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View from the 'ville
Thursday, May 8, 2008

By Al Myatt

Just in time: some good hoops news

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

The past week has been like a good news, bad news routine for the East Carolina basketball program.

The good news was that the Pirates signed a highly-regarded power forward, 6-foot-8, 250-pound Darrius Morrow of Decatur, GA, to a scholarship.

Official word of that impressive catch came one day after the NCAA came down on the program regarding its academic progress rate.

Morrow was ECU's first hoops signee since it was announced that Mack McCarthy had agreed to a five-year contract after a season as interim coach following the departure of Ricky Stokes. McCarthy's club produced an 11-19 record in 2007-08.

Among the highlights under McCarthy's first season at the helm were a triumph over N.C. State for ECU's first-ever win over an ACC program plus wins at home against Houston, at George Mason and the end of a 23-game road losing streak in Conference USA with a win at Rice.

McCarthy was upbeat about bringing Morrow aboard the Pirate ship.

"Darrius will be a great addition to Pirate basketball," McCarthy said in a statement released by the university's athletic media relations department. "He will impact our program in many areas. Not only is he an outstanding player, he also comes from a winning tradition and brings an infectious enthusiasm with his personality."

Morrow played for coach Phil McCrary at Columbia High School where he averaged 14.5 points and 11.2 rebounds. He was MVP of the championship game as his team captured the Georgia 4-A state title.

"Playing for an outstanding coach like Phil McCrary will also contribute to his being prepared for success early on in his career here at ECU," McCarthy said.

Morrow initially signed with South Carolina but received his release from the Gamecocks after Dave Odom announced his resignation as coach. Darryl LaBarrie, a former Georgia Tech player who joined McCarthy's staff last season, was instrumental in the secondary phase of Morrow's recruitment. LaBarrie is a Decatur native, who led Tucker High to a state title.

Auburn, Marquette, UAB and West Virginia also expressed interest in Morrow after he was released by USC.

Morrow is rated No. 30 in the nation among power forward prospects by

The Pirates lost sophomore post player John Fields after the 2007-08 season. Fields averaged 9.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in his second season at ECU. Fields has announced that he plans to play at UNC-Wilmington. Morrow's signing reduces the potential effects of Fields' departure.

Immediate playing time was an incentive for Morrow to join the Pirates.

"East Carolina is an up and coming program," Morrow said. "I believe I can come in and help turn things around. I think it's a place where my game can really blossom.

"They really do need a post player. They have good shooters. I'd love to come in and help them compete with Memphis for a Conference USA championship. That's why I chose them. I'm trying to play right away."

Morrow had apparently been educated about Greenville's ardent support of Pirate athletics.

"It's a good town, everybody loves ECU and there's no pro teams," he said.

Morrow's prep coach endorsed his choice of the Pirates.

"East Carolina is getting a solid player who I expect will do big things in Conference USA under the tutelage of Coach McCarthy," McCrary said. "Darrius is a smart player who plays within himself."

ECU had already inked Raheem Smith, younger brother of former Pirates star wide receiver Troy Smith, during the fall signing period. Smith was a standout at Greenville Rose on the high school level. He averaged 16.3 points and 4.5 rebounds at Louisburg College this past season. He hit 59 percent of his field goal attempts, inlcuding 37 percent of his three-point tries for the Hurricanes.

Guard Brandon Evans also had announced his intentions to transfer from the ECU program after the 2007-08 season after his playing time diminished to 7.6 minutes per game during his sophomore season.

Although McCarthy had indicated a desire to sign a player with the ability to drive and score, Evans' scholarship may go unused after NCAA sanctions were announced regarding the academic progress rate of ECU's hoops program.

An inordinate number of transfers prior to Stokes' second season at ECU apparently has impacted the NCAA ruling that the Pirates must forfeit one basketball scholarship for the 2008-09 season. ECU's practice time also will be reduced from 20 hours per week to 18 hours. The two hours of practice time will be replaced with additional academic opportunities in study halls and tutoring sessions, according to an ECU release.

"Our men's basketball staff has worked extremely hard to address the factors under their control and the resulting grade point average improvement is nothing short of spectacular," said ECU chancellor Steve Ballard.

The basketball team's cumulative grade point average has gone from a 2.13 in the fall of 2004 to 2.78 in the fall of 2007. Although the Pirates have had a significant number of transfers, the departing players have been in good academic standing with GPA's of 2.0 or better.

The academic standing of transfers is not factored into the NCAA's computations of academic progress rates but perhaps it should be since players can leave programs for a variety of reasons other than academics.

"The high number of transfers in men's basketball around the country attests to the reality that institutions do not have the ability to control this particular concern," Ballard said.

ECU has aggressively sought to support the academic performance of its players. The entire non-conference schedule this past season was played without missing any classes.

Although the Pirates do not control their schedule in geographically-dispersed Conference USA, university officials have noted that, by using charter flights and traveling on the days of games, only two days of classes were missed last season.

Athletic director Terry Holland said ECU will continue to be proactive in its approach to the academic performance rate.

"The hands-on efforts of our coaching staff will continue to address the APR in a constructive manner," Holland said. " ... I believe that the ECU men's basketball team's class attendance is among the nation's best as well. ... An unusual number of transfers continues to hamper our efforts to improve the APR score."

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05/08/2008 03:03:34 AM


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