In honor of Valentine’s Day, I have one line for the Pack before tomorrow’s game against the Heels:
“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me, no more.”
Unfortunately, I’ve been hurt. Time and time again. If you recall, I wrote an open letter to NC State Men’s Basketball roughly a month ago after several early ACC losses encouraging everyone to not yet give up on Gottfried or his squad. The team went on to beat Duke and boy, was I hype. I’m back with Pt. 2.
Sadly, the NC State men’s basketball team is a tease. After a promising win against the Blue Devils provided a light among the darkness, I was convinced that everything could only go up from there.
Then Louisville happened. Then a heartbreaking overtime loss to Syracuse came several days later. The Wolfpack followed it up with several more games of not being able to get the job done against Miami and Florida State. On Saturday, they put the dagger through my heart with a 30-point loss to Wake Forest on the road.
Watching NC State play is most comparable to the relationship that you want to see work. You’re dying to make it work. There are the good qualities – even great at times. Then there are the other things that you’re willing to look past that aren’t as great, but don’t they say that love is blind? Then there’s the bad, and the bad is what ultimately leads to the downfall.
What’s the bad, you might ask?
For starters, Mark Gottfried has lost his entire fan bases’ support, and now maybe even his job. As of Monday night, rumors have been swirling around that Gottfried probably doesn’t have a job at the end of the season. Search #FireGott on Twitter and you’ll get an idea of the sentiment towards the sixth year head coach. During introductions against Miami, a speckling of boos resonated throughout PNC Arena as his name was called with the hype video still playing. I would imagine that tomorrow will be a lot worse.
It’s one thing to be hated by your players, but it’s an entirely different thing to be abandoned by your support system. Unhappy fans, especially relentless NC State fans, won’t be happy until something changes. Athletic Director Debbie Yow promised to evaluate Gottfried’s status once the season is over, but I’d be willing to be that it could come before that depending on how tomorrow plays out.
Another factor that doesn’t help Gottfried’s case is that he has greatly underperformed for the amount of talent that sits on the bench. This is nothing new to you guys. We’ve all heard it by now. Dennis Smith Jr. should be a top 10, if not top five NBA pick. With the combination of him, Omer, Terry, Malik, and Maverick, the team should be sitting pretty among the top of the conference standings right now. Newsflash. The Pack is second to last behind Boston College, whom, by the way, it didn’t win against if you recall.
Nonetheless, there are still some positives to Gottfried’s tenure, highlighted by the fact that he’s is joined by only three other ACC members – Duke, UNC, and Louisville – to have taken his university to the NCAA tournament in his first four seasons. Each one of those members is guided by a Hall of Fame coach, by the way.
Other ACC teams don’t view the Pack as competition anymore. Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods said, “We knew if we got up early on them, they were going to quit.” I’m not sure where the disconnect happened, whether it’s a team-related issue or coaching issue, but clearly, something is off.
Stay with me.
Despite the bad, here’s what makes me the saddest – I know it’s even worse for the guys on the team, which is why I sympathize with them and refuse to buy into the negativity. On Saturday, I turned off the game at halftime. I figured it wasn’t going to get any better. Instead, I tweeted about not letting the game ruin my Saturday but made sure to emphasize that I’d be back. Just as I will be tomorrow when the game tips off at 7 pm.
I feel for Terry. Think about being a leader on the court who has one of the most important roles on a team that was the most talented on paper heading into the start of the season. And then think about this season most likely being his last (possible sixth year as a result of injury). Interview after interview, I’ve heard him talk about how much he hates losing with a certain sadness that only comes from being the best that you can be and contributing solid play every single game, only to have it not be good enough.
I feel for Dennis, who’s used to leading his teams to championships. He’s young and is a certain type of fiery competitive, but now has witnessed how the ACC in particular chews you up and spits you out. I can’t fathom knowing that you only have one season to experience college, something that people talk about for the rest of their lifetime, only to watch it go down the drain.
I feel for BeeJay. I hate the way things have played out for him during his senior season. Having issues with your head coach can only be a headache, and seeing your minutes reduced as a veteran player most definitely doesn’t help as well.
I feel for Malik. The junior tested the NBA waters but decided to come back because he truly believed in the good thing that NC State had going, saying that the Pack was going to be “a hard team to stop” when deciding to pull out of the draft.
I feel for Omer, coming from a foreign country only and not being familiar with the way college basketball is played in the United States. A five-star recruit who hasn’t yet lived up to his hype.
I feel for Lennard. I can’t imagine the feeling of wanting to be able to contribute when in reality there’s nothing you can do. Not to mention, the amount of emotional toll that sitting out an entire year brings about as you watch your best friends from the bench.
I feel for Maverick, who’s 3-point shooting has single-handedly kept NC State alive for several games this season. He’s talented and hates losing just as much as the rest of them.
I feel for Torin, who transferred to State with hopes of making an impact on an ACC team. He’s been a solid contributing part this season, but said after the Wake forest game that the team “needs to play with more of a sense of urgency, like this is life or death.”
Finally, I feel for everyone else coming off the bench who consistently has been a source of encouragement for the others week in and week out. It must be hard watching the same situation play out over and over and having to be able to stay positive without possibly even stepping foot on the court for the entirety of a game.
I can’t predict what’s going to happen tomorrow. All of the uncertainty and the rumors and the games lost are easy to forget, but what’s not easy to forget is how to be a Wolfpack fan.
If there’s one thing that our fans are, it’s not apathetic. In fact, I’d say NC State has one of the most loyal, if not the most loyal, fan bases in the entire country. We desperately cling to any glimmer of hope and run like hell with it.
If you break my heart tomorrow, Pack, I’ll forgive you. And I’ll keep coming back. Because that’s what we do. We keep coming back for more because we’ve witnessed greatness and we know it’s possible.
So for now, I’ll keep on loving you. Till death do us part.