• 37°

UNCW coach says focus on NCAA tourney, not new job

By Joedy McCreary

AP Sports Writer

Kevin Keatts is focused on helping UNC Wilmington earn another shot in the NCAA Tournament — not on any other jobs.

The Seahawks’ third-year coach says it is “flattering” to hear his name mentioned for higher-profile openings but says he’s mentally “locked in” to leading UNCW to another Colonial Athletic Association Tournament title, getting back into the field of 68 and pulling some upsets.

Winning two straight CAA coach of the year awards, and being in position for a third, has made Keatts a hot commodity — especially with an opening a few hours up the road at North Carolina State, which fired Mark Gottfried last week.

“Obviously, with having success, your name’s going to be mentioned a lot of places, and that’s flattering,” Keatts said. “In our third year, we’ve had more success than most, but for me, I’ve been locked in to these guys and really enjoying my team. I love what Wilmington has to offer.”

And not just because there’s a beach nearby.

UNC Wilmington (25-5, 14-3) has already wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the CAA Tournament that begins next week in Charleston, South Carolina, and can break the school record for victories in a season with a win over Northeastern on Saturday in the regular season finale.

Keatts knows UNC Wilmington probably has to win the tournament to earn a second straight NCAA bid. The Seahawks claimed the league’s automatic berth last year — their first since 2006 — but lost to Duke in the first round of the West Regional as a No. 13 seed.

And while they weren’t satisfied with any moral victories, they learned an important lesson from that eight-point loss.

“Everyone realizes — and more importantly, our guys realize — after that Duke game that we can literally play with anybody in the country,” Keatts said. “We have confidence. Our guys believe in themselves.”

The Seahawks are winning with the same formula — and many of the same players — as in 2016. They run the same uptempo full court press, lead the league in scoring at 85 points per game, a six-point improvement, and are tops in the conference in 3-pointers, steals, turnover margin and, perhaps most importantly, assist-to-turnover ratio.

“We really share the basketball, and a lot of that comes from being familiar with the guys that you’re playing with,” Keatts said.

Four players average at least 10 points, led by sophomore C.J. Brice (17 ppg) and Chris Flemmings (16 ppg), a transfer from Division II Barton who was the team’s top scorer last year. Six players on the roster began their college careers elsewhere, including graduate transfer Ambrose Mosley (Old Dominion) and returning guard Denzel Ingram (Charlotte).

“I’ve seen a change in them as far as maturity, and really, when you look at it, they feel like they’re going to win every game, no matter what the situation is,” Keatts said. “Their confidence level is high because it’s almost like we’ve been in this situation before.”

Comments

News

Facing personnel deficiencies, local fire departments request tax rate increases

Local

‘Panic buying’ creates gas supply shortages locally, statewide after pipeline cyberattack

Business

Twice as nice: Planet Smoothie opens alongside Cold Stone Creamery in co-branded store

Local

Spencer board gets update on South Iredell rat problem

Education

West Rowan teacher awarded $15,000 outdoor learning grant

Cleveland

Town of Cleveland plans celebration May 22

High School

High school girls tennis: Busy Hornets win again easily

High School

High school softball: Nixon, Walton top all-county team

Education

All Hood Alumni and Friends Symposium scheduled June 18

Education

Shoutouts: Southern City Church awards educational gifts

Local

City to pave streets surrounding Bell Tower Green after park is constructed

Nation/World

Colonial Pipeline restarts operations days after major hack

Nation/World

Ohio’s million-dollar idea: Lottery prizes for vaccinations

Nation/World

GOP dumps defiant Trump critic Cheney from top House post

Nation/World

Israel steps up Gaza offensive, kills senior Hamas figures

Coronavirus

Fluctuating COVID-19 death number back to 302 in Rowan County

Crime

Habitual felon sentenced to at least 8 years in prison

Kannapolis

City of Kannapolis to have bike rodeo Saturday

Crime

Two more charged for operating illegal gambling businesses

Education

A.L. Brown celebrates seniors with signing day

Business

Rebounding, but not recovered: Rowan County tourism begins challenging path toward normalcy

High School

High school baseball: Padgett leads Mustangs; 100th win for West coach Graham

Coronavirus

RSS superintendent, Board of Health discuss strategies for increasing student vaccination rates

Education

East Spencer charter school files petition to contest charter revocation