CHARLOTTE — Every season, fans of every NCAA basketball team get excited to see their offseason changes take the court and mesh. Many of those fans walk away dissatisfied.
And while the last few seasons haven’t been ideal for the NC State men’s basketball team, there’s legitimate reason for optimism for the program. The Wolfpack’s fresh blend of new faces is at the forefront of said optimism, with sophomore guard Cam Hayes, redshirt sophomore guard Dereon Seabron, junior transfers Casey Morsell and Greg Gantt Jr. and the freshman trio of Terquavion Smith, Ernest Ross and Breon Pass set to play big minutes.
“It's been exciting because you get to see the growth of, and the future that’s going to be playing for State,” said senior forward Jericole Hellems. “It's exciting to see that those guys are ready, ready to play, and some things that they need to work on.”
The apple of every Wolfpack fan’s eye is the progression of former four-star guard Casey Morsell, who transferred from Virginia after seldom use off the bench. Several media outlets have dubbed Morsell as a fantastic get for Keatts, and his offseason has captured the attention of the coaching staff and his teammates.
Well embedded moles in Raleigh are raving about the progress of Virginia transfer Casey Morsell at NC State. Should be in contention for a starting spot next season. Former Top-100 recruit.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 13, 2021
“[Morsell]’s a dog,” Hellems said. “Everybody knows what he can do. He did it at Virginia and didn't get to showcase it as much, but he's been in the gym and he's a workaholic, so I think it's gonna pay off regardless of what school he’s at. So he's a good dude.”
Morsell, a former top 100 recruit, only averaged 4.4 points and 15 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers. Despite this, Morsell showed great promise in limited time, such as when he scored 15 points while making all three of his deep-ball attempts against Notre Dame, a team bolstered by a strong defensive presence in Prentiss Hubb.
As a senior in 2018-19, Morsell averaged 17 points, 5.5 rebounds and three assists per game with 90 3-pointers made. The guard was a U19 World Cup finalist shortly following high school, a phenomenal feat. Morsell is looking to bring that potential to NC State and build on it, something head coach Kevin Keatts is confident he can do.
“You know [Morsell]'s gonna play a huge role for us,” Keatts said. “And in a lot of respects, he brings to us what we lost in Devon Daniels. His ability to score inside and out. He's a physical guard. [Morsell] can put the ball on the floor, get to the rim, he’s able to shoot the 3. He’s shooting the ball better than he's ever shot in his career, and I think he'll bring the added dimension to us that we haven't had in the last couple of years.”
The Pack has yet another electric guard to add to the mix in Smith, someone who will play a major role right away. Smith is a dominant three-level scorer that has the ability to hold down the fort at the two-guard spot and has the versatility to play alongside Hayes, who will presumably start in his second season.
“We talked about Terquavion Smith,” Keatts said. “I know a lot of people have said he's a bucket. And what I mean is, he can score the basketball. He's going to have an opportunity to start some games for us. [He] could start at the beginning of the year. We've got great competition in practice that we didn't have previously.”
Like Morsell, Smith had an absolutely filthy senior year, averaging 25.6 points and 1.5 steals per game. In the 2-A state title game, Smith posted 33 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds and five steals en route to winning MVP.
“[Smith]'s probably one of the most competitive guys I've ever seen,” Keatts said. “And he'll get under your skin because a freshman shouldn’t be able to talk trash like he does. And so we were in practice the other day and we were playing a competition… he hit three game-winners at the end and you know of course he got up and let everybody know that. … But they're competitive, they push each other, they love to play the game.”
As for Hayes, Keatts said he’s relying on the pair to help ease the aforementioned guards into the Pack’s program. And though the entire sophomore class will see big minutes according to Keatts, Hayes in particular looks primed to break out following a successful end to last regular season, when the Wolfpack won five straight road games.
“Cam Hayes is a guy who I kind of threw in the fire last year,” Keatts said. “He was a freshman. He's a guy who has covered the ACC for a long time and knows it's really hard to compete and perform as a freshman, especially at the toughest position in college basketball as a point guard. But he did well. … He's starting to become a better leader. And I think that will help us as he matures as a basketball player and as a leader.”