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Recruiting Gambles Paying Off Thus Far

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

June 10, 2002

RALEIGH — Chuck Amato is having a good spring and summer so far.

The coach learned recently that prized recruit A.J. Davis of Durham had qualified academically, after taking special instructional classes designed to get his scores up.

Davis, the track star and receiver/cornerback who caused a stir in February when he committed to North Carolina but signed with the Wolfpack, was one of the key members of Amato's 2002 recruiting class and the center of a firestorm of controversy between the two old rivals. UNC insiders, upset that Davis was plucked away from the Heels along with six other players who had given commitments, began insisting that Davis wouldn't make NCAA standards and would have to, at the very least, sit out his first year as a partial qualifier. They even envisioned a scenario in which the speedy prospect would have to attend prep school, where he would be a recruitable athlete again.

Not going to happen.

Another of Amato's top recruits, wide receiver Richard Washington, said in published reports that he also had the necessary credentials to be eligible for the Wolfpack as a freshman. (At the exact same time, his coaches said he was very close on the NCAA's sliding scale but not quite there yet. Stay tuned.) Washington said he hopes to arrive in Raleigh in late July, looking to earn immediate playing time.

An all-state selection from Ft. Myers, Fla., Washington originally committed to Ohio State last season but switched to the Pack as signing day neared. He has been clocked with a 4.4-second 40 and was considered by some analysts one of the top 100 players in the nation.

Both Davis and Washington could play immediately for the Wolfpack, though their positions are crowded. The Pack has four solid cornerbacks in sophomores Lamont Reid, Greg Golden, Marcus Hudson and junior J.J. Washington, though Davis also could help out as a return specialist. Assuming he makes it to campus, Washington will push for playing time with senior Bryan Peterson, junior Jerricho Cotchery and sophomores Dovonte Edwards and Sterling Hicks.

Amato, who already has done an amazing job of upgrading the talent in Raleigh to a level not seen in more than a decade, is showing an uncanny ability to see the future in the academic department. On signing day in February, at least 10 (and possibly more) of the Wolfpack's 25 signees needed improvement on their core-course GPA and/or standardized test score in order to be eligible for NCSU as freshmen. By early June, that number was down to five, with two of the remaining five extremely close and still hoping to make the grade.

Fowler Tackles Coaching Decisions

Despite the cry from some alumni who care about Olympic sports, N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler said there will be no changes at the head of the baseball or men's soccer programs.

The Wolfpack baseball team, under sixth-year coach Elliott Avent, certainly had a miserable season. NCSU finished in seventh place in the ACC with a 7-17 conference record, the fewest ACC victories since Sam Esposito's 1982 team went 7-7 in the league. Last year, the Wolfpack finished eighth in the ACC, its worst regular-season finish since 1959. Avent took some of the sting out of that season by taking his team to the ACC Tournament championship game, where it lost to Wake Forest.

Avent, who replaced extremely popular N.C. State alum Ray Tanner in 1997 when Tanner left for South Carolina, won 15 conference games in his first season but has won fewer every season since then. The number was 12 in 1998, 11 in 1999, 10 in 2000 and nine in 2001.

But with the school set to pour some $5 million into revamping and upgrading its baseball facilities, Fowler isn't going to change the program's leadership, even though a similar set of circumstances didn't stop Marye Anne Fox from jettisoning football coach Mike O'Cain in 1999. Who says football and basketball aren't treated differently than other sports?

Men's soccer was even worse this season, finishing winless in the ACC for the first time in school history and 4-15 overall. But George Tarantini, the fun-loving coach from Argentina, has been at the school for 20 years (15 as head coach), and the best friend to late basketball coach and athletic director Jim Valvano seems to have job security for as long as he wants it. Tarantini did shake up his staff after the season was over, hiring former Wolfpack player Jeremy Ballenger in early May.

There are some other personnel issues that will have to be resolved during the summer. The school is trying to hire a softball coach for the program it will begin next spring, and Fowler is searching through resumes trying to find a head coach for the Pack's woeful tennis program. The school recently announced a drive to raise $1.5 million to build a 30,000-square-foot facility adjacent to the tennis courts.

The school also is looking for a cheerleading coach to replace Lisa James, who helped the Wolfpack win several national cheerleading competitions but recently moved out of town with her family.

Excellent News From The Links

Two programs on the rise for the Wolfpack are men's and women's golf. Both qualified for the NCAA Tournament this past year, with men's coach Richard Sykes leading his team to a sixth-finish in Columbus, Ohio, the best showing in school history.

Two of Sykes' former players are doing well professionally. Tim Clark, after being sidelined with a wrist injury last season as a PGA Tour rookie, made the cut in seven of his first eight tournaments this year and has been in and out of the top 100 players on the PGA Tour money list. Carl Pettersson won the Portugal Open in May, climbing to No. 5 on the tour's Order of Merit. He and Clark will be reunited in July, when they both play in the British Open.

Women's coach Page Marsh received an invitation to the NCAA East Regional in only the second year after the school reinstated the program. (It was dropped in 1986.) She was named the ACC's coach of the year, winning three tournaments in the spring and taking the Wolfpack to a third-place finish behind eventual national champion Duke and Wake Forest in the ACC Championship.

Things will improve even more if the school ever completes the golf course it has long promised for Centennial Campus. State, which relies on using area golf courses for practice time, is the only ACC school without its own golf course. Athletic department officials said the long-delayed course will be open by the spring of 2004, but those were some of the same folks who promised that the team would be playing on a new course in the fall of 2001.

The school ran into problems with the Department of Natural Resources about the routing of the course, and noted architect Tom Fazio, who rebuilt North Carolina's Finley Golf Course for a reduced fee, pulled out of the project. It was taken over by Arnold Palmer's design group.

New Amato, Sendek Deals Delayed

Fowler is still waiting for approval from the Board of Trustees on contract extensions for Amato, men's basketball coach Herb Sendek and women's basketball coach Kay Yow.

Fowler wants to keep Amato perpetually with five years on his contract. The athletic director, who reportedly was shocked to find that Yow was signed for only another year, plans to extend her contract for three or four more years. Sendek, whose job seemed to be in jeopardy until he turned the program around in 2001-02, has two years remaining on his existing deal. Fowler is looking at a three-year extension.

But don't look for any of those moves to be announced any time soon. The contracts have to be approved by the Board of Trustees, which already has canceled its July meeting and isn't scheduled to convene again until September.