Kevin Keatts opening statement to NC State fans: 'We will be champions again'

New Wolfpack head coach plans to draw inspiration from previous teams after growing up an NC State fan in Virginia

RALEIGH — Plastered all over the NC State campus and stadiums is one simple slogan that embodies what the program wants to make: a “STATEment.”

New basketball coach Kevin Keatts went through the pomp and circumstance of his opening remarks at Reynolds Coliseum, pumping up the program he was taking over. Then he did exactly that — made a strong statement.

“No matter where you see us ranked next year,” Keatts explained, “no matter what they say about us, no matter what they think about us, understand with time and a lot of hard work — and commitment and the fan support and the alumni and the backing of the school — we will be champions again. I promise you guys that.”

He didn’t drop the mic — perhaps only because it was attached to the podium.

There was no timidity in his voice or doubt on his face. Keatts doesn’t have an ounce of either in his being. All he’s done as a head coach is win at every level. In 10 seasons at Hargrave Military Academy, Keatts compiled a 263-17 record with two national prep championships and seven total final four finishes.

The success was the same in three seasons at UNCW with three regular season CAA championships, two CAA Tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances.

If there’s anything that Keatts can do, it’s win. Just ask him.

“Kevin Keatts is a winner and I’ve always been,” Keatts said of himself. “I’m not bragging about being the best coach, but I know how to motivate guys. ... If you play for the front of the jersey at NC State, then the back will be great.”

If Keatts’ mentality and resume seems convincing, you’re not the only one who’s buying in. Athletics Director Debbie Yow, who was leading her second press conference for a men’s basketball coach in eight years at NC State, couldn’t hold back her smile when introducing the head coach.

This was an especially crucial hire for Yow, who has said she doesn’t have any intentions of going past her current contract of 2019. After a long, exhausting and — let’s face it — embarrassing coaching search that led to Mark Gottfried in 2011, Yow pulled the trigger quickly on Keatts. Yow was assured right away that she found the next leader for her basketball program.

“When we met with Kevin Friday afternoon for several hours, we could still be there talking,” Yow said with a smile. “It became very obvious he was the person. ... It’s rare we find this level of fit in this day in age.”

One goal still out there for Yow is to win a national championship — in any sport — for NC State since 1983. While Keatts didn’t clarify which type of championships he plans to bring back to Raleigh, an ACC Tournament title would be the first since 1987 in either football or basketball.

So how exactly is Keatts planning on bringing banners back to PNC Arena? With the exact same approach he brought to every other program he’s been a part of during his career.

“I want our identity to be we play extremely hard. We’re not going to be a basketball team that doesn’t make mistakes,” Keatts said. “Our guys are going to dive on the floor, they’re going to take charges, they’re going to play so hard. ...

“I think you will love our system. If you don’t, come see me after a month and I’ll take you out to dinner.”

Last year, Keatts’ UNCW squad ranked in the top 25 in scoring (84.8 points per game), 3-pointers made (9.6 per game), 3-pointers attempted (917), assists (565) and turnover margin. Don’t expect Keatts to be taking anyone out to dinner in the fall.


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