When Michael Perry was interim coach for East Carolina last season, Jeff Lebo was never too far from the program. Lebo returned from hip surgery to attend practices and administer day-to-day affairs although he wasn’t on the sideline for games.
When Lebo resigned six games into the current campaign, Perry’s role changed significantly from his caretaker responsibilities in 2016-17 when the Pirates were 6-8 over the last 14 games under his supervision.
“It is different this time as opposed to last year,” Perry said. “Coach Lebo wasn’t the coach but he was around to deal with the hiccups that typically come with being in this position from administrative responsibilities, budget managing, to also academic issues that may arise with the players, discipline issues. He was at the forefront of all of those — all of those responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of a head coach during the course of a season. I just really coached the basketball team. That’s where all my energies and efforts were really devoted to. I also continued to recruit. This year’s different because all of the other responsibilities now rest on my shoulders.”
As Perry has pointed out, this isn’t his first rodeo. He was an interim coach at Georgia State before taking over as head coach earlier in his career.
“It’s a weight of responsibility but again it’s nothing that I’m not accustomed to,” he said Wednesday. “I’ve been a head coach before so that experience certainly does come in handy in situations like this. I think the fact that I did it last year and they’ve heard my voice before, the majority of the guys who are in the locker room as the team, makes the transition a lot easier for them as well.”
Value of win going into exam break
Coming from 17 points down to top visiting Campbell 69-66 on Dec. 4 put some wind in the sails of the Pirate ship during the ensuing exam break. It’s like getting a win before an open date in football.
“It’s tough in basketball for a loss to occur prior to exam break,” Perry said. “That’s the time you’re not going to be able to play, so you’re not going to be able to get that taste out of your mouth. Football is difficult because they typically go a week before they play. Typically in basketball, we’re playing within a few days. That’s why before the exam break, it’s very difficult as you approach it being motivated if you have an ugly taste in your mouth from a loss from a week or two weeks prior.
“We needed to be able to get that win. We needed that period of time to exhale for a moment and just kind of get our bearings, add some different things to our offensive and defensive package. The win couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We played three games, back-to-back-to-back. It was hard to make adjustments during the course of the time because you were devoting all of your efforts toward getting prepared for the next opponent. We’ve had a chance to add some additional work about who we are.”
Chris Clemons prep
Campbell was without guard Chris Clemons, the leading returning scorer in the nation. Clemons was averaging 22.2 this season but watched in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum with his left ankle in a medical boot.
“We had a game plan that included him,” Perry said. “We didn’t know until shortly before the game that he was not going to be able to play. That didn’t change things drastically for us because my experience is typically when teams lose a really quality player I don’t think it affects them as much the very first game. There’s something instinctive about players that they really step it up that particular game. I don’t think you see the real affects until a game or two later. It didn’t change the game plan.
“I knew somebody would step up. The kid [Marcus] Burk really stepped up offensively (21 points) and really contributed. A friend of mine coaches at Boston College (Chris Cheeks) and they lost one of their best players (Deontae Hawkins) to an ACL injury. A lot of people thought it was very devastating and they go out and beat Duke, the No. 1 team in the country, the very next day.”
Thoughts on Shawn Williams
Shawn Williams has scored some big buckets for ECU in its current 3-game winning streak. At other times, he has played like a first-year player on the college level.
“He’s a freshman,” Perry said. “You have to keep that in mind. He was here last year, sitting out. He wasn’t actually allowed to practice for half a semester. He only came on board in the second semester and by that time, we were playing a lot of games. There wasn’t a lot of practice time logged for him. It wasn’t an opportunity to do a lot of learning so he is still really a freshman. As a freshman, there are inconsistencies and we knew that. It’s going to be a struggle for him as it is for all freshman to run a basketball team. … However, where we knew he was exceptional was his ability to score the basketball. He can shoot the ball at this level. He can get his shot off. He can find shots. He can score in different ways.
“We knew that would be an asset for him that would allow him to get on the floor sooner and he could be very productive in terms of his shooting. His ability to make plays is getting better. He’s taking better care of the basketball. Those are going to be the challenges of any freshman trying to run a basketball team and facilitate for others.”
Current senior B.J. Tyson went out in January last season and although he returned to the floor, he wasn’t as effective as he had been for much of his career. He’s playing like his old self this season, maybe even better in some aspects.
“Last year, the reality was he was hurt,” Perry said. “As much as he worked hard to get back, he just wasn’t himself — no explosiveness, the lack of confidence. He barely drove the ball. He was relying solely on 3-point shots and he wasn’t shooting the ball well from three. All the things that were his strengths, he was actually playing away from them as opposed to playing to his strengths and he just wasn’t himself. He put a lot of time in during the offseason, working to get his body right physically. He spent more time in the gym refining some of his skills, particularly his 3-point shooting and his ball handling, which has been a work in progress since he’s been here. It’s really good to see it all kind of culminate in his final season.
“It’s almost become a strength for him with his 3-point shooting and his ball handling has become so much better than when he walked on our campus five years ago.”
Perry said Seth LeDay, a transfer from Virginia Tech, could still be ruled eligible for this season.
“We filed a waiver and we were not successful,” Perry said. “We filed an appeal to that and we were not successful. The third step is he’s filing a waiver. He’s got legal representation outside of the university that will work in conjunction with the university. He is filing a third appeal, very similar process as to what the kid at N.C. State (Braxton Beverly) followed. Basically, the same process. When that information is supplied to the NCAA, we’ll be awaiting an answer. All of that should be happening soon.”
Would LeDay play this season?
“We don’t know that,” Perry said. “That’s all based on the NCAA’s decision. When we get that, we can begin to figure that out. … He practices every day. In the last week, he’s been at his best. He’s really looked sharp. He’s ready to go.”
Important vs. Charlotte
Charlotte dismissed coach Mark Price on Thursday. The 49ers visit ECU on Monday. The coaching change had not taken place when Perry sized up important factors as the Pirates resume play.
“Just realizing that the competition will progress and continue to increase,” Perry said. “We have to be dialed in. We can’t take plays off. We can’t take four-minute segments off. We can’t take halves off. We’ve got to be able to put two halves together. We’ve got to play hard, play fast, play smart and really hang our hat on our defense, being able to stop teams with our defense. Just be competitive … and build on some of the things we’ve been able to have success with here in this short, three-game winning streak.”
Post player Jabari Craig, who signed with the USC Trojans coming out of high school, is an X factor for ECU as the competition gets bigger and better.
“He’s shown over his career he plays his better basketball against bigger opponents,” Perry said. “So he’s really looking forward to being able to play against bigger guys. He’s excited as most big guys would be if they were taking on a challenge like that. He’s doing a great job for us defensively as it is right now — defensive rebounding, blocked shots, challenging shots and also dealing with physicality. He has not allowed opposing teams’ post players to get deep paint touches. So he’s doing a great job on the defensive end. He’s been a little sporadic offensively but we think that consistency is going to come as the season progresses.”
The Pirates coach was asked if he had gotten any Christmas shopping done during the exam break.
“No, not much,” Perry said. “Everything is just about getting this team better during this break.”