Whatever N.C. State misses in skill with D.J. Funderburk, while the junior forward is out with a suspension, it hopes it can make up for in size.
The Wolfpack will rely on a pair of wide bodies, freshman Manny Bates (6-11, 230 pounds) and graduate transfer Danny Dixon (6-10, 230 pounds) while Funderburk works his way back onto the basketball team.
“That’s two big boys down there that bang,” undersized 3-point specialist Braxton Beverly said about Bates and Dixon with a touch of astonishment on Thursday at N.C. State’s media day.
Funderburk, the team’s top returning forward, was suspended indefinitely by coach Kevin Keatts on Monday. Keatts didn’t provide clarity on the cause of Funderburk’s suspension but expanded on his decision to discipline the 6-10 junior forward.
“I have a certain expectation of what I think I an N.C. State player should be, and right now he hasn’t met that,” Keatts said.
There is no timetable for Funderburk’s return, Keatts said. Funderburk averaged 11.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in his first season with the program and figures to be the one forward in Keatts’ four-guard lineup when he does return.
“He’s got some benchmarks that I want him to meet to be able to join the team,” Keatts said. “And when it happens, he’ll be a part of it. If he doesn’t, he won’t.”
In the meantime, Bates has impressed Keatts and intrigued Wolfpack fans. Bates missed the 2018-19 season while recovering from surgery on his left shoulder.
Briefly in September, Bates caused a Twitter stir when someone who was playing pickup with him posted a premature injury report about Bates’ shoulder.
“I wasn’t really worried,” Bates said. “I was just kind of shocked that everybody was putting it out there.”
It turned out that Bates had banged up his shoulder and didn’t want to risk injury, so he stopped playing in the pickup game. It was nothing more. He is 100 percent and ready for the season.
With Wyatt Walker’s exit in the offseason, Keatts had been banking on a three-man rotation of Funderburk, Bates and Dixon. Dixon averaged 7.5 points and 3.4 rebounds for University of Missouri-Kansas City last season. Keatts compared Dixon to Walker, who was a grad transfer last season and started 35 games and helped with rebounding (4.5 per game).
With the season opener against Georgia Tech on Nov. 5, there isn’t a run-up to conference play, so Funderburk’s absence could be key. Keatts sounded like he has confidence in Bates, especially as a rim-protector on defense.
“We think he has a chance to be really good,” Keatts said. “He’s young, he’s athletic, he’s got a certain skill set, he runs the floor, and he’s a tremendous defender.”
Bates, a top-100 recruit who missed part of his senior season at Northwood Temple Academy, is eager to get back out on the court, with or without Funderburk.
“It’s been two years,” Bates said. “I’m very excited. I just can’t wait for the season to come.”