Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather





Put your advertising message in front of thousands of Pirate fans. Call 252.354-2215 for flexible options and rates.





View from the 'ville
Friday, April 1, 2011

By Al Myatt

Mission accomplished for ECU seniors

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina senior basketball players Brock Young, Jontae Sherrod, Jamar Abrams and Chad Wynn were in elementary school the last time East Carolina had a winning season. That was long before Jeff Lebo took over the program.

Since going 17-10 when ECU was in the Colonial Athletic Association and Joe Dooley was coaching in 1996-97, the Pirates had managed just one non-losing season, a 14-14 mark under Bill Herrion's direction in 2000-01.

The challenge got even tougher when ECU moved to Conference USA in 2001-02. The degree of difficulty decreased when Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette left for the Big East Conference after the 2004-05 season but coaches Ricky Stokes and Mack McCarthy weren't able to break the Pirates' losing pattern.

That didn't mean that ECU athletic director Terry Holland, a basketball coach of considerable note at Davidson and Virginia, wasn't working on the problem.

After dismissing McCarthy at the close of a 10-21 season in 2009-10, Holland hired Lebo shortly after Auburn had let him go.

The seniors were tired of losing and became willing to work for their new coach. Lebo emphasized mental toughness and was determined to instill more effective play on the defensive end.

The Pirates talked about putting an end to their losing ways. There were obstacles to overcome. Injuries to Young and DaQuan Joyner shortened the playing rotation, forcing other players to adjust their roles. Big men Darrius Morrow and Wynn needed to lose weight to become more effective.

"Since this summer, we've been preaching that we want to have a winning season," Young said in early December. We haven't had a winning season in 14 years. That's like motivation for us every day in practice. We just try to go hard every day in practice and get better as a team."

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said when Lebo boarded the Pirate ship that ECU was headed for better times on the hardwood — and he was right.

One of the early indications that ECU might be headed for a turnaround season came on Dec. 1 when the Pirates avenged an earlier loss to Charlotte on a 3-point play by Morrow in the final seconds. ECU didn't break through immediately but began playing more competitively on the road.

The blowout losses on the road and the late season fades that tended to characterize the Pirates in hoops never materialized.

Senior Night was special as the Pirates beat Memphis for the first time ever. The first-ever wins in the Conference USA Tournament ensued as well as the first postseason berth since 1993 when ECU was invited to play in the CollegeInsiders Tournament.

The bottom line was an 18-16 record. The Pirates were also a best-ever 8-8 in C-USA regular season play.

"We had a really exciting year," Lebo said. "Our team did a lot of nice things. The first winning season in 14 years was quite an accomplishment. The first time beating Memphis was something special. We had twice as many Conference USA wins than they've had before. With the (C-USA) tournament, we had 10 Conference USA wins. Five had been the most before. We had our first win in the Conference USA Tournament (beating Central Florida for a third time) and also got a second one (over regular season C-USA champion UAB).

"We finished with a top 100 RPI (ratings power index) with seven wins over top 100 RPI teams. Our attendance was a lot higher than it's been in the past."

ECU averaged 3,750 fans at home for the 2009-10 season. The average increased to 4,566 in 2010-11.

"And postseason play, obviously, for the first time in a long time," Lebo said. "These kids have a lot to be proud of, especially the seniors. They could have laid down. They could have quit. They could have gone through the motions. They could have transferred. They could have done a lot of different things but they stuck it out and not only did they stick it out, they had a great attitude about it. They worked hard every day.

"They bought in to what we were trying to do and good things happened for them. I'm really proud for those four guys who stuck it out here and believed in what we wanted to do. They really did some neat things here. I think they overcame a lot of adversity, too. There were a lot of people who were down on them, that didn't believe in them. They had rough times here in the past but to see them leave here as winners is something all four of those guys can be proud of. They all love East Carolina."

The seniors were proactive in making a difference in Lebo's first season in Greenville.

"It's always hard in a transition year," said the ECU coach. "You've got a group of guys who you don't know. They don't know you. ... You're trying to figure out how everything is going to work — expectations and what's practice going to be like, what's the coach going to be like, what's our relationship going to be like. It takes a while for that to happen where those parties believe and trust in each other. We won some games. Certainly, that was helpful to the mindset of the guys."

The Pirates matured during the course of the season and focused on winning as their objective. That became apparent to Lebo in the team's reaction to losing.

"I saw the team really grow," Lebo said. "Early when we lost games, I didn't see the hurt after the game in the guys' eyes. I didn't see the hurt on the bus afterwards. I didn't see the hurt when we went back to the hotel. After our last game when we lost, it was a completely different situation. I mean, we hurt. We looked like a team that expected to win and didn't. It bothered our guys. It hurt our guys. It frustrated our guys.

"Even though we lost, I thought, 'We're going in the right direction here with our team.' I saw it. I saw the body language. It was a transformation as we moved through the course of the year. Our kids invested a lot into the year. When you invest, you learn how to play hard and play together. You're supposed to hurt at the end when you don't win. I looked at them after that last game and it was a different situation.

"These seniors have laid a good foundation for our young kids. They'll want to work in this offseason to get better. They've tasted a little bit of success. They like the way it tastes and they'd like to have a little bit more."

Young's leadership missed

A source of speculation for the Pirates was how the season might have ended had not Young gone out late in the C-USA quarterfinals with another knee injury. The dynamic playmaker missed a decisive C-USA semifinal loss to Memphis and the overtime loss at home to Jacksonville in the CIT.

"It was gigantic," Lebo said. "It was just huge. I hated it for Brock. He's had a lot of bad luck as far as injuries were concerned. Obviously, he was a really, really important piece to our team. He was a senior, Sixth Man of the Year (in C-USA). He was like a starter. He played starter minutes. He was our best ball handler, our quickest guy, a guy who could break down pressure, our leading assists guy. Not having him out there really hurt our depth.

"Not having him out there really took a toll. He was just an important part of what we were doing. You play at the end against good teams with good players. You need to have everybody on deck. It was frustrating not having him. I know it was frustrating for him, having a chance to go to the postseason and not being able to be a part of it on the court."

Young's absence changed roles for his teammates.

"We had guys in different positions," Lebo said. "We had really no backup point guard. Corvonn (Gaines) had to play the majority of minutes there. He's a different type of point guard. Against heat, pressure defense, he struggles a little bit more. When you've got Brock in there, you can play those two guys together. You've got two ballhandlers in there. You can leave Brock at the point and that pressure doesn't bother you quite as much.

"The big factor against a team like Jacksonville, which really gets after you, has got great quickness and they're really pressuring and denying — you need somebody to break down the defense at that point against that pressure and we didn't have that person."

Enter Miguel Paul

Missouri transfer Miguel Paul has sat out the required season at ECU and is the heir apparent to Young.

"Miguel is a guy we're going to count on to play major minutes for us next year," Lebo said. "He's got great speed with the ball. He's quick but he also has great speed. He's got the ability to shoot. He's tough.

"He's got a good motor where he doesn't fatigue. He's played at a high level against good players at Missouri. He's been in tough environments, been in tough practices, been through the ringer. ... I think he'll really help us from a ball handling standpoint, a quickness and a speed standpoint. He can really push it from end to end. We're counting on him to be a major factor and he's itching to get back out there.

"To sit out a year for a tough, competitive kid like Miguel is hard but I thought he was really helpful to Brock in practice and to Corvonn in practice. ... I think we got better as the year went on because we got better in practice. Miguel was a big key to pushing our guys in practice."

Morrow stepped up

Junior power forward Darrius Morrow averaged 13.0 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds with some huge games along the way in 2010-11, like his 33-point effort in a 82-81 comeback win at Marshall on Jan. 22 that included his decisive 3-point play with five seconds left.

Morrow became the first ECU player to make the C-USA All-Tournament team.

"We had two guys who made phenomenal transformations this year," Lebo said. "He made a commitment to change his body. He lost almost 30 pounds from the beginning of the season to the end. In his eating habits, he made a commitment to change his attitude. By the end of the season, he was saying the right things in the huddle and saying the right things in practice. He was starting to be a leader.

"I think he saw the results he was getting because he lost weight and he worked hard in practice every day. He made that commitment to do that. He was able to play longer, play harder, get better and lose weight.

"One thing I hope that will be a chip on his shoulder for the offseason is that he made no first, second or third team All Conference USA. That's something I know he wants to do next year that he didn't achieve this year. He knows that he wants to come back in here, instead of 271 (pounds) that he comes back in at around 240, where he ended the season. It was amazing what he looked like at the beginning to the end of the year.

"I think he was a big key with his work habits, getting the rest of the guys to kind of follow. Even though he wasn't a captain, the guys kind of looked up to Darrius. They saw the transformation and they saw how hard he worked. They saw his attitude was terrific and how it went from one extreme to the other. That was big for us during the course of the year."

Gaines and Erin Straughn saw a lot of playing time in 2010-11 but will have to work in the offseason to be prepared to take up the slack created by the departure of Sherrod, who averaged a team high 15.6 points as a senior, up from his 9.6 scoring rate as a junior. The returning Pirates also have to compensate for the departure of Abrams, who averaged 10.3 points.

"We'll have higher expectations for Corvonn next year," Lebo said. "We need Erin to step his game up to another level with his ball handling and the consistency of his shooting. We need him to be a factor for us defensively and rebounding the basketball. Erin was one of our best rebounders (4.3 per game, second on team). We need him to grow in the offseason, get bigger and stronger, so he can finish in traffic.

"Robert Sampson improved dramatically from the time he stepped foot on campus. Robert wants to be good. He's like a sponge out there. He works hard every single day. He listens and pays attention. This offseason is going to be big for him, especially trying to put on 15 pounds of strength in the weight room. He got valuable minutes. I think he'll be much more comfortable on the floor for us next year."

Darius Morales is another youthful frontcourt player.

"Great shot blocker," Lebo said. "He's got to work on his offensive skills. He's got to put on 15 pounds but he showed signs of being a factor for us on the defensive end if he can stay out of foul trouble."

Pirates will sign one more

The departure of Wakefield Ellison from the ECU program means an additional scholarship to award for next season.

"We're going to get the best available player, whoever that may be," Lebo said. "We'd honestly like to have one probably at the three/four spot or a big."

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

04/01/2011 04:23 AM


©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.