While North Carolina State busted brackets en route to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 this month, three members of the Wolfpack's much-hyped incoming recruiting class weren't the least bit surprised.
T.J. Warren, No. 29 in the ESPNU 100, had the Wolfpack dancing to the Sweet 16 in his bracket. Rodney Purvis, No. 20 in the ESPNU 100, was a bit bolder, having them in the Final Four. And had No. 44 recruit Tyler Lewis filled out a bracket -- or even watched the games, for that matter -- he says he "would have had them going far."
"Every time I've watched State this year, they lose," said Lewis, an Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) senior. "I watched the UNC games. I watched the Duke game when we were up 20 and they came back on us. So now I just track the games on my phone. As long as we're winning, I'm fine."
As unlikely as the team's tournament run was, it wasn't unprecedented. The Wolfpack have advanced to the Sweet 16 11 times and have won two national titles (1974, 1983).
What has never happened before, though, is NC State boasting three McDonald's All-Americans in the same recruiting class. Lewis, the Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year, Purvis, a guard at Upper Room Christian (Raleigh, N.C.) and the Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year, and Warren, a Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) star forward, were all selected to play in Wednesday's McDonald's All-American Game (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
"There's a lot of buzz in the [Raleigh-Durham area] because not a lot of people expected NC State to make a run this year," said Purvis, who averaged 26.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a senior. "Based on how the guys are doing this year, expectations are definitely pretty high for us coming in next year."
Considering that Duke and UNC also occupy Tobacco Road, it's no small thing when NC State can steal a bit of the spotlight. That's why, for the better part of three decades, Wolfpack nation has been waiting for this perfect storm of talent. And while a highly touted recruiting class doesn't guarantee wins and championships, these three players know that fans won't be satisfied unless they're able to alter the status quo.
"We're trying to come in, follow through on what this year's team has been doing and hopefully break up that whole thing UNC and Duke have going," said Warren, whose dad played for NC State from 1976 to 1979. "Nothing's going to be given to us, but we want to make things more competitive. We want to compete in the conference and tournament year in and year out."
It might seem like the Wolfpack have come out of nowhere with a string of big commitments and a tournament run. But in reality, the roots for NC State's mounting hope stretch a bit deeper.
While Warren and Lewis go to high school out of state, all three recruits are North Carolina natives. Warren and Purvis go back to their pre-teen, AAU days, when they joined forces for two years on the same North Carolina-based squad. Lewis and Warren met on the AAU circuit, too, but under much more competitive circumstances.
"One summer I played against T.J., and I had 47 points and he had 41," recalled Lewis, who played at Forsyth Country Day (Lewisville, N.C.) before transferring this past year. "We both didn't want to lose because we're both so competitive."
Lewis -- whose team won that epic AAU showdown -- didn't want to lose out when Purvis was making his college decision this past fall, either. So he made a point to call his old AAU rival on the regular, pushing and prodding Purvis while conjuring up dreams of what they could accomplish together.
"Man, Tyler recruited me as much as the coaches did," Purvis said. "He had somewhat of an impact on my decision because we felt like NC State was going in the right direction. And then when T.J. committed, it put the icing on the cake."
This week's McDonald's experience could make things even sweeter. From the time spent competing together on the East team to the opportunities for bonding off the court, the potential is there for this talented trio to build chemistry -- and make a statement.
"Hopefully they'll put all three of us on the court at the same time," Lewis says. "No other school has three All-Americans."