NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament   - Final Four - Previews
Getty Images

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- DJ Burns Jr. can play four musical instruments: the tuba, piano, baritone saxophone and upright bass. He loves fashion. Reading is one of his many hobbies. He has his own song in which he raps about being a beast and feasting. NC State's big man, all 6-foot-9, 275 pounds of him, is a man of many talents, among them now: leading the Wolfpack to their first Final Four since 1980.

Such a towering frame and menacing on-court game could intimidate some -- and the chatter this week leading up to Saturday's NC State game vs. Purdue has been muddied in part about his NFL prospects and whether his dominant interior game might translate to him becoming an offensive lineman -- but anyone who knows him knows that's prattle for one reason.

"He's not that bully that you guys think he is," NC State coach Kevin Keatts said Thursday, shooting down speculation that his big and boisterous center might one day pursue the NFL. "You spent time with him? He's a Teddy bear off the court."

A bully he's decidedly not. The unsuspecting face of March Madness 2024, who said he has "zero" interest in playing football after the season, is a gentle, goofy giant. With stakes as big as a Final Four berth on the line last weekend in Dallas, he cut a rug in a close game while officials reviewed a consequential play late in the game. And as the game was drawing to an end on Sunday and NC State was within arm's reach of downing Duke to reach the Final Four, he clowned Blue Devils fans in the stands by busting a move and breaking some news to them: "Your season's over," he was seen saying.

Each layer you peel back behind Burns reveals an unexpected delight. He's big into anime; Dragon Ball Z is his go-to. He's a huge Super Smash Bros. fan; he rides with Kirby, mainly. And in his free time, he's carrying NC State to the final weekend of the college basketball season as the leader of a team no one expected to be here – all while soaking up the fame by striking deals with Manscaped, Raising Cane's and Adidas within the last week. 

In the words of Jay Z: He's not a businessman; he's a business, man. 

"DJ Burns is the most fascinating guy in the world," Keatts said last week. "DJ is one of the guys that everyone loves to be around.

"I think he will be the Mayor of Raleigh one day," Keatts added. "[But] now he's trying to figure out if he can be the president of the United States the way he's playing, the way he's on this big stage carrying himself."

NC State has now won nine-straight after losing seven of its last nine games to close the regular season, thrusting itself into the Final Four as one of the biggest March Madness stories in years. And Burns is the main character of that charge -- one who looks the part of a bully but behind the scenes brandishes a quiet confidence and silly demeanor that has propelled this unlikely run and kept this team both prepared and light on its feet.

"He's a funny guy with an infectious personality," teammate Mohamed Diarra said. "We like being around him. He gives energy and he gives smiles. Every time we're around him, we all just feed off of him."

Teammate Kam Woods credits Burns' personality traits for NC State's run just as much as he does Burns' silky smooth game. And for what it's worth, Burns' game has been real, real good: He's averaging 18.3 points, 3.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game during this magical NCAA Tournament run, with three of NC State's four wins coming as underdogs.

"You would think that because he's got all this weight, he's limited," Woods said. "But he's the most talented guy I've ever seen. When I first got here to NC State and started practicing, I'm like, 'Ain't no way they're going to just let him score like this against people who are bigger or stronger. As I kept going, he just kept amazing me. I see the work he puts in and the person he is: he cares for other people. That's why we're here."

NC State has made tweaks during this run with its preparation, defensive coverages and approach to the game. All the levers from Keatts and his staff have been pulled with perfection to help this team, which finished 9-11 in ACC regular-season play, become a bracket buster. The team looks and plays totally different than it did a month ago. But Burns has always been like this. Nothing has changed. His father, Dwight Sr., told CBS Sports last week that Burns was raised this way. 

"He's just a fun-loving people person who loves having fun and enjoys life," his dad said. "He was raised to enjoy life."

That approach has trickled down to Burns' teammates. With the biggest games of their lives approaching in just over a day, NC State -- a big underdog to mighty Purdue on Saturday -- showed no signs of nervousness on Thursday. As Keatts went through his press conference answering questions, he was repeatedly interrupted by what sounded like a strained cat's meow -- which later turned out to be a chorus of howls emanating from his team inside the bowels of the State Farm Arena. 

"That's them right there," Keatts said with a smile. "They're having a good time."

NC State's having a good time, indeed, and with the biggest shooting star of March on their side, no one's counting them out.