Last week’s column chronicled an East Carolina building project that is in its final stages of completion.
This one deals with a building project that is just now getting off the ground.
Like the gleaming new TowneBank Tower that will make its debut at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this fall, coach Joe Dooley is hoping his renovation of the Pirates’ long-neglected basketball program will someday make fans just as proud.
It’s a process that’s already underway, despite a 10-21 overall record (3-15 in the American Athletic Conference and 1-11 on the road) in a first season that didn’t look much different from a lot of others of recent vintage.
Building projects, at least those that are done right, take time and they’re done in stages.
Take TowneBank Tower, for example.
First the unsightly old Doublewide in the Sky had to be torn down and a new foundation laid. Then the frame went up followed by bricks and mortar, leaving only the finishing touches for the facility to become a finished product.
In Dooley’s case, the foundation is already in place in the persons of franchise player Jayden Gardner and shooting guard Shawn Williams, the two most recent AAC Rookies of the Year. The “tearing down to build back up” stage has also started with five players from the 2018-19 roster having entered the NCAA transfer portal, with little doubt that they’re planning to leave.
All that attrition has allowed Dooley and his hard-working staff to quickly restock the program with players of their own choosing rather than having to make do with those recruited by former coach Jeff Lebo. In all, they’ve signed 10 newcomers — seven junior college transfers and three incoming freshmen.
“The biggest thing we’re looking for when we look to add players is talent,” Dooley told ECUPirates.com. “We want a talent upgrade and we want character. You want skill, but the major thing is the character and the upgraded talent.
“When you looked on the floor this past year we weren’t very big and from an athletic standpoint, we weren’t very athletic. Those are things that we need to address and are addressing.”
Dooley and assistants Steve Roccaforte and Raphael Chillious didn’t just address the size issue on the low post by bringing in two 6-foot-11 JUCO big men, although rim protector Edra Luster from Tyler College in Texas and power forward Ludgy Debaut from Northwest Florida State certainly have the potential to take some of the inside pressure off rising star Gardner.
They also helped the Pirates get bigger, and at the same time more athletic, by adding four wing players of 6-6 or taller.
Bitumba Baruti is a former 3-star prospect who played a season at Washington, where he was recruited by Chillious, before spending last season at Chipola Junior College in Florida.
J.J. Miles is an in-state shooting guard who averaged 15 points per game in leading Cape Fear Community College to a 27-6 record and a trip to the national tournament last season.
Miles James averaged 12 points, five rebounds and two assists while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range at Palm Beach State while prep school product Brandon Suggs is a versatile player who chose ECU over Auburn, Georgia Tech and Texas A&M, and can fill several roles.
The rest of the class consists of another former Power 5 player previously connected to a current Pirate coach, 6-1 JUCO point guard Tyrie Jackson who was at Virginia Tech with Roccaforte; 6-1 point guard Tremont Robinson from Northwest Mississippi Community College; prolific 6-5 scorer Tristen Newton from Burges High School in El Paso, Tex.; and 6-4 Baltimore high school combo guard Logan Curtis.
It’s inevitable that some of those players won’t pan out. In fact, there’s a chance that a majority of them won’t. But because of the sheer volume, along with the reputation Dooley and his staff have built as successful recruiters, it’s almost as much of a certainty that at least some of the newcomers will become productive players for the Pirates.
Determining which and how many of those players are keepers, then keeping them around long enough for them to reach their full potential, is the the bricks and mortar stage of the building process.
“We’re not going to be able to get McDonald’s All-Americans,” Dooley said following a game against Memphis this season. “We’re going to get guys we can develop and become really good players and be a part of getting this thing up. The other thing is we’ve got to get to the point that we have upperclassmen.”
While Dooley and his staff already have plenty to sell prospective players — including a multi-bid conference, a state-of-the-art practice facility and a vibrant college town atmosphere — nothing attracts talented players better than the opportunity to run alongside other talented players.
It also helps to provide them with an exciting schedule, something ECU has done for 2019-20 by getting into the Bahamas Showcase from Nov. 22-24 in the popular Caribbean vacation hotspot of Nassau.
Dooley still has a long way to go to begin putting the finishing touches on his quest to change the culture of the ECU hoops program and bring it back to the level it reached during his successful first tenure in Greenville.
But every ambitious building project has to start somewhere. And this one is already starting to get off the ground.