Kevin Keatts, NC State at 2019 ACC Operation Basketball
Q. Coach Keatts, good to see you again, glad you and the guys are here. What I wanted to do is ask you this: Your teams have always been noted for being strong physically in the fourth stage of the game, fourth quarter of the game. Other than that, what are you stressing this year to the guys that you want to stand out with? What are those goals that you have for the team?
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, I appreciate you talking about my team being — we take pride in obviously being in great shape towards the end of the game. I think that one thing that we want to emphasize and what we have been talking about in the practice, is we want to be a really low turn over team.
What I mean by that, from us, obviously on defensive end, we try to turn guys over as much as we can and create tempo, but we don’t want — we want to play fast, but don’t want to turn the ball over ourselves. So that would be one of the things that we’re working on.
I do think that we have to become a better defensive rebounding team so that we can get out and run and transition and getting a few more easy baskets?
Q. Coach, just what can you say about the first couple of seasons at NC State building up the brand, creating that environment that you want? Just where things are at from when you stepped in, what you can say about that?
KEVIN KEATTS: That’s a great question. I’m excited about where we are entering year three. You know, if you told me that we were going to year three winning 45 games and beating six top 25 teams, I would tell you that we’re right on pace.
Obviously, we were all a little disappointed about the outcome of not making the NCAA Tournament last year, but that being said, we put that behind us and we’re really focused on moving on. I like our team. I like our pieces. For the first time since I have been at NC State, we have the most returners that we have ever had, which is seven.
Q. Coach, only three teams in the ACC average 80 points or better, Europe one of them. You preach about pushing the ball. Other teams in the league are not comfortable playing at your pace, 60s and 70s. Can you tell us, offensively and defensively, what’s required to play at the pace that you want to play at?
KEVIN KEATTS: You have to be in great shape in order to play in our system. That doesn’t mean that you can’t play in our system if you’re not in great shape, but your minutes won’t be there. We’re trying to get the ball out in transition as fast as we can.
I tell Markell and Braxton and C.J. all the time we want to run a three-second offense and fast break and try to get the ball up and try to score without setting the offense up.
Defensively, we want to create off the defense trying to get as many easy baskets as we can. I like where we’re at with our pace. Obviously, you know, scoring 80-plus points a game has been great for us. I would love to run even a little bit more if we could.
Q. C.J. and Markell, C.J., Coach talked about returning seven guys and the importance of that and what the team feels like going in the season? Markell, being one of those returners, just what you can say about the decision to come back after testing the waters of the NBA?
C.J. BRYCE: We definitely bring back some experience from last year’s team. You know, like Coach mentioned. You know, not being able to — a little bit disappointed not going to the tournament, playing NIT, definitely experienced some hungry guys on the roster. Guys are ready to play this year.
MARKELL JOHNSON: Just picking off of what C.J. said, having the experience of coming back, you know, with the pieces we have coming in. I thought it was just a great decision for me to come back.
Q. For the students, from the podium, what’s the key to consistency? How do you build consistency?
C.J. BRYCE: I believe that you build consistency by going hard every day in practice. You know, when you get to those games in late February, March, you know, you can rely on what you did in practice at the beginning of the season and offseason, you know.
THE MODERATOR: Markell will take the dive and say exactly what C.J. said. That’s fine.
Q. As a result, Markell, you get the next question. You’re the leading returning three-point shooter in terms of percentage in the league, you also have been a leader in assists for a couple of years. Last year your steals were down somewhat from the previous year. You took a nasty fall and hurt your back last year. In hindsight, did that play a part in your defensive game? And secondly, what are your expectations this year?
KEVIN KEATTS: Before you answer that, why were your steals down, Markell? I want to know that!
MARKELL JOHNSON: I really don’t know why my steals were down. I would say I wasn’t really that locked in defensively last year as I am this year.
This year, you know, make it to the tournament, not only to make it to the tournament but make a run in the tournament.
Q. Coach, from the podium, you show so much fire and enthusiasm on the sideline. Where do you get that energy from, and do you ever get tired come February and March?
KEVIN KEATTS: Yeah, I don’t — when it is basketball season, its basketball season. I don’t sleep. You know, I’m up all the time. You know, this is the most exciting sport that you can play in and be a part of. So I get excited about the opportunity.
I get a chance to work with great young men all the time, and to play the game the way we like to be played, that’s exciting to me.
Q. C.J., you have been with Coach Keatts for a lot of years at UNCW and NC State. What jumps out is the fact that like last year, NC State was one of the very top offensive rebounding teams despite playing just one big man. How do you do that? How do you become such a force rebounding with just one big?
C.J. BRYCE: You know, I have been with Coach Keatts for a while, you know, he hasn’t changed. He demands the most out of his players to go hard every single day. You know, that happens to be in the offensive rebounding range last year, but we want to go hard in every category and be the best at whatever we do.
Q. How cool is it for you to be in Charlotte your senior year at an event like this?
C.J. BRYCE: It is great. I actually wish that the ACC Tournament was this year again. You know, it is great being home. You know, seeing a lot of familiar faces here, and I’m glad I can do it with Coach Keatts and Markell Johnson.