NC State

Don’t expect to watch NC State’s Italy basketball games — or even know when they’re being played

N.C. State head basketball coach Kevin Keatts speaks during a media availability on Tuesday, a day before the basketball team leaves for Italy.
N.C. State head basketball coach Kevin Keatts speaks during a media availability on Tuesday, a day before the basketball team leaves for Italy. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Lennard Freeman walked into a press conference at the Dail Center on Tuesday and recognized former N.C. State teammate Chris Corchiani, who is now working in the media.

Freeman, a fifth-year senior, would have a harder time picking some of his new teammates out of a crowd and there’s the real value in N.C. State’s upcoming trip to Italy.

“More than anything, I want us to have the chance just to hang out,” new coach Kevin Keatts said.

N.C. State is scheduled to leave for Milan on Wednesday and make stops in Venice, Florence and Rome before returning on Aug. 12. There are three games scheduled but Keatts preferred not to make the dates, or opponents, public out of concerns for safety. The games will not be broadcast on TV or radio.

A website for a company, which organizes tours for American colleges, has two dates and locations tentatively listed for N.C. State: in Vedano (outside of Milan) on Saturday and in Pisa on Monday.

The details aren’t as important as the opportunity to spend some time together as a team or the practice time leading up to it. The NCAA allows a team to practice 10 times before an international trip. That’s 10 more, as a group, than Keatts would have been allowed otherwise.

Coming off two straight losing seasons, and with six new players on the roster — and the top three scorers no longer in the program — there’s a lot of work to be done.

“It’s a new group of guys,” junior guard Torin Dorn said. “A lot of personalities trying to mesh but there are a lot of great guys we brought in, so I feel like it has been really easy to get along.”

The players, returning and new ones alike, are very quickly learning about Keatts’ obsession with running.

Keatts, whose UNC-Wilmington teams pressed and played up-tempo, promised the Wolfpack would be the best conditioned team in the country when he was hired in March and there has been a lot of running this summer.

After so much running, “track practice” as Freeman joked, the games in Italy will be a welcomed diversion.

“We need to hurry up and get there because track practice is starting to get a little old,” Freeman said.

There’s running for conditioning and then there’s running as punishment for losing a drill. Suffice to say, the players have run more than they have at any other point in their careers at N.C. State.

“You run until you get tired and then you keep running some more,” Dorn said.

Freeman, down 30 pounds since he last played during the 2015-16 season, was noticeably slimmer. Even Dorn, whose fitness and effort levels stood out last season, looked skinnier.

There’s little choice but to run and lose weight. Playing hard is a requirement, not an option.

“(Keatts) doesn’t accept that, not playing hard and not giving it your all,” Freeman said.

Keatts has praised the group’s effort. He’s not quite ready to give them the seal of approval for their conditioning.

“For them, they think they’re in great shape,” Keatts said. “For me, I think we’ve got a long ways to go.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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