The bad news for Sidney Lowe, such as it is, is that he has no excuses if N.C. State does not make next season’s NCAA tournament. The good news is that with C.J. Leslie committing to play for him, he may not need any excuses.
If there’s an asterisk on Lowe’s four-year tenure without an NCAA appearance at N.C. State, it’s that he hasn’t had the right kind of talent -- first, Herb Sendek recruits; then, underwhelming recruits of his own.
With the addition of Word of God forward Leslie on Wednesday to a recruiting class that already included guards Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown, the Wolfpack gets a first-class influx of talent on next year’s roster. And not just talent, but players recruited to play the kind of basketball Lowe wants to play.
Lowe won a lot of fans over with the way the Wolfpack improved in the second half last season. Now, with his most highly touted group of freshmen coming in, and one of the ACC’s highest-scoring post players back for his senior season in Tracy Smith, he is no longer in a position to point fingers at his personnel if things go awry.
After missing out on John Wall last year -- given his success at Kentucky, it’s hard to argue with that decision -- Lowe had a lot riding on the whims of Wall’s one-time teammate at Word of God. Leslie committed to the Wolfpack as a freshman in high school before backing off, and had he gone elsewhere it would have been an indictment of the program’s progress (or lack thereof) under Lowe. His decision to pick N.C. State over Kentucky and Connecticut serves as an equally resounding endorsement.
In landing Leslie, Lowe has put together a light version of the recruiting class he missed out on last season, when both Wall and Derrick Favors had N.C. State among their finalists. That would have been a program-changing haul. This class may not have the kind of immediate impact Wall and Favors might have had, but it has that kind of long-term potential.
Harrow and Brown should bring firepower to a backcourt that has been severely lacking in raw skill during Lowe’s tenure. Leslie adds difficult-to-guard athleticism to a frontcourt that already includes the shooting of Scott Wood, Smith’s reliable point production and the potential of big Richard Howell.
In terms of pure talent on the court, N.C. State may have been the least impressive team in the ACC last season. With Leslie and his fellow freshmen coming in, that surely won’t be the case this fall.