East Carolina improved its size and talent level with 11 new players entering the basketball program, but the personnel makeover has yet to produce significant results. The Pirates took a 4-game losing streak into exam break and are 2-7 overall with four home games coming up.
Pirates coach Joe Dooley was an assistant at Kansas in 2008 when the Jayhawks won the NCAA Tournament.
He guided Florida Gulf Coast to NCAA Tournament berths in 2016 and 2017.
He was an assistant to Eddie Payne at ECU when the Pirates made the 1993 NCAA Tournament field by winning the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. When Payne left for Oregon State, Dooley coached the Pirates from 1995 to 1999.
Has he been in a situation similar to what he’s dealing with now in terms of putting a team together with so many new faces?
“It would probably be the last time I was here,” Dooley said. “That was the last time I was really with a program that was building something. Since I’ve left here I’ve walked into some pretty good situations or we’ve developed a pretty good situation.
“This is a different situation, trying to build it. We are trying to develop some of the younger guys. It has been frustrating, some of it expected, some of it unexpected. I do think the good news is there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
After winning the CAA Tournament in 1993, the Pirates had some highly-regarded recruits.
“We had some new guys then,” Dooley said. “The following year we had Chuckie Robinson and those guys (Tim Basham). We had a little bit of stability. That was our third year here. Coach Payne was here four years. I think we were able to use some of that momentum from that second year to jumpstart us for years three and four and then, obviously, Coach Payne left.”
Exams, practice schedule
ECU won’t play again until Saturday, Dec. 14, at 4 p.m. when Campbell (6-2) comes to Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. Exams won’t adversely affect the practice schedule.
“We’re pretty fortunate,” Dooley said. “We do have guys with exams all the way through next Thursday. We’re just about normal schedule most days this week.”
The Pirates were off Wednesday and worked out Thursday..
“We’ll have a day off early next week,” Dooley said. “Tuesday we’ll be off. We’ll have study hall scheduled for Sunday afternoon. We’ll keep our regular practice schedule. Thursday is the only day we have to tweak our schedule because of a presentation. Everything else is normal.”
The roster has been inundated with injuries. Seth LeDay has been limited with a surgically-repaired knee and has missed the last two games.
“I think the good news is some of the guys are getting healthier,” Dooley said. “Tyrie (Jackson) and, obviously, Tremont (Robinson-White) are back. The better news will be when they are able to practice the whole time. Tremont is on a minutes count at times and so was Tyrie. When you have 30 or 40 minutes with them, you’re trying to figure out how you prioritize what you do.
“Some of the stuff, they don’t know because they haven’t had enough reps. In Tremont’s situation, he was out three-and-a-half months. It’s different getting cleared and now all of a sudden you’re in live action. It’s a whole different deal just to get your timing back and your feel back. That’s a long layoff.
“I think Tyrie has done a good job of playing better. He’s not where he’s going to get. They’re sort of in preseason mode right now because they haven’t had the time.
“Obviously, Ludgy (Debaut, 7 footer) is done for the year, so we’ll redshirt him and get him healthy. The good thing is that we’ll have two more years with him. Hopefully, we’ll have J.J. (Miles, 6-7 guard) back here soon as he progresses with the concussion protocol.
“Ludgy had the beginning of a fracture (foot). They went in and did surgery on it. He’ll be out and we’ll be very conservative with it. We’ll probably get him back at the latter part of the season where maybe he can do some shooting and some skill stuff. … Then we’ll have the whole spring and summer to work with him. … Unless something had drastically changed he would have started the games early in the year. He was obviously a little more mature than Charles (Coleman, 7-foot freshman) and a little bit experienced.
“The bad news is we don’t have him this year. The good news is we’ll have him for two more years. In a twisted way, it probably might help him as a player to get some more experience. A redshirt year will help him.”
Charles Coleman, a 7-foot freshman, had offers from some highly-regarded programs including Duke and Memphis. He is averaging 1.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 10.1 minutes per game.
“He’s going to be fine,” Dooley said. “He’s just got to keep working. The whole thing is he’s going to be a good player. He just needs experience. He needs some repetition. I think the bad news is he’s going to make mistakes. The good news is because of the situation we’re in, he’s going to have to play through mistakes.
“When you have guys like that and they’re getting a little twisted in a ball screen situation, you probably would have gone with a Ludgy or Edra (Luster, 7-foot junior) had some foul trouble the other night. With the situation and guys out, he’s going to get a lot more minutes. It will probably hurt us a little bit early but over the course of the years, it will probably help us because of experience.”
New distance on arc
The 3-point line was moved back to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches this season. Dooley hasn’t seen any drastic consequences.
“Watching games, I haven’t seen a national average,” Dooley said. “Obviously, I’ve looked at our stats and our opponents’ stats but I have not looked at the national average. They did tell me that the last time they moved the line back the percentages caught up in three years. … The amount of 3-point attempts are probably up again this year, I would guess. I haven’t seen the national average on that. The teams that we’ve played, Coppin shot 30 the other day. We’ve seen a lot of teams attempt a lot of 3-point shots.”
Developing large group
Teaching such a large group of new players is not an easy process.
“I think the hardest thing is that there’s really — Seth (LeDay) was out all preseason — you only have one guy (Jayden Gardner) who’s been in the program so everything you’re teaching is new,” Dooley said. “There’s no example in front of them to say, ‘Hey, this is the way we do it,’ or set the example. With all the young guys, you’re trying to teach the smallest details from the huddle to making sure who inbounds the ball. Those are things that when you’ve been around you can almost take for granted. We can’t. I think the weird thing is you get some guys back, you have some guys out. For example Seth coming back — he could shoot and do some things but he couldn’t do anything live.
“As you put in your offense, what does he know? For example, Tremont probably knows 15 to 20 percent of what he needs to know because you can walk through things and walk through things but until it’s live and at game speed, it doesn’t look the same. You can show it on film. You can show it on paper, but until you actually see what’s going on, feel it or touch it, I don’t think you really get a good feel.”
Locker room expansion
The Pirates’ locker room is undergoing a renovation.
“That’s much needed,” Dooley said. “Most importantly for our players and, hopefully, in the future it will help recruiting. … It will be great. We’ve blown out some walls. We needed it more player-friendly. We’ve redone the door frames so they’re taller and the guys don’t have to duck.
“There was not enough room in our lounge for more than four or five guys to spread out. Now, we’ll have a lounge where we’ll have a TV area. We’ve taken out the film room. That wall was taken out so it’s one great space. We’ll show film in the locker room.”
ECU’s next opponent, the Camels, are getting 11.1 points per game from Cedric Henderson Jr. and 10.4 from Ja’Cor Nelson.
“The Nelson kid is off to an unbelievable start,” Dooley said. “They run a little bit of an offshoot of some of the Princeton stuff. Soft press a little bit, back to man-to-man. Some switching man-to-man. He’s (Campbell coach Kevin McGheehan) done a nice job.”
Defense has been designated for improvement by the Pirates.
“I think there’s a lot of needs,” Dooley said. “I think we need to tighten up our defense, which I think some of it is commitment to it. A lot of it is repetition with these guys. We need more reps. We need to see things. We need to feel it. We need to touch it a little bit more.
‘”I think that will come with practice. We’ve got a practice schedule that will, hopefully, help us a little bit in the next couple of weeks where we can make some strides with Tremont and Tyrie back and hopefully with J.J. back we can get some practice reps and guys can have some competition and you can go full throttle.”