East Carolina coach Joe Dooley was looking at prospective players in New Hampshire and Boston on Monday and Tuesday as the World Series was getting underway at Fenway Park.
“Everything is all jammed up with the Red Sox,” Dooley said. “Fortunately, at the last minute I was able to get a direct flight back to Raleigh on Tuesday night about 10 o’clock.”
The timing of his flight allowed Dooley to get back in time for Wednesday workouts at ECU.
The Pirate coach was in Raleigh earlier for a scrimmage with N.C. State.
Dooley returned to ECU after a stint in the 1990s as an assistant and later head coach of the Pirates. He compiled a 57-52 record as head coach when ECU played in the Colonial Athletic Association. He was an assistant at Kansas when the Jayhawks won the NCAA Tournament in 2008. He has since coached at Florida Gulf Coast, guiding that program to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths.
Dooley takes over a program that was 10-20 in 2017-18.
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“Being new, we’ve had to figure some things out,” Dooley said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys. We have nine freshmen and sophomores and that’s not counting the walk-ons. At times, it’s been painfully slow, but at other times we’ve seen a lot of progress.”
The Pirates scrimmaged the Wolfpack in Raleigh on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s interesting to see with referees out there and how guys react,” Dooley said. “We’ve been trying to simulate more game situations in practice. … I think our guys get a little worn out competing against each other so different faces, different styles of play. They’re not as familiar with the other team’s plays. It gives you a little bit of a deal to evaluate both personnel and whether guys can pick things up or not.”
Wake Forest visits ECU for a scrimmage on Saturday.
Dooley has not yet determined the style of play best suited for his talent.
“We’re still in that process,” he said. “What we’d like to do may not always fit what our team is, so we’ve tried to tweak some things where we are right now. I do worry about us being able to score in late-clock situations and some other deals. We’ve tried to get it where there is a lot of passing and movement. … We’d like to play fast. That’s all contingent on getting stops and being able to rebound the ball. We’ve rebounded the ball a little bit better than I thought but there’s also been spurts where we haven’t rebounded at all, which won’t allow you to get out and run.”
In the midst of matching up with ACC opponents, Dooley would like to see the Pirates take care of the ball better against the Demon Deacons.
“I say this in a positive way, we would like to clean up our turnovers,” Dolley said. “Part of the turnovers were caused by things that we haven’t worked on yet — and we weren’t going to work on because we weren’t ready to get to that stage yet. We put our guys in some tough spots because they hadn’t worked on it. We talked about that. We haven’t faced a lot of pressing. … We can’t expect our guys to handle that but we will work on that, obviously, going forward. There were some things we hadn’t seen in practice that you can’t expect the players to handle. We’ve got some segments here the next couple of weeks, we’ve got to continue to work on a couple of those things and we will.”
ECU opens the season at home against Delaware State on Tuesday, Nov. 6, at 7:45 p.m.
“November looks like an NBA schedule,” Dooley said. “We’re jammed up. We’ve got nine games all right in a row and then we get to December. We play on Dec. 2 and then we don’t play again until the 18th. We’ve got a 16-day break and then a 10-day break, which is a little unusual.
“I think we can turn that into a little bit of a positive. We’ll have a little bit of an idea of who we are and what we are and that will allow us to tweak some things, add some things and hopefully refine some things before we go into conference play because then you jump right into it at SMU and at Cincinnati. As we know, our league is not very forgiving so you better be prepared.
Part of the Pirates’ extended break from action in December is due to exams.
“We’ll be in exams from Dec. 4 to the 12th,” Dooley said. “The reading day is Dec. 4 and exams are from Dec. 5 through Dec. 12. We’ll obviously plug some recruiting days in there and give the guys some time to study, but we’ll also get out and do some recruiting but we’ll have a lot of time to practice. We play at Charlotte on Dec. 18. Then we don’t play again until the 28th. We’ll give the guys a couple of days for Christmas.”
The Pirates will have a lot of new faces.
“We’re trying to figure out our rotation,” Dooley said. “Where all of those young guys factor into the rotation probably depends on the rotation. Some of the days, some guys play better than others. It’s almost been a daily deal in a good way. It’s made for good competition.
“Jayden Gardner is obviously going to be in the rotation. I think Tyler Foster, DeShaun Wade and Tae Hardy will be in the rotation. Where in the rotation, we don’t know yet. Seth LeDay will obviously be in the rotation, but we’re not really sure where they are in the rotation yet. That’s what we’ll continue to evaluate. … A couple of those guys did some nice things the other day at State. It will be interesting to see how they react against Wake and continue to react in practice.”
Some of the ECU recruits are not listed as being quite as tall since they’ve joined the program. Gardner was listed at 6 feet, 8 inches as a commitment. He was 6-7 on MaxPreps as a senior at Heritage. On the Pirates’ roster, he’s 6-6.
Similarly, Rico Quinton has gone from 6-10 to 6-9.
“We did weigh and measure those guys during the preseason,” Dooley said. “We did almost a pro day. We did their height, weight, reach and we did some testing, too, . . . vertical jump . . . so if those are the results from the test, I’m not really sure.”
Isaac Fleming is ECU’s leading returning scorer with a 12.5 average, but was prone to technical fouls in his first season since transferring from Hawaii.
“He’s had a good fall,” Dooley said. “We’ve addressed those deals. We’re not going to react to the referees or the other teams that we are going to play. He’s been very receptive. He does give you that different look at the point. We’ve played him at the point. He’s really tried to value the ball a lot more. He’s an experienced player who can get shots for himself and for other players.
“One thing I’ve been very interested to see — he’s been a very good defender, on the ball especially. He understands what he’s supposed to do and he’s done a good job pressuring the ball — making it a little more difficult for teams to enter their offense.”
Shawn Williams averaged 12.4 points in 2017-18 as a freshman.
“Shawn has worked hard,” Dolley said. “He’s trying to figure some things out in a good way. Conceptually, we’re looking at what way we can get him shots. Obviously, he can really shoot the ball. . . . I think he’s also learning how to get himself a shot within the offense. You can run sets for him but there are different looks you’re trying to find. Some of the subtleties of getting off a screen or getting open, he’s trying to figure those things out right now.”
Virginia Tech transfer Seth LeDay sat out last season.
“He’s very athletic,” Dooley said. “Fast twitch guy, multiple jumps. I think he’s a really good athlete. He needs to play with a confident motor. When his motor’s turned up, he can really do some things. He can create shots for himself and other people. For a forward, he’s very athletic, a pretty good passer. I think we’ve got to find some ways to get him and Jayden in open space so they can make plays for themselves.”
Dooley can’t comment specifically on commitments. ECU has three players in its current recruiting class.
“We’d like to sign maybe four,” Dooley said. “Add at least one more frontcourt guy right now. I think that would be a big thing. As we go forward, we’re going to need to continue frontline guys. We’re slowly getting where we want to be on the perimeter. I think we need to address frontline athleticism concerns. That’s something we’ll focus on.”
ECU was 4-14 in the American Athletic Conference last season. The AAC’s status as a multi-bid league in the NCAA Tournament was a factor that attracted Dooley from Florida Gulf Coast.
“Big time,” Dooley said. “You’re looking at Connecticut, which won the national championship four years ago. Two of the teams in the league last year were four seeds, which means they were two of the best 16 teams in the country. That’s not counting last year, SMU was injured. Central Florida was injured. UConn and Memphis weren’t your typical UConn and Memphis teams.”
Central Florida was the preseason favorite at the AAC media day in Philadelphia on Oct. 15.
“I think UCF is going to be terrific this year,” Dooley said. “They look the part. They’ve got a lot of experience. They were third in the country in points allowed per game. Without Tacko Fall, it was a whole different dynamic. It’s a great league. I think SMU is better. They’ve got their guys back. Wichita State. … It’s a big boy league.”