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View from the East
Friday, April 6, 2012

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Basketball building task continues


Basketball building task continues
Brandt tames UH, coach hits milestone
ECU halts Seahawks' home streak
Pirates finding unexpected ways to win
ECU still in opportune position
Pirates survive marathon, grab sweep
Joyner fires four-hitter, Pirates roll
Pirates storm back, douse Blazers
Pirates developing on multiple levels
Wolfpack prevails in 11 innings
Ladies battle-hardened by early gauntlet

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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The men's college basketball season ended Monday night with Kentucky claiming its eighth national championship with a 67-59 win over Kansas in New Orleans.

East Carolina's hoops season had ended 25 days earlier. The Pirates' 2011-12 campaign had its moments and was successful by ECU standards but Pirates coach Jeff Lebo knows there is still a lot of work to do. ECU hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1993.

The Pirates coach put the recent campaign into perspective and shared some thoughts about the impact that three additional players will provide for the future.

"It was kind of an interesting year for us," Lebo said after a trip to the Big Easy for coaches meetings and semifinal Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. "We had a lot of adversity. We had some injuries. We lost some key players.

"We overcame a lot during the course of the season. I think we were playing our best basketball at the end of the year. That's when you want to be playing your best basketball.

"We certainly had a couple of games that we lost that were close games that could have made a big difference for us in the season."

The Pirates edged Marshall 69-68 in overtime on Senior Night as lone senior Darrius Morrow responded to the occasion on Leap Night, Feb. 29, with 27 points and 8 rebounds. That was the start of a three-game winning streak that included a 66-49 win at Tulane to conclude the regular season and a 68-66 triumph over Rice in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament.

The season ended with an 81-78 overtime loss to Southern Miss in the quarterfinals of the C-USA Tournament in Memphis. ECU finished 15-16 overall and 5-11 in the conference in Lebo's second season as head coach. The Pirates were 18-16 in Lebo's first season as a group of four seniors were determined to provide the program with its first winning record since 1996-97.

"Overall, I thought our kids did a lot of nice things. We had one senior. The rest of the team will be back next year. (Morrow) is an important guy. We did some good things but we've got a long way to go. There's no doubt about it. We would have liked to have won some more games but you look back at the history of the last 15 years, 15 wins is the second most in the last 15 years."

That's just behind last year's 18-win total.

"That shows you how long and how far we have to go with our basketball program," Lebo said. "It's ammo and motivation for us all. We want to get to the upper echelon of our league. To do that, we've got to get consistently to the middle. We're not there yet."

The league schedule has been one hurdle the Pirates have had to overcome.

"The way the league has worked out the last two years, we've had the hardest teams to play twice," Lebo said. "You look at the top of the league — Memphis, Southern Miss, Central Florida, Marshall and UAB were the top. We had to play them twice. The Conference RPI (ratings power index strength of schedule) East Carolina is No. 1 and has been the last two years. We've got a hard row to hoe to try to dent it against the best part of our league. ... That's just the way it falls but I think we're making inroads.

"I think our kids have learned how to play hard. We've got to add some pieces to the puzzle mainly from a size standpoint and a physicality standpoint which we don't have to compete consistently against the upper echelon part of the league."

ECU lost 6-foot-10 freshman Yasin Kolo to a foot condition early last season. Austin Steed, a 6-8 transfer from South Carolina, was lost on a graduate school academic situation at semester break. Robert Sampson played with a thumb brace on his left, shooting hand for much of the season. Forward Maurice Kemp and swing man Erin Straughn also missed time for various reasons.

With thin frontcourt personnel, the Pirates sought to compensate with 3-point shooting. ECU made 34.9 percent behind the arc during 2011-12.

Akeem Richmond, a transfer from Rhode Island, should bolster ECU's outside shooting next season. Richmond was 156 for 440 from 3-point range during two seasons with the Rams, a shooting percentage of 35.5. Richmond scored 2,846 points at Southern Lee High School in Sanford, the second highest career total in North Carolina High School Athletic Association history.

"He can score and he's got some speed with the ball," Lebo said. "He's got some range shooting the basketball. That's one thing that he can really do. He's a proven guy. He's scored some points already at this level."

Richmond averaged 8.9 points and 22.8 minutes in two seasons at Rhode Island. Lebo said the Pirates also will try to develop Richmond to play some at the point.

"The thing with Akeem is having value in other areas than scoring," Lebo said. "We know he can score but he needs to work on other parts of his game to add to his value. We've got everybody back at the guard spots so there will be a lot of competition there for playing time. I think that's great because I think that's how you get better. He'll add some things to us from the standpoint of being able to shoot the ball. He can make shots with some range. He's got some speed and some quickness with the ball offensively.

"I can see him and Miguel (Paul, rising senior point guard) playing some together."

The Pirates have signed 6-10 Marshall Guilmette from Kennesaw, GA, and 6-9 Mike Zangari from Lewisberry, PA. Their arrival should help alleviate some of the depth shortages in the frontcourt that challenged ECU in Lebo's second season at the Pirate helm.

"They will be freshmen," Lebo said. "We think they've got bodies to be able to compete right away but they're going to have to get bigger and stronger. ... I think they're pretty skilled guys, too. What's exciting to me is that they really want to get better. They really want to work. They've got the right attitudes and the right mindset to really get better. ... They will help us. We have Yasin Kolo, who was out, who is 6-10, 250 (pounds). ... He's kind of an X factor. We really don't know how he'll respond because he's missed so much but he's got a big body and is a pretty skilled guy.

"Of course, we've got Robert Sampson and Maurice Kemp back. They give us some athleticism and some length. ... We've got some good parts there. Replacing Morrow is going to be huge. He was possibly the best back-to-the-basket scorer in the league. We're going to have to work hard to be able to replace his offensive ability there."

Morrow averaged 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds during his senior campaign.

Lebo expects the conference schedule to remain challenging. The non-conference schedule will include a visit from Old Dominion, a trip to Charlotte, a game with Appalachian State in Greenville and a home game with Gardner-Webb.

"We're in the process of trying to finalize that right now," Lebo said.

Efforts continue to make a $15 million practice facility a reality as NCAA rules have changed to allow coaches to work out players who are in summer school.

"Almost everybody in our league has one," Lebo said. "This is not going to catapult us as far as facilities are concerned. It's going to make it more even for us. It's just vital for the growth of our program, the growth of our players. ... We're so crushed right now with gym time and space. We're having a hard time figuring when we're going to work our guys out in the summer. This thing is just vital for us to move forward with our program. We're excited about that. We can't get it here fast enough."

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04/06/2012 04:46 AM


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