Mark Gottfried's job was never going to be easy. One, the new NC State coach's hiring was announced amid accuastions of sabotage from NCSU athletic director Debbie Yow toward Maryland coach Gary Williams this month. Two, Gottfried wasn't any Wolfpack fan's first choice -- that would have been VCU coach Shaka Smart, among others -- but Gottfried was hired all the same. Three, Gottfried inherited an anxious and easily disappointed fan base, a team full of players he didn't recruit, and an ongoing expectation among fans, alumni and boosters that NC State should compete with in-state rivals Duke and North Carolina on a yearly basis.
And now -- as if he needed another -- here's one more major challenge for the new man in Wolfpack land: Who's going to play point guard?
On Tuesday, NC State announced via a release that starting point guard Ryan Harrow will transfer to another school. According to the release, the decision was "mutual," and NC State will release Harrow to play for any non-ACC school, where the sophomore point guard will sit out a year before becoming eligible in the fall of 2012.
This is, to use the parlance of our times, a big-time bummer. Harrow was a key part of Sidney Lowe's last, best recruiting class, a bunch ranked No. 7 in the country and one that arguably saved Lowe from being fired in 2010 after his first four seasons yielded six or fewer ACC wins apiece. The class included C.J. Leslie, the No. 11-ranked player in the class, as well as Lorenzo Brown, a top-20 caliber player. Harrow was the key third piece, the No. 8-ranked point guard set to take over the Wolfpack's reigns immediately.
The class was a letdown in its freshman season. (As was a devastating early season injury to senior forward Tracy Smith.) The Wolfpack posted another subpar year (14-15 overall, 5-11 ACC) and, well, that's why Lowe is no longer the head men's basketball coach at NC State. But the Leslie-Brown-Harrow trio also earned a lot of on-the-fly experience. It showed flashes of potential. It's possible the class could have grown into a force in the next few seasons if Gottfried was able to quickly update the talent around it.
It would have been devastating to lose any player from that class, but it might be especially devastating to lose Harrow. Sure, the freshman point guard was far from a revelation in 2011; he posted the lowest effective field goal percentage on a team ranked No. 230 in the nation in shooting percentage. But he was the Wolfpack's only future option at the point guard spot. Harrow split minutes and starts with senior guard Javier Gonzalez, but Gonzalez is graduating this spring, and the Wolfpack don't have another true point guard on the roster or in the recruiting pipeline until verbally committed recruit Tyler Lewis shows up in 2012. (Assuming he does, that is.)
That's why it's a little difficult to believe NC State's assertion that Harrow's transfer was a mutual decision. Still, Gottfried is doing the right thing in releasing Harrow, wishing him well, and doing "anything we can to assist him in this process." Harrow signed up to play for Lowe. That's not possible anymore. He should have the right to leave with minimal interference, should he so please.
But there's no question the so-called "mutual decision" leaves NC State in a lurch. The aforementioned Brown is a combo guard, and he tallied 20 more assists than Harrow in 2011, so he'll likely draw the primary ballhandling responsibilities until NC State can land find a long-term replacement in another recruiting class.
That wasn't the plan. Harrow was the Wolfpack's point guard of the future. His departure -- coupled with the various short-term challenges associated with Gottfried's new pressure-packed position -- will be every bit as difficult as that distinction entails.