Joe Dooley has been working with the under-18 national team, but will begin to get an idea next week how his developing group of Pirates will shape up for his first season back on the East Carolina sideline.
Dooley returned in early April to a program he guided to a 57-52 record from 1995-96 to 1998-99.
ECU is coming off a 10-20 season. The Pirates were 4-14 in the American Athletic Conference. Jeff Lebo resigned after six games and Michael Perry guided the Pirates the rest of the way on an interim basis.
Some recruits from the Lebo era were retained and Dooley’s emerging staff has secured some new talent as well.
All hands will be on deck next week for the start of the second session of summer school. Dooley will see how the new personnel might jell during the time the NCAA allows players to be in the gym with coaches.
Senior guard Isaac Fleming and sophomore frontcourt performer Dimitri Spasojevic are returning starters. Rising sophomore guard Shawn Williams was named the 2018 American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year as a freshman. K.J. Davis and Justin Whatley played key roles on occasion.
Dooley probably has some ideas about playing style but he must determine what best suits his players.
“Until we get everybody here, I don’t know,” Dooley said. “We will know more when we see everybody on the floor and get a chance to evaluate what we have. We picked up and played a little bit full last year because we had depth, a lot of depth. That enabled us to do that. I don’t know, based on our personnel yet, how we’re going to play. I’d like to evaluate some guys. June and July might be different from September. We get four hours per week on the court. Last year, it was two.”
The talent will include a lot of new faces. There are five recruits in addition to Virginia Tech transfer Seth LeDay, a junior who sat out last season.
Dooley discussed the incoming players individually.
Tyler Foster is a 6-feet, 5-inch guard from Mount Zion Prep in Baltimore.
“One of the things he provides is some length on the wing,” Dooley said. “With he and K.J., you have some length when you’re guarding bigger guards. He’s got good size, athleticism. He’s played in good high school programs. … I do expect him to come in and contribute right away.”
Jayden Gardner helped Heritage to the Eastern 4-A championship in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum as a high school senior.
“The most exciting thing when I got here with the coaching change was that he was committed to East Carolina and wants to be here,” Dooley said. “He’s had a great high school career and he’s a Pirate. He never wavered. I’m excited about him. He’s got a high motor and he likes to play. When you talk to him, he’s excited about getting here next week and getting to work. . . . We’ll have everybody here for summer school next Wednesday.”
Tae Hardy was signed since the coaching change from Believe Sports Academy in Athens, TN.
“We had a chance to see him in the recruiting period,” Dooley said. “I had seen him a year ago. I like his upside. He can really push it in transition. He’s athletic. He’s got good size for a point guard. He’s about 6-3. He’s got a good frame. We need some depth in the backcourt and he’s definitely going to provide that.”
Rico Quinton (6-10) signed with ECU in November.
“I was able to go see him work out,” Dooley said. “Rico’s got good size. He’s young. Size 17 sneakers. He’s 17 years old. I like his being long. He’s got to put on some weight. He’s a small town kid from Dyersburg, Tennessee. I like his skill level. He needs to get bigger and stronger like they all do. That’s the developmental part of it. Getting them in the weight room and get them going as soon as we get them here.”
DeShaun Wade has the distinction of being a target for two ECU staffs. He reopened his recruiting after Lebo’s departure.
“Good size,” Dooley said. “When he initially asked out of his letter, he went and visited Temple. Once he came back from visiting Temple, we were able to talk to him about some of the things he liked about East Carolina the first time. We were able to convince him to come back. He’s got good size. He can play multiple guard positions. He played in a really good high school program. We expect him to be able to help.”
The ECU coach declined to comment on Bosnian big man Milan Stakic, who apparently still faces some steps in the admissions process.
The Pirates have some potential versatility on the perimeter.
“A lot of people play small,” Dooley said. “A guy like K.J. or a guy like Tyler might have to guard a four (big forward) at times, depending on who you’re playing. I do think that being able to be versatile and switch some things or even if you want to play small, it gives you some depth and some options.”
Some fixtures from the past have moved on.
“Jeremy Sheppard is not here,” Dooley said. “(Kentrell) Barkley is not here. Obviously, those guys are not here. Usman (Haruna, reserve post player) won’t be playing next year.”
Recruiting is an ongoing process.
“We’re going to recruit like we have one or two scholarships in the junior class, the following year’s class,” said the ECU coach. “It’s a pretty good year, here in the state, some guys we like.”
Former Connecticut assistant Raphael Chillious is a new addition to the ECU coaching staff.
“He’s got experience at a high level,” Dooley said. “He’s been at Connecticut. He’s been at Villanova. He’s been at Washington. He’s been able to attract quality players and quality people. He knows the northeast corridor, up and down 95, which I think is good. He’s a D.C. guy. He knows the league. He knows what type of players you need to be successful in our league and that’s a big deal.”
Ken Potosnak came to ECU from Auburn with Lebo in 2010 and will remain on staff.
“I started talking to all the high school coaches and it was amazing how many of the high school coaches he had relationships with, especially here in the state,” Dooley said. “The other thing was the familiarity with a lot of the things in the league. Also, the familiarity with our players and recruits, all the academic ins and outs of the university. He’s really been a great help.”
The staff will expand.
“The NCAA is going to pass some new rules in August,” Dooley said. “That has me thinking in the process a little bit different than I did early. We’ve been talking to some people and trying to figure out what’s the best fit.”
The workouts next week will help streamline the focus for challenges ahead.
“We only have five scholarship players here right now,” Dooley said. “Some of the high school players weren’t out of school in time to start summer school, the first summer session.”
The AAC announced Thursday that the Pirates will play home and home against Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, South Florida, Tulane, Tulsa and Wichita State in 2018-19. ECU will face Cincinnati and Temple at home only. There will be trips to Central Florida and Southern Methodist with no return games.
The nonconference schedule is virtually finished.
“We need one more game,” Dooley said. “We’re talking with several schools about starting series. That’s what we’re working on. We need one game for this year and then we’ll work on the following year’s schedule. We’re going to Georgia Tech this year. We’ve got Wilmington and Charlotte.”
With everything going on, Dooley’s wife [Tanya] and son [Max] will be in town next week. His immediate family remained in Florida where he previously coached successfully at Florida Gulf Coast, directing the Eagles to five straight postseason appearances, including a pair of berths in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve been busy,” Dooley said. “But that’s all right.”