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Keatts’ biggest win is making jaded ’Pack fans believe again

January 31, 2019
Coach Kevin Keatts as NC State defeats Clemson at the buzzer. NC State defeated Clemson on a buzzer beater by a score of 69-67 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC on January 26, 2019. (Jerome Carpenter/WRAL Contributor)

On his first day on the job at NC State, Kevin Keatts famously described himself as a “winner.”

In a season and a half, Keatts has backed up that confident claim, but you won’t find his most important victory when you look up the Wolfpack’s record.

Yes, Keatts already has a number of signature wins under his belt. But his biggest win was not the Pack’s victory over then-No. 7 Auburn in December, nor can it be located in the wins over Arizona (No. 2), Duke (No. 2) and North Carolina (No. 10) last season.

That’s an impressive resume, to say the least.

But Keatts’ most impressive feat lies under a different bullet point: He’s making Wolfpack fans optimistic again.

State fans are known for being skeptical – a trait earned after way too many disappointing seasons in the past quarter century.

National media have taken their shots at the fan base over the years, calling them “delusional” for expecting a winner on the bench. But Wolfpack fans in their early 50s – not exactly octogenarians – can remember a time when their university won two NCAA titles in the span of 10 years.

There’s nothing delusional about believing you can swim in those waters again …

This brings us back to Keatts. Even the most jaded of Wolfpack fans starts to smile a bit when you mention the team’s coaching situation these days. That’s a far cry from the perception of his recent predecessors. Sidney Lowe simply didn’t win enough games, while Herb Sendek and Mark Gottfried were never fully embraced for various reasons.

A common thread among those coaches? Inconsistent play. Their teams looked great one night, then flatter than Kyrie Irving’s perception of the earth the next.

With Keatts, the effort level is consistent. His teams play all out every game – perhaps an extension of the pressing defense they play, but impressive nonetheless.

Effort goes a long way with fans. Combine a few wins with that – and you have an infectious combination.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of Wolfpack Nation’s mood came in the aftermath of the Virginia game. The reaction was almost unanimously upbeat and positive – even after a loss. The reason? Passion and effort on the court, and on the bench.

Time will tell if Kevin Keatts is a winner in the record books – but he’s definitely winning his fan base, creating an optimism in Raleigh the likes of which we haven’t seen in years.

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