GREENVILLE, S.C. — North Carolina State didn’t have to look very far to find its next men’s basketball coach.
The Wolfpack have reached an agreement with UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts, a person with knowledge of the decision said Friday night. The person said the school is expected hold a news conference Sunday to formally introduce Keatts.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the school hasn’t publicly announced the deal.
Keatts is a former assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville and two-time Colonial Athletic Association coach of the year who led UNC Wilmington to a 72-28 record and two NCAA Tournaments in three seasons there. His hiring came one day after the Seahawks lost to Virginia in the Thursday’s first round.
The 44-year-old Keatts replaces Mark Gottfried, who was fired after six seasons. The Wolfpack finished 15-17 this year and missed the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
Keatts, a former coach at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, was on Louisville’s staff from 2011-14 before earning his first college head coaching job at UNC Wilmington. He turned around the UNCW program after it slipped near the bottom of the CAA, implementing an up-tempo offense and a version of the full-court press run by Pitino’s Cardinals.
The Seahawks — who were 9-23 the year before Keatts’ arrival — went 18-14 in his first season in 2014-15 and were invited to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament before earning the CAA’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid in each of the past two seasons, losing by eight points to Duke in the first round in 2016 and falling to the Cavaliers by five points Thursday.
UNC Wilmington this season ranked 12th in scoring, averaging 84.8 points, was 10th with 336 3-pointers made, and was sixth in turnover margin at plus-4.1.
Gottfried inherited a program that had missed the NCAAs in 15 of 21 years since the Jim Valvano era but got the Wolfpack to the tournament in each of his first four seasons — including two Sweet 16 runs. But the Wolfpack stumbled with a shorthanded roster during the 2015-16 season.
Picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference on the promise of potential one-and-done point guard Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State instead saw its season completely unravel — leading the school to announce Feb. 16 that Gottfried wouldn’t return for a seventh season.
Smith hasn’t announced his plans for next season. Big man Omer Yurtseven has already said he will enter the NBA draft but won’t hire an agent, keeping open the option to return to N.C. State for his sophomore season.