Spiders, Pack have momentum on their side

While Kentucky coach John Calipari was anticipating for the past month that he might lose his fence-sitters in the draft, he also knew he could still withstand the blow by recruiting at an elite level.

North Carolina State and Richmond are two programs that couldn't afford a setback.

On the surface, there is no reason to believe NC State's Tracy Smith or Richmond's Kevin Anderson would stay in the draft. Neither had much buzz about them, but this is an era where just having someone mention you might be a first-round pick, or even a second-rounder, can entice a player to say goodbye to school.

NC State is a program that should be on the rise. With the return of Smith, the team's leading scorer (16.5) and rebounder (7.3) last season, the Wolfpack may finally turn the corner under Sidney Lowe after four subpar years. The Pack haven't won more than six ACC games under Lowe and won five last season. But NC State won six of its last nine games overall and the recruiting has finally reached a national level.

"We've definitely got momentum," Lowe said. "We finished strong and with quality players coming back and the young talent coming in we're going in the right direction.''

The Wolfpack signed up one of the top perimeters in the fall with guards Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown. Then in late April, they snagged the highly coveted hometown forward C.J. Leslie of Raleigh. If Smith had departed early, the momentum would have been stunted.

"That would have been a tremendous blow to our team,'' Lowe said. "I wasn't worried, but someone got in his ear and told him that it won't hurt to throw your name in. It was all of a sudden. He did tell me that he would come back."

Lowe signed Leslie amid rumors that he was going to be fired (not true) and the athletic director who hired him was going to be out (which turned out to be correct when Lee Fowler resigned last week, effective June 30).

"We got C.J. during a tough time of change," Lowe said. "Lee was good to me. A good man. It was a tough deal."

Now the Wolfpack have the veteran presence in Smith and the high-level talent coming in with Harrow, Brown and Leslie.

"That's what we've been waiting for," Lowe said. "When you look at the top programs that's what they do, year in and year out. This is the group that we've been able to recruit when they were young. We've got guys coming back with some five-star, high-quality players to mix it in."

Programs trying to move upward can't afford to lose talent early to the draft if there isn't a backfill immediately behind them.

Richmond made the NCAAs for the first time under Chris Mooney this past season. The Spiders won nine games in the A-10 in each of the previous two seasons and then last season won 13 and 26 overall before losing to Saint Mary's in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The backcourt of A-10 player of the year Anderson and David Gonzalvez wasn't going to be reunited with Gonzalvez a senior. But had the Spiders also lost Anderson, keeping up with Temple, Xavier and Dayton would have been a chore.

Like Smith, Anderson just wanted to see if he could get a bite. With the short window of opportunity, he did not and returned.

Gonzalvez ate up a lot of minutes last season and Darien Brothers, who played sparingly, Kevin Smith and Greg Robbins -- the latter two more wings than traditional guards -- will share minutes in place of Gonzalvez. Take Anderson out of the equation and there goes Richmond's marquee player, its go-to guy and a veteran presence to ease in these players.

"That would have been difficult to overcome," Mooney said. "We've finished in the top five three straight years in the A-10 and we're on line to finish high again. That would have been a setback. We're building the program to where we want it to be.''