Joe Dooley played with the hand he was dealt in terms of personnel in his first year back as East Carolina basketball coach. There were some big moments, including a home win over Cincinnati, but the final overall record was 10-21. The Pirates were 3-15 in the American Athletic Conference.
Dooley promised to revamp the talent pool and ECU is in the midst of that process.
“We were obviously very undersized at all spots this year,” Dooley said. “We were small on the frontline and that’s something we’ve addressed and will continue to address. We’re still involved with a couple of bigs that haven’t made decisions. Obviously, we weren’t big along the wings so we tried to get bigger along the wings and the perimeter also.”
Six players are leaving the program at latest count, which will make room for a wealth of roster additions.
Bitumba Baruti is 6 feet, seven inches and weighs 225 pounds. He played as a freshman at Washington before transferring to Chipola College in Marianna, FL.
“He’s one of these guys that you’ve seen in our league,” Dooley said. “6-7, versatile. He can play multiple positions. The other thing I like about him is he can catch and shoot the ball. That’s another thing we had a problem with.
“He’s got an American (Athletic Conference) body. He’s slapped together. He’s a strong kid. He’s experienced. I’m excited about getting him in here.”
Baruti is relatively young in terms of how long he has been playing basketball.
“The good news is I think he still has a lot of room for improvement,” Dooley said. “That’s the good news. He’s got a college-ready body and he’s obviously been in the Pac-12 so he knows what it’s like. He can shoot the ball and he can defend multiple positions.”
Baruti made 38.7 percent of his 3-point attempts last season.
“You can play him at the three,” Dooley said. “You can play him at the four. I think he can guard one through four depending on who you’re playing against. That’s one of the reasons we like him. And he’s a great kid. (Assistant) Raphael (Chillious) had a good evaluation of him, the pros and cons.”
J.J. Miles is rated the top junior college prospect in the state after averaging 15.2 points and 5.8 rebounds for a 27-6 team at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington. Miles transferred to CFCC from Chipola, the program where Baruti played last year.
Miles played on the high school level at Northampton in eastern North Carolina.
“J.J. is another guy who has good size,” Dooley said. “Brenden Foley at Chipola is an excellent coach. He coached Bitumba (Baruti) and the guys at Cape Fear were very good. He’s got good size. He can play the two or three.
Miles is 6-7, 215 pounds.
“Depending on who you’re playing against, maybe some out of conference games, he could even play a small four,” Dooley said. “He’s not a four man, but I think he could play because of his size. He’s actually taller than Jayden (Gardner). That gives you good size on the wing and on the perimeter.”
Post player Edra Luster is 6-11 and 215 pounds. He comes to ECU from Tyler (TX) Junior College.
“He’s got the height and the skill level,” Dooley said. “He needs strength. The biggest thing for him is getting in the weight room and taking care of things nutritionally. He’s a guy who down the road has a lot of upside. He’s got to gain some weight. That will be a project for the nutritional department and the strength and conditioning department. Those things are going to be pretty important to him.”
More help on the way
The most recent additions to the recruiting haul are Miles James, a 6-6 shooting guard from Palm Beach (FL) State College, and Ludgy Debaut, a 6-10 power forward from Northwest Florida State College, who both committed this week.
“They’ll all be here at some point during the summer,” Dooley said of the signees.
The NCAA transfer portal is full of Pirates.
K.J. Davis is in there,” Dooley said. “Justin Whatley. Deshaun Wade is in there. Tyler Foster and Tae Hardy are in there.
Dimitri Spasojevic joined the list this week. Davis had the highest scoring average among the departures, 7.6 points per game.
“They’re looking at other schools,” Dooley said. “They’re going to be moving on. … Us getting the job late last year and having to navigate a few things, I think the big thing going forward obviously will be recruiting, retention and development. Those are the three things that we’ll really focus on.”
Dooley shares his thoughts on the NCAA Tournament, which saw Virginia top Texas Tech, 85-77, in overtime for the championship.
“You look at most of the teams, you look at the experience,” Dooley said. “You see your highest skill level. You also look at a team like Texas Tech. They took three grad transfers and a local kid and Chris (Beard) did a remarkable job of getting those guys to play together. Two of the better defensive teams in the country were in the national title game.”
The Pirates are still putting together the schedule for 2019-20.
“We’ve got to return some games,” Dooley said. “We’ve got to go back to App State and James Madison. We’re playing in an event in the Bahamas the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. We’ve got Charlotte here. We’ve got one more game that I know we’ve got to get.”
ECU will play Evansville in the first round of the 8-team event in the Bahamas.
Dooley is not looking for the exit door to remain open as he builds the program.
“You’ve got to get old and stay old,” Dooley said. “When we were good at Florida Gulf Coast, we usually had juniors and seniors and some underclassmen waiting in the wings. The seniors graduate and that sophomore steps into the battles as a junior.
“The biggest thing we’ve got to improve is our talent level. Having been through the league, from an athletic standpoint, from a length and athleticism standpoint, those things are important. Once you get them in the program, we’ve got to make sure that we retain them. That’s where it goes back to evaluating. We’ve got to evaluate and make sure the guys we’re recruiting continue to help us.
“I hear people say we want to compete in the American. We don’t want to compete in the American, we want to win in the American.”
Rising senior Seth LeDay and rising sophomore Rico Quinton (6-11) are working their way back from torn ACLs late last season.
“Rico is rehabbing from his knee surgery,” Dooley said. “He and Seth are probably where they’re supposed to be. Seth’s injury was probably a little more severe. He was on crutches for two weeks. They’re rehabbing for about an hour and a half each day.
“Rico played great against Wichita State. He’s got some upside. He’s got to figure out how high his level of commitment is to get better. The biggest jump for guys is usually between their freshman and sophomore year. He’s got to make sure personally that he gets healthy. The first step is to get healthy and the second is to make a commitment to get better.
“Seth tore his ACL on a Tuesday (March 5) at Wichita State. Rico tore his on a Friday (March 8) before the UConn game. I haven’t had a guy tear an ACL since 2007 and we had two in four days.”