Earlier this year, in the month between when N.C. State fired coach Mark Gottfried and hired Kevin Keatts to replace him, Lennard Freeman’s basketball career stood at a crossroads.
The Wolfpack forward, who was in his fourth season at N.C. State at the time, was sitting out the season with a leg injury. His highly touted team was struggling to a 15-17 record while going 15-17 in the ACC.
That underwhelming performance cost Gottfried his job on Feb. 18, before the regular season was over.
Freeman thought about his future and admitted Wednesday he considered finishing his career at another school.
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“It was tough honestly,” Freeman said. “Since this is my last year I was thinking about leaving. Just to make sure like I’m in the right situation and don’t want to waste my last year.”
As it turned out, his exploration of the move didn’t extend beyond calling friends on other teams to ask about their programs.
“It was like, ‘Yo, how would I fit in there?’ ” Freeman said.
When Keatts was hired at N.C. State on March 17, after a successful three-year run at UNCW,, the two got together and quickly hit it off. Freeman decided to stay.
“Coach Keatts has this vibe,” Freeman said Wednesday at the ACC’s Operation Basketball event. “He’s the man. He walks in and commands attention. He’s so smooth. He was talking about winning. It was a good environment. I said I think I want to be a part of this because I feel like it’s going to be something special.”
Freeman’s decision gives the Wolfpack a veteran presence in their front court rotation. At 6-8 and 265 pounds, Freeman has averaged 3.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game during his time at N.C. State. He’s played in 103 games with 47 starts.
During the 2015-16 season, Freeman made 52.6 percent of his shots while averaging 3.2 points and 5.6 rebounds.
N.C. State lost three players to the pros – guards Dennis Smith, Jr. and Maverick Rowan, and forward Ted Kapita – from last season’s team.
Omer Yurtseven, a 7-foot, 245-pound center, went through the NBA draft evaluation process without hiring an agent before withdrawing his name in May so he could return to school.
Yurtseven, Freeman and 6-8, 240-pound senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu give the Wolfpack experience inside on a team transitioning to a new coaching staff.
Keatts unleashed the right kind of sales job to keep Freeman in the mix.
“Once coach Keatts got here and started practicing and working out, it was a million times easier,” Freeman said. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”