ECU’s season ends at TCU
East Carolina was scheduled to play Memphis on Thursday, March 12, at 10 p.m. in the first round of the American Athletic Conference basketball tournament at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
The game, the tournament and the remainder of the college season were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Unusual,” said ECU coach Joe Dooley. “Unexpected. We never experienced anything like it before. It came very suddenly as we all know. … We were on TCU’s court, getting ready to go through a walk-through. The conference office announced it.
“We hurried back to the hotel. Had the players shower. We packed up. We got headed home as quickly as we could. We were back in North Carolina by 7:30 or eight o’clock. … We had to get to Love Field (in Dallas). We came in on Southwest Airlines, into Raleigh.
“The immediate thing you think about is your players, obviously. The most important thing is safety. Then you start thinking about teams. If you’re Dayton, where you have a legitimate chance. It’s maybe Dayton’s dream team. I thought Kansas had as good a chance of anyone of winning it, how those people feel. You fight all that long, throughout the season , then you don’t even get a chance to see who the best team is. Like I said, it goes back to the safety of the student-athletes.”
Season in perspective
The Pirates finished 11-20 overall for the 2019-20 season, including 5-13 in the AAC. It was Dooley’s second season in his current tenure at the ECU helm. He was 57-52 with the Pirates when he was coach from the 1996-97 season through 1998-99 when ECU competed in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“I think we had a couple of different seasons,” Dooley said of the most recent campaign. “Preseason, I was excited and then, obviously, guys get hurt. Then the team we thought we were — we were going to redshirt a couple of guys. Then we couldn’t redshirt guys because we didn’t have enough people.
“Obviously, with Tyrie (Jackson), Tremont (Robinson-White) and Ludgy (Debaut), Ludgy could have played this year but he wouldn’t have been able to practice much. There was concern that if he played throughout the season that he could break his foot. So he decided to have the surgery and redshirt him so he’d still have two years and protect his long-range desires and interests and his career going forward so that he, hopefully, can play when he’s done with us.
“There were a lot of factors. I thought we were a team early that we were not very good. I think part of it was the youth and not having all of our pieces. We got to about Christmas break, we started getting better. Next year, we have to find a way to win some of the close games. We lost eight games by six or less points. We have to flip those if you want to have a great season. The other thing, we have to do better at nonconference. I know why we struggled at nonconference but we’ve got to get off to a better start.”
Injuries forced the Pirates into adjustments.
“Edra (Luster) went down late,” Dooley said. “We had wanted to redshirt one of the big guys. Ludgy was the one we didn’t want to redshirt and we ended up having to redshirt him because he got hurt. I do think we’ll be able to redshirt Edra this year and we’ll see with one of these other guys. I’ve talked about getting old and staying old. We’re still not very old, but we’re a little bit more experienced this year and we’ll start to get to the point where we have juniors and seniors every year.”
Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, Dooley and staff have continued recruiting efforts.
“I feel really good and I feel really bad,” Dooley said. “Really good because since we didn’t have large numbers in the ’20 class. We had (Derrick Quansah) and we ended up getting Noah Farrakhan late, but we spent a lot of the year recruiting the 2021 class, so I felt really, really good. I know we’ve evaluated guys. I like the guys we’re involved with. But I think what is happening since the pandemic is a lot of schools are just sort of recruiting guys that they haven’t seen play. A lot of people are calling and offering scholarships to guys that they haven’t seen play. I think these guys are starting to panic and they’re looking at trying to go play in a particular league. I’m going to take that particular scholarship and do it now.
“I think what’s going to happen is the next two years the (transfer) portal is going to be huge. I feel we’re involved with some really good players. We’ve lost a couple of good guys that I thought we were in good shape with that we didn’t get. We’re recruiting the right guys and we’re recruiting against the right people for us to get better. Now we just need to dig in and get a guy or two.”
Farrakhan, a 6-1 guard, was rated the No. 9 prospect in New Jersey and chose the Pirates over programs that included Florida, Maryland and Ohio State.
“He’ll be coming in, hopefully, in the next week or two,” Dooley said. “One of the things about Noah is that he’s played in really good high school programs. He’s used to playing with other guys. You look at rosters of people he’s played with in high school. He’s not used to shooting 35 shots. He played in high level games with high level teams. I think what he’ll do, people will enjoy playing with him because he’s a very good passer. … He’ll add some athleticism on our perimeter, which we need to continue to do as we get better.”
Chillious leaves staff
It was announced last month that Raphael Chillious was leaving the ECU staff to be coach at South Kent Prep in Connecticut.
“I think it was a family decision.” Dooley said. “Charlene (Chillious’s wife) had a little battle with cancer. The life on this treadmill that we run on all the time, I think they wanted to step back. Her health is most important to him and his family, which it should be. I think this allows him to be around town. You don’t have to recruit. The road trips are there and back. It allows him to spend some more time with his family and especially his wife. His daughter is getting ready to start high school a year from now. I think he wanted some stability. Going back to where he started, I think he’s very excited. The good thing, hopefully, we’ll be able to recruit some players out of there.”
An addition to the staff will be named soon.
“We’ll hire someone probably in early July,” Dooley said. “You have to have an interview process also after we identified who we wanted to talk with. We were able to save a little bit of salary until we got everything situated.”
The schedule for next season has been completed. A matchup against Liberty in Charlotte on Nov. 13 in the Hall of Fame Classic has been announced.
“We’re done,” Dooley said. “We’ve got eight home games, four neutral court games and a road tilt at Charlotte. That will allow us to have a good test. Our exempt tournament is in Fort Myers, Florida.
The event in the Sunshine State will be in the area where Dooley had a successful stint at Florida Gulf Coast before returning to ECU.
“We’ll get to go down there and play three games the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” Dooley said. “The good thing is we’ve got some dates that are well-spaced for us, some good nonconference games. … (The tournament at Fort Myers) is about three miles from the (Gulf Coast) campus. It’s about three miles from my old house. …
The Pirates may meet a Power Five team in Fort Myers, depending on how the tournament progresses.
“For us to schedule better, we have to get better, because of the RPI (rating percentage index),” Dooley said. “We’ve got to get our RPI up into a good workable range because it hurts our ability to schedule because people don’t want to play people with bad RPIs.”
Group workouts pending
Players can work out on their own at present.
“As of right now. we’re not allowed on the court until July 20 with our guys,” Dooley said. “Usually, we’re allowed on the court but because of the pandemic, they’ve delayed all these deals. … They’re in the gym. They’re allowed to go in there voluntarily and play, the guys that are back. Then we’ve got some guys coming back. They’ve got to go through testing, obviously, physicals. Then we allow them to get back on the court and get some shots. Once they clear the COVID-19 tests, they’re allowed to go in the weight room in small groups.
“July 20 is an NCAA-mandated deal,” Dooley said. “That’s also contingent upon what states do. The NCAA can say what they want to say but it’s also predicated on what the state allows you to do.”
Players have not been involved in summer school to a heavy degree.
“The second session of summer school starts June 26,” Dooley said. “The way this is, we might have one or two guys in classes but this year is a different deal. They’re not required to be in classes this year because of COVID. Everything is online, summer one, summer two, but we only had two players in summer one classes. One was for a degree deal because this was a sequential class he needed to have to get to his major. The other was getting close to his graduation. We’ll use it for graduation of degree-applicable stuff only.”
Time at home with family
Life has changed for the Dooley household.
“It’s like everyone else,” Dooley said. “We’d be out recruiting June and July. This is the first time in 32 years I’m not jumping on planes, trains and automobiles to go somewhere. It’s different like that. It’s very different. … This time of year, you’re on the court with your guys. That’s not happening. The players, when we get them all back, they need to get in some type of routine just because I think they’re a little frustrated or a little concerned, like all of society is. I think they’re looking for an end. They’re hoping to get back to some type of normal routine — not just the players, I think all the students, all kids, all of humanity is trying to figure out what this new normal is like. We’ll just keep plugging along.”
Dooley and son, Max, have shot some hoops at home.
“The good thing is now we’re allowed back in the practice facility,” Dooley said. “We can go in there and shoot. We turned an upstairs room into a little bit of a weight room at home. Obviously, doing a lot of cardiac stuff. I’ve ridden my bike more than I have in a long time.”