There’s a big game coming up in Greenville and East Carolina isn’t even playing.
High school rivals D.H. Conley (4-1) and J.H. Rose (1-2) will be meeting at the Rose Garden.
Dave Lebo, the father of ECU coach Jeff Lebo, assists Rob Maloney at Conley. Creighton Lebo, the son of the Pirates coach, is a freshman at Rose. The younger Lebo is already averaging in double figures.
“Tuesday,” coach Lebo said. “I’ll be there. I told my dad, I ain’t rooting for him.”
Creighton had 22 points in a 64-58 overtime loss at Havelock, the only common opponent. Conley beat the Rams,62-44, in its season opener.
Creighton had 13 points in Rose’s first win, 48-43, at Wilson Hunt on Wednesday night. Creighton hit five of six from the floor, including all three of his shots from beyond the arc.
“He likes to play,” said the Pirates coach. “He enjoys it. He works at it. . . . He loves the game. He’s dedicated. It’s been fun for me to get a chance to watch him play.”
Lebo was regarded as one of the top high school players in the country at Carlisle, PA, before an outstanding career at North Carolina. His last high school game was a state 4-A championship win with his dad as coach. Jeff Lebo was a four-year starter in high school.
Comparisons are probably inevitable.
“I can’t remember kind of how I was in the ninth grade,” Lebo said. “He’s probably a little stronger than I was but maybe not quite as athletic as I was. . . . He’s a guy who is in the gym. He comes in here more than our players are in here. That’s in his blood.”
The ninth-grader is currently listed as B. Creighton Lebo on MaxPreps.
“It’s Brian,” said the ECU coach. “Both my middle name and my dad’s middle name is Brian.”
Lebo will be a very interested spectator on Tuesday night.
“I’m a dad when I watch him,” Lebo said. “I typically don’t say much to him after a game. I try to help him if he wants it. After a game, it’s an emotional time, I don’t try to communicate with him too much. . . .
The Pirates coach is there if Creighton wants to take advantage of his experience.
“I help him,” said the ECU coach. “I talk to him. I tell him what I think. He’s a coachable kid. He wants to learn and wants to be good. Sometimes it’s better coming from my dad, his granddad, than it is coming from me.”
Creighton Lebo has good genes on both sides of his family. His maternal grandfather, Dink Mills, lettered in football at ECU from 1962-64. He later coached Williamston High School in football and was athletic director.
One wonders if Creighton might some day play for his dad.
“That’s so far down the road,” coach Lebo said. “We’ve never even talked about it. … We hope one day he’ll be good enough to get a scholarship somewhere. Mom and dad would really like to see that, especially after putting the other two (older daughters Addison and Mills) out of state.”
Exam break for Pirates
A 76-53 loss at Virginia on Tuesday night put ECU at 7-3 at exam break.
“We’re trying to get healthy right now, trying to get our full allotment of guys,” Coach Lebo said. “Ziggy (Michel Nzege) is starting to get back into the rhythm of things, obviously. You’ve got Jeremy [Sheppard] back. Hopefully, here soon, we’ll have Elijah [Hughes] back in practice. We’ve got a lot of guys who hopefully will be back at full force.
“We’ve played, at times, pretty well. Defense and rebounding to this point, I’ve been pretty happy with those areas. Those are the areas we really needed to get better and I think we have.”
Hughes is working his way back from a foot injury.
“It’s going to be a little while for him to get back in the rhythm of things,” Lebo said. “I hate it for Elijah because he is a guy that I think can shoot the ball for us. He can score the ball. He can defend. He can pass. He can put it on the floor. He can do a lot of different things for us and he’s got size (6 feet, 6 inches) for position. He played the first two games. He struggled the first game. The second game he had 10 [points]. That’s when he’s been out.
“It’s going to take him a while to get back into the rhythm of things because he hasn’t played live. Hopefully, this next week we’ll be able to have a couple of days, three days at least before [College of] Charleston (Thursday at home, 7 p.m.) that he can get some live work but it’s going to be a while for him to get back into the rhythm of things. Any time you’re out in basketball, you can take the time that you’re out — whether it’s three weeks or four weeks — it takes at least that much once you get back cleared to get back into the rhythm of things.
“So it’s going to be probably not until January, the first week in January until he gets back and is feeling comfortable.”
Take away from UVa
Virginia took control with a 23-4 run in the first half on Tuesday night.
“We played good for 32 minutes,” Lebo said. “We played even with them for 32 minutes. We had the last eight minutes of the first half where they made a bunch of threes in a row but 32 minutes, we played them very well, played them even. But they’re a very, very good basketball team. That’s why they’re in the top 15, top 10 before they lost to West Virginia, one of the top defensive teams. …
“We learned a lot about playing on the road. We learned a lot about playing against a really good team. We learned a [lot] defensively about we kind of aspire to be like that at some point, but we’re certainly a long way away from being that defensive juggernaut that they are. We learned a lot. It was great for our kids, our three Virginia kids (Jeremy Sheppard, Caleb White and Andre Washington), to get back and get a chance to play in front of family and friends.
“We didn’t win the game but I thought we did a lot of good things against a really tough Virginia team who’s coming off a loss, who has lost like nine games at home since [Coach] Tony Bennett has been there.
“When West Virginia beat them (66-57, Saturday at Charlottesville), I knew we were going to get a good shot from them.”
Personnel allows more flexibility
New players, including the 7-1 Washington, who is averaging 2.5 blocked shots per game, have permitted more flexibility in playing style for the Pirates. Jabari Craig has 10 blocks in 10 games. The team is averaging 5.1 blocks per game.
ECU played mostly zone defense last season.
“We know we’re bigger inside,” Lebo said. “We can protect the rim better. We’re more physical in the backcourt. We’ve played a lot more man-to-man. We can still play zone because we are big. We’re able to use our size at a lot of different positions. That has certainly helped us keep people’s field goal percent low.”
The Pirates are averaging 42.6 rebounds per game to 33.1 for their opponents.
“We’ve rebounded the ball well, too, so that’s been a good thing for us,” Lebo said. “In the man, you’ve got kind of responsibilities to block out. In zone, you’ve got concepts and areas you’ve got to block out. It’s easier to rebound the ball out of man typically. Just the physicality and the ability to have a shot blocker at the rim just helps us so much. Andre’s been a big difference for us, being able to protect the rim area. Whether he blocks them, his presence there makes a lot of people miss. He’s done a good job of protecting that rim area for us.”
Sheppard shows potential
Sheppard led ECU’s scoring at Virginia with 17 points. He’s averaging 8.0.
“He’s getting better,” Lebo said. “Offensively, you see his talent level out there. He can shoot the ball. He can handle the ball. He knows how to play. . . . He’s kind of a true, scoring point guard.
“Defensively, he’s a freshman. He needs to get better. He’s got to get stronger and understand, defensively, positioning, guarding one-on-one, transition defense. There are a lot of things that he can get better on but you can see, talent-wise, especially on the offensive end of the floor, that he’s a guy who can shoot the ball. We need that. We need that perimeter shooting and he handles it. He has a good feel for the game.
“He missed the first three games, which was disappointing for us and for him but you can see the talent level there. That consistency has to be there night in and night out . . . That’s the big thing with Jeremy, practice and consistently pushing himself every day to get better, getting out of his comfort zone. That’s how you get better. Those are the challenges that he’ll have through the year.”
ECU was picked seventh in the American Athletic Conference in the preseason after being seeded eighth for the conference tournament last season so there is a perception that the Pirates will be better.
“I hope so,” Lebo said. “I think we’ve got a better team. There’s no doubt about it. We’ve got more depth. Defensively and rebounding, we’ll be more physical there. Offensively, we’ve turned the ball over a little too much. What we’ve made up for with our size and strength sometimes shows up on the offensive end a little bit.
“We’ve got to get back healthy. We’ve got to figure out a rotation. The league is really good. We know that. We don’t really worry about where they pick you in the preseason. That doesn’t really matter. We’ve just got to get better every single day — find a rotation here and who the guys are we can count on. The big thing once we get back healthy, it’s going to create a lot of competition for playing time. I’ve got to make decisions based on what I see in practice and who’s going to play the minutes. It’s going to be really competitive every day. They’re going to have to bring it. That’s how you get better.”
ECU returns to action Thursday against College of Charleston (6-3) and visits Wilmington (7-1) on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 6:30 p.m.
“The College of Charleston and Wilmington, I looked at the RPIs today,” Lebo said.
The RPIs published by CBSSports.com showed College of Charleston at No. 48 nationally on Thursday and UNCW at No. 15.
“Good challenges for us,” Lebo said. “Regional games for us. They’re two teams that we played last year that have great basketball tradition. . . . We’ll have our work cut out. Charleston’s up first after exams. They’re one of the top defensive teams in the country. They can really defend. They’re used to winning. They’ve played tough people.
“Down at Wilmington, a team that’s been really good and has got a really good winning percentage to date. They really press, turn you over and get out in transition.”.