"I think we're going to have a good year," said Gonzalez. "I think conditioning-wise we're doing a lot more than we did last year, and we've all put in a lot of work We're working real hard."
NC State returns three starters and all of the key reserves, but expectations will be low after losing senior wing Gavin Grant, who averaged 13.1 points per game and 4.5 rebounds, and talented freshman J.J. Hickson, the team's leading scorer (14.8 ppg) and rebounder (8.5 rpg). Preseason publications have rated the Pack anywhere from 9th to 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference, fresh off a 15-16 record and a last-place conference finish in 2007-08.
"Everybody thinks we're not going to be good at all this year," said Gonzalez. "I think that is wrong. We've still got people like Courtney [Fells], Brandon [Costner], and Ben [McCauley]... those are the guys that were on the team that got to the championship game two years ago in the ACC Tournament. We've got Dennis [Horner]... the freshmen are doing real good. With Farnold [Degand] back... and Johnny [Thomas] too, I think we'll be good."
The key for NC State's success could be the emergence of several role players. Gonzalez believes junior forward Dennis Horner and sophomore Tracy Smith could have big years. Horner, who will play the power forward position after Courtney Fells was moved to small forward in the offseason, can create a matchup problem for opposing forward with his ability to shoot the basketball. Smith should add toughness in the paint and has a chance to play a lot of minutes with Hickson's departure.
"I think Dennis has been playing real good here lately," said Gonzalez. "He's shooting the ball real well here in our workouts. Tracy is going to be an impact player this year. He's going to be scoring a lot for us, and we're going to need it."
Gonzalez is also confident his game can continue to develop. As a true freshman, he struggled with consistency and was probably forced to play major minutes before he was ready when starting point guard Farnold Degand was lost with a knee injury in December.
A native of Miami, Florida, Gonzalez enrolled last summer but his career got off to a rocky start. During a September skill workout, Gonzalez injured a ligament in his shooting thumb while diving for a loose ball. The injury required surgery and forced him to wear a cast for six weeks, and he was slated to miss up to 12 weeks of action.
Gonzalez, who is now 100% healthy and appears to be in much better shape physically, feels that he is ready to go.
"I feel a lot better than I did last year," he said. "Last year, I didn't get to practice with the team before the season started, play in preseason... none of that. I think this year, if I can stay healthy before the season starts, I'll be a lot better."
The 6-foot, 180-pounder had his moments. He improved throughout his freshman year, starting the final 10 games of the season. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.1 assists, but averaged 6.0 points and 3.3 assists over the final 15 games. In ACC-only contests, Gonzalez finished ninth in the ACC, and first among all freshmen, in assist/turnover ratio at 1.46.
He also had a couple strong individual outings in rivalry games. In a home loss against North Carolina, Gonzalez tallied a career-high nine assists. In the loss to Duke, he scored a career-high 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field, including a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the 3-point line. Gonzalez chipped in three assists and had just one turnover in the tough loss.
"Javi, who I thought got tremendous experience last year playing a lot of minutes and getting thrown into a tough situation," said head coach Sidney Lowe. "I thought he grew as the season went on."
"He's gotten a lot better I think," said senior center Ben McCauley. "One good thing about what happened last year for Javi is that he got some experience. With Farnold going down and being a young freshman he was put into a pretty big situation. I think he performed well.
"Really coming into ACC conference, tough conference, he definitely gained some experience from that, but coming into this year I think he knows what he can do and what he is capable of and I think he is really working hard to do the right things and not be too out of control which some freshmen may do. I can definitely tell that he is growing up and he's being more assertive and more patient where as last year being a freshman you kind of get out of control at times. He's doing a lot better."
While Gonzalez admits that he has individual goals, he just wants to win.
"You always have individual goals, but I'm not going to try and go for them," he said. "If they happen, they happen, but as long as we're winning I'm happy."
With Degand back and practicing, NC State also added true freshman Julius Mays, a 6-foot-2 guard capable of logging minutes at the point guard position. Assuming all three can stay healthy, the Wolfpack will have some very good competition for minutes at the spot, and Gonzalez believes it will only make the trio, and the team, better in the long run.
"It's nothing personal, but we'll be going at each other," he said. "We're trying to work hard and get better. It doesn't matter who starts, it matters how we play together. Somebody is going to start, but we'll be probably playing two point guards some in the game so that doesn't matter... as long as we win the game."