By the time he was 21, Seth LeDay was in his fourth state on a basketball odyssey that included a stellar high school career in Dallas, two junior college stops and a redshirt year at Virginia Tech. He opted to leave Blacksburg for East Carolina, only to learn that the NCAA was making him sit out another year.
Last year at this time LeDay was frustrated, forced to resign himself to the NCAA decision that he and ECU had fought for months. For the second year in a row, he had to find ways to improve his game and his physical condition without the benefit of competition.
It seemed that things weren’t going according to plan for LeDay. But then Joe Dooley accepted the head coaching job, and LeDay saw that even the rocky sections of his journey had led purposefully to this point.
Dooley had recruited LeDay in high school and junior college to play at Florida-Gulf Coast, and his chief recruiter when he went from Northwest Mississippi Community College to Virginia Tech had been Steve Roccaforte, who left Virginia Tech to join Dooley’s staff last spring. Suddenly he was with two coaches he had known and respected for years with two years of eligibility remaining to help them rebuild the Pirates program.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I knew Coach Dooley before he got here, and then Coach Roc came here, I’ve known Coach Roc since I was 14 years old. Everything is amazing, I’m happy I’m playing here, I love my teammates, I love everything about it. The win we got the other day, it’s just a big, big stepping stone.”
That signature victory over Cincinnati, in which LeDay contributed 11 points and 6 rebounds, was proof positive that the program is already in a better place. LeDay said that defeating the defending American Athletic Conference champions has boosted the Pirates’ confidence that they can compete with anyone in the league.
With that new attitude in tow on a road trip to Memphis, LeDay notched a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) even though ECU fell to the Tigers 78-72 after leading at halftime.
Looking back on his Dallas to Oklahoma to Mississippi to Virginia to East Carolina pilgrimage, LeDay is grateful for the coaches who challenged him — most notably Bubba Skelton at Northwest Mississippi.
It certainly isn’t a roadmap he would have plotted out when he was a high school standout, but he sees that every new adjustment forced him to grow up a little more.
“It definitely made me mature at a young age, pretty fast,” he said. “I think I’m pretty mature and became a young man, all the journeys I’ve been on and all the sacrifices I’ve had to go through just to be able to play. All the stops just helped me grow up and become a man.”
LeDay has been an unmistakable presence on the Pirates’ roster, adding athleticism to a roster that often needs to make up for a size disadvantage with scrappy, athletic play. Dooley knew LeDay was special when he started pursuing him years ago, a hunch that has only been reinforced as LeDay has resumed game play after two years on the sidelines.
“His athleticism is different,” Dooley said. “He’s a fast-twitch guy, he’s able to do some things that some of our other guys can’t do — second jumps, he can guard multiple positions, he can drive it from the perimeter. He gives us a lift.”
To play the all-out, athletic style of ball that drove the Pirates past the Bearcats, players like LeDay risk foul trouble every outing. The balancing act, as the season goes on, will be in keeping their foot on the gas without losing top players in the process. Fouls will come, LeDay said, but the Pirates need to avoid unnecessary fouls as they sustain their intensity.
“Coach has really instilled that in us, to play really physical, really hard, just with a lot of energy, and just always going hard nonstop,” he said. “So I think everything he’s been teaching us every day, it’s starting to click now. We’ve just got to become that team where we’re just always going hard, just bringing it every possession.”