Julius Hodge decided to return for his senior season instead of jumping to the pros because he wanted to win a national championship. But without a supporting cast, the reigning ACC Player of the Year’s chances at the title appear to be relatively slim.
The dynamic scorer led the Wolfpack with 18.2 points per game and was second in rebounds with 6.4 per contest. This season, however, he has little proven talent around him as the team’s second and third leading scorers, Marcus Melvin and Scooter Sherrill, graduated from a team that finished second in the ACC in 2004.
Opponents will hone in on Hodge, so the team’s success will depend heavily on the output of junior Ilian Evtimov, who was inconsistent last season. He only averaged 9.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, but showed flashes of scoring prowess. In N.C. State’s second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Vanderbilt, Evtimov contributed a career-high 28 points. He had double-digit point totals in nine of the team’s final 13 games, averaging just fewer than 13 points per contest during that span.
N.C. State head coach Herb Sendek will also rely on sophomore Engin Atsur, senior Levi Watkins and junior Tony Bethel to help make up for the loss of Melvin and Sherrill.
Bethel, who transferred from Georgetown before last season, will start at point guard. A year ago, the Wolfpack struggled to find a true point guard, often relying on Atsur and Hodge to run the offense.
“I’m really looking forward to having Tony on the floor with us,” Sendek said. “He gives us a guy who can put the ball on the floor and go off the dribble and create some scoring opportunities for his teammates. There’s always a place on a team for a guy who is a leader, who helps set the table, get guys organized and who can transport the ball under the influence of pressure, without turning the ball over.”
Bethel, who has been working to improve his jump shot, will pair with Hodge in the N.C. State backcourt.
“Tony is a real good player,” Hodge said. “I don’t want to say we’re the best backcourt in the nation, but I do think we are.”
N.C. State’s relatively easy out-of-conference schedule will give the Wolfpack time to find options other than Hodge on the offensive end. N.C. State hosts Purdue and Manhattan, but its only major non-conference test will come on the road against the Washington Huskies.
In conference, the team will not have to visit Cameron Indoor Stadium, a product of ACC expansion that Hodge does not mind. At Duke a year ago, he had one of the worst games of his career—scoring just seven points and committing seven turnovers before fouling out—in N.C. State’s 76-57 loss.
“Going to Cameron hasn’t been a pretty sight for the Wolfpack,” Hodge said.
N.C. State kicks off its season Nov. 17 in the Black Coaches Association Invitational Tournament in Raleigh.
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“We have a lot of experience under our belt and have a lot of guys who can play basketball,” Evtimov said.