, after replacing Sherrill in the lineup. With Engin Atsur starting for most the season as a freshman, and with the rest of the Wolfpack roster littered with guys (Jordan Collins, Levi Watkins, Mike O'Donnell) who have played important roles both off the bench and in the starting lineup, Sendek just might be able to weather the loss of the reigning ACC player of the year. Don't forget that Tony Bethel, who sat out last year under NCAA transfer rules, was a starter for two years at Georgetown. He's not a pure point guard, as many people continue to believe, but Sendek hasn't had a true point since the Justin Gainey days. Losing Hodge undoubtedly would be a big hit for the Wolfpack, but Sendek's system isn't necessarily fueled by superstars. It is still a system, one that should hum even more smoothly next year, with associate head coach Larry Hunter back on the bench. Hunter pursued another head coaching position, but the James Madison job went to another top ACC assistant, Dean Keener of Georgia Tech. Comings, Goings Follow Adidas It shouldn't be surprising that N.C. State is close to signing a football equipment and apparel contract with adidas. The school's basketball program has been on board with adidas for years, and the shoe company also provides stuff for the soccer, track and field and cross country teams. This is just another step toward having an exclusive all-sports deal with adidas, similar to the one North Carolina has with Nike. But it is a huge upset that Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato would agree to switch from Nike to adidas. Why? Because Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is one of Nike's biggest endorsers, and you can pretty much count on one hand (one finger?) the number of things Amato does differently than Bowden. However, adidas doesn't make sunglasses, and the company probably won't complain if the "interesting" shades Amato wears on the sidelines are made by someone else. The real question will be if Sendek's program maintains its relationship with adidas, especially after everyone made fun of the Wolfpack's glossy red T-Macs at the ACC Tournament. The basketball contract is set to expire soon, and the ever-present Sonny Vaccaro, a long-time Sendek friend and the guy who signed N.C. State hoops up for its original contract, now works at Reebok. Amato Hands Out Many Awards It must have been the greatest spring practice in the history of college football. What? It wasn't on the national wires? Oh, well, just based on the number of awards given out, the Wolfpack must have been incredibly sharp throughout the three-week drills. Amato gave out 33 awards for spring practice. Competition was so tight in seven categories that there was just no breaking the ties, so two players shared those awards. In all, 33 Wolfpack players won awards. Sophomore Reggie Davis, who burned a redshirt season to participate on a limited basis in the final four games of 2003, was rewarded with three of them: Most Improved Running Back, Most Dependable Running Back and Offensive Big Hitter Award. Sophomore defensive end Mario Williams also received three honors, although he shared the second one with senior cornerback Lamont Reid: Most Dependable Defensive Lineman, Defensive King of the Boards and Defensive Most Dominate Player. Yes, the name of that last award is spelled just as it was given out.
But, just so no one thinks there was any award-inflation going on here, no one on the offensive side was "dominate" enough to win that award. Alas, it went unfilled. Maybe next year, so Amato can come up with 34 worthy winners.