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In the past two seasons under Kevin Keatts, N.C. State has played the type of defense that lends itself to allowing high-shooting percentages from the opposition.
The Wolfpack may have finally found its enforcer inside.
Freshman center Manny Bates has 12 blocks in N.C. State’s first two games and it is clear he is the type of player Keatts has not had since arriving in Raleigh.
“When you first think of a post guy you think about the effectiveness offensively,” Keatts said. “That doesn’t account for the mistakes that we make that he can erase with his shot-blocking ability.”
N.C. State picked up its first win of the season Sunday when the Pack held off Detroit Mercy, 84-65, at home. Bates, who sat out last season while rehabbing from injury, is starting to settle in as his Wolfpack career begins in earnest.
“I feel pretty good,” Bates said. “I feel a lot better now that we’ve got a win. We’ve got to get better every day and progress. I’m just wanting to help wherever Coach needs me to. If it’s blocking shots or getting more rebounds, I’m here to help.”
In each of the past two seasons Keatts has put a team on the court with interchangeable parts, and that included interior players.
With Torin Dorn Jr. playing the 4 position (power forward), the Wolfpack has typically been undersized and needing to get rebounds or blocks wherever it could find them. The absence of D.J. Funderburk early in the season seemed to put N.C. State in a similar position.
Bates has changed the dynamic so far. It has given the other four players on the court the freedom to roam without having to necessarily meander inside for defensive help.
“Manny is a game-changer on the back end of the press,” Keatts said. “He had seven blocks Sunday. I have to ask everyone to be a little patient with him. He is getting better and is going to continue to get more confident in his role. He has got to do more talking on the back end, but overall I like what he is doing.”
Eventually Funderburk will return to the fold. The redshirt junior is similar in size to Bates but his type of game means he often drifts in and out of the lane.
Could Funderburk and Bates work well together?
“I would like to play with D.J.,” Bates said. “He’s such a great player. Again, it’s up to Coach, and I’m willing to help whenever I can.”
His teammates like what Bates brings to the table and also excitedly wonder what type of potential lies ahead.
“He’s a great talent, a presence in the paint that we really need with D.J. Funderburk being out right now,” N.C. State redshirt-senior wing C.J. Bryce said. “I’m going to continue to work with him and get him better defensively, but he’s working so that’s all we need. Having those two in a game adds to our depth and our size on defense and I feel like that can definitely help us this season.”
In the meantime, N.C. State now has one game in the win column. For Bates, that the best sign of growth a team can have.
“I’m feeling great,” Bates said. “I’m just glad to get a win. I hate losing.”
Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.