basketball coach Jeff Lebo, pictured
courtside in Williams Arena during the
Pirates' first-ever victory over Cincinnati
on Feb. 1, is focused on incrementally
building the program into a contender in the
American Athletic Conference and a
competitor for postseason bids. (Photo by
FOOTBALL / BASKETBALL / BASEBALL
Lebo eyes the path to the future
Carolina is sitting out the NCAA Tournament
this year. No surprise there. The Pirates
and the big dance have been incongruous
terms but as the future unfolds for ECU
basketball improvement is the intent. ...
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GREENVILLE — High Point scored five runs in
the second inning and went on to a 13-2 win
at East Carolina on Wednesday night. The
Panthers (12-11) led 13-0 before ECU (16-10)
tallied twice in the bottom of the eighth.
Spencer Angelis went 3-for-5 as High Point
outhit the hosts, 14-7. ...
Next: ECU vs.
Memphis | Friday, 6:30 pm
Recruiting wars: Quarterbacks
search by East Carolina's
coaching staff to find the
next Shane Carden is in full
swing. But as spring
practice unfolds in
Greenville, the question
facing the Pirates is
whether the next Carden is
already in the program or
currently being recruited.
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Gaffney lifts UNCW
WILMINGTON — Chris
homer in the second
inning was the big
blow as UNC-Wilmington
topped East Carolina
4-2 at Brooks Field
on Tuesday night.
The blast to center
field was the first
round tripper of the
season for the
who was batting
seventh in the
Audio: The Brian
The Brian Bailey
Show airs on Pirate
Radio 1250 on
Mondays at 6:30 p.m.
Brian's show this
week featured the
"Second Chance with
the Sweet 16"
VCU edges Pirates, 3-2
GREENVILLE — A throwing error by East
Carolina catcher Tyler Watkins on a pickoff
attempt allowed Virginia Commonwealth pinch
runner Haiden Lamb to score the winning run
from third base in the eighth inning on
Sunday afternoon at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
East Carolina wins with big 8th
GREENVILLE — East Carolina scored six runs
in the eighth inning to defeat Virginia
Commonwealth 9-3 at Clark-LeClair Stadium on
Saturday afternoon. Kirk Morgan (4-0) got
the win in relief and also drove in two runs
in the Pirates' big frame. ...
Rams rally past ECU
GREENVILLE — A leadoff triple by Cody Acker
in the top of the ninth inning led to the
go-ahead run for Virginia Commonwealth in a
4-3 win over East Carolina at Clark-LeClair
Stadium on Friday night. ...
FOOTBALL / BASKETBALL / BASEBALL
Ruff hip to spring ball
Carolina football coach Ruffin McNeill has
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East Carolina is sitting out the NCAA Tournament this
year. No surprise there. The Pirates and the big dance have been
incongruous terms but as the future unfolds for ECU basketball
improvement is the intent.
Where that will lead and when the Pirates will get there
are undetermined variables but coach Jeff Lebo is working to align the
factors that produce success.
In ECU's first season in the American Athletic
Conference, the Pirates were 14-19 overall and 6-12 in league play.
The conference transition was a competitive step up in
basketball from Conference USA, which was no. 16 in the league ratings
power index, to the AAC, which was No. 8.
Two AAC teams, Southern Methodist and Cincinnati, made
the NCAA Tournament field.
At their best, ECU was good enough to
beat the Bearcats 50-46
in Greenville on Feb. 1.
The Pirates also gave the Mustangs a competitive contest
in the AAC Tournament, making 15 of 35 from behind the arc on March 13
before falling, 74-68.
ECU had a one-point lead going into the last five minutes.
On the other hand, host Cincinnati
rolled to a 69-48 win
over the Pirates on Jan. 6 and SMU was similarly dominant in
a 77-54 win in Dallas
against ECU on Jan. 17.
Those results point out the disparity between road and
home performance for ECU. The Pirates were 11-5 in the supportive
confines of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum during the 2014-15 season
but just 1-11 in road contests.
On neutral floors, ECU's record was 2-3.
As the Pirates look to improve, the road record is
obviously an area to address.
"We won some games and were very competitive in most of
our games," Lebo said. "We didn't have the record we would have liked on
the road. I attribute that to two things I think you need to have on the
road to win. You've got to be able to rebound and score in the paint.
Those were areas that were challenges for us throughout the year."
The flip side of that situation is an ability to compete
with virtually everyone at home. The two-game set with traditional power
Memphis was another example of how much better the Pirates are in their
a 70-58 loss at Memphis
on Jan. 28, ECU
topped the Tigers 64-53 at home
just 13 nights later. Being in a financial position to play more games
in Greenville would certainly be a factor that would boost chances for
"We've made it a tough place to play," Lebo said. "You
look at the teams in our league. We had 16 home games. I think a lot of
teams in our league may have had 18. We've got to continue to try and
play at home. It gives you the best chance to have a good record. It
gives you the best chance to win. We've been a tough out here. Even the
times we've lost, we've given everybody what they wanted here in
Greenville. We've got I think a fun place to play. We've got a difficult
place for people to come in and win.
"I think the one thing we did do this year was people in
the league know you better bring it when you play East Carolina. You're
not just going in there and win. I think a lot of people look at it and
say, 'Oh there's East Carolina twice on the schedule, that's two Ws. We
can walk in there and just win. I think we've established that that's
not going to be the case. That's a good first step. We've got a lot more
steps to make."
The home and away numbers certainly aren't peculiar to
the Pirates. It's a phenomenon that exists across the board in all
Scheduling is a continuing challenge.
"Financially, always trying to get those home games is
difficult," Lebo said. "Being able to have the resources there. A lot of
people — the Memphises, the UConns, some of the national programs, even
Cincinnati a little bit — they won't even play on the road half the
time. They'll play on neutral sites in the preseason. They very rarely
have a lot of true road games, maybe one or two. That's something that
we always have to consider when we're scheduling. It's difficult. People
don't understand how difficult scheduling is. Typically, this time of
year is when you start to work a lot on scheduling. Your phone starts to
ring. Our phone's not ringing and that's a good sign. We're having to
ding it out there and make the phone calls, figure out dates, to figure
out who's interested, who has dates.
"The other thing I think is difficult for us is as we've
moved into this new league we've got two more league games. We've got 18
league games versus 16. When you're at the top of the league, that's OK,
because you're looking at it — that's two more games we don't have to
buy. They're league games that we have a chance to win. But when you're
at the bottom of the league, they're two more hard games, really hard
games that's added to your league schedule from 16 to 18. That's a big
It's more than a subtle step up for ECU, which was 17-17
overall in its last season in Conference USA in 2013-14 when the Pirates
went 5-11 in their former league.
"We are better," Lebo said. "Our record might not show it
but we're better. We're a better basketball team. We've got to continue
to keep working and upgrading and keep moving it in the right
As ECU made a run to the
CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship
to conclude the 2012-13 season, it was not a coincidence that a $17
million practice facility was under construction. That facility is
complete but continued commitment of resources is needed for the program
to move forward.
"We've got to continue to invest in basketball," Lebo
said. "We started that process with the practice facility but you look
at what this league has. A lot of these things that they have we don't
have but we can get. We've got to continue to invest in those things.
We've got to continue yearly to have a vision for basketball. We've kind
of moved consistently off the bottom of the league and try to get first
to that middle part. Obviously, we've got to get better. We've got to be
able to play better on the road. We've got to start to win a little bit
Basketball tradition is not something that generates any
sort of awe at East Carolina. The Pirates have made the NCAA Tournament
just twice, in 1972 after winning the Southern Conference Tournament and
in 1993 after capturing the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.
The Pirates lost their first game on both occasions.
"A lot of these (AAC) teams have tradition and they have
national tradition," Lebo said. "They have history. That's something
that we don't have and we're slowly trying to just get better. These
teams that we're playing have been national programs. National
champions. Have been to Final Fours. They've been to countless NCAA
Tournaments and they're used to for a long time of winning. That's a
challenge. That's not easy to overcome but we have aspirations to slowly
make dents in that. To do that, obviously, we've got to get better.
We've got to continue to upgrade our program, continue to have
maintenance on our program and commitment to basketball, like this
league has. This is a basketball league.
"I was so disappointed when the NCAA selection showed
that we didn't have at least three and Temple was probably the first
team out. We should have had three, possibly four. I thought Tulsa was
worthy of it, too. Our upgrade in this league has just been a huge jump
for us. On a nightly basis, we're playing the Cincinnatis, Memphis, the
UConns, SMUs. I mean it's difficult on a nightly basis in this league
against those caliber of teams. Our guys really did really admirable. I
think slowly over the course of time we're going to get better."
ECU's playing facility, which seats 8,000, underwent a
major renovation prior to the 1994-95 season. There were improvements
prior to this past season, which included new video displays, but
keeping up with the Joneses in the AAC means continuing to add bells and
whistles to that structure, too.
"Whatever it is," Lebo said. "Attacking our playing
facility. Continuing to make upgrades to that to budgets to travel to
recruiting to all the things that other people have, continuing to have
maintenance with their program, staffing, all those things. I just think
that's something that you have to stay on top of. You've got to
constantly have maintenance on it, know what other people are doing and
having a commitment to it. We've started that here. Basketball here was
neglected. In my opinion it was neglected. In this new league, you can't
neglect it. You've got to have maintenance on it and you've got to keep
moving forward. That's what we intend to do."
Being in the most competitive neighborhood in the ACC
with Duke, North Carolina and N.C, State was long seen as a disadvantage
for the Pirates in basketball because, for one reason, ECU was
comparatively lacking in television exposure. That factor has been
minimized with membership in the AAC. The new league's TV package showed
ECU throughout its conference schedule.
"A lot of people, players and coaches, have seen us play
a bunch," Lebo said. "I can't tell you how many people have watched us
play. I can't tell you the value of that. Almost every game in
conference play was televised. A lot of it was on a national stage so
that certainly is very, very helpful to us. We haven't had that here in
the past. We'd have sprinklings of a game here and there on television.
Certainly not the exposure that an ESPN would bring to us or CBS College
Sports. It's been helpful to get us out there and for people to see us
and try to sell our program and university."
More experienced and talented personnel
In contrast to some recent seasons, the Pirates finished
2014-15 relatively healthy. Marshall Guilmette, who had been severely
limited the previous two seasons by injuries, showed his potential as a
6-feet, 10-inch medical redshirt sophomore.
"We were healthy at the end but not at the beginning,"
Lebo said. "We had to play different people at the beginning. As those
guys came back we had to figure out our rotations and who was going to
be playing with new guys coming back. I don't think we really hit our
stride until the middle of January when we kind of had everybody back
and we got it going. We played pretty well at that time. ... We finally
got at least healthy at the end of the season, the last quarter of the
season at least. That was certainly helpful. We put our best players out
Guilmette was able to impact some games late in the year.
His 3-pointer in overtime put ECU ahead to stay in
an 81-80 win over Central Florida
in the AAC Tournament.
"To develop you have to be out there," Lebo said.
"Marshall made it through a few months of practice and games. I think he
got better and obviously helped us in a lot of games, especially on the
offensive end of the floor. His ability to shoot the ball from the
perimeter really helped us in games. I thought he got better as he was
able to stay on the floor. He hasn't developed like we would have liked
to this point and the reason was because of his injuries he hadn't been
able to be out on the floor consistently. He still hasn't had a whole
year where he's been able to do that. Hopefully, next year will be the
The impact of wing guard B.J. Tyson was not anticipated
but he averaged a team-high 12.5 points and made the AAC All-Freshmen
"B.J. had a great year," Lebo said. " ... He was a guy
who scored the ball for us and gave us some athleticism in the
backcourt. There are areas he's got to improve upon but he showed his
ability in the open court. He can drive the ball, play above the rim. He
missed a lot of the summer time because he was hurt but really kind of
got into the flow. It was great to have a guy like him coming off the
bench to give us a boost. Our bench production was really solid
throughout the year and he was a big reason why."
The Pirates will have their top five scorers back next
season including Terry Whisnant (12.3), Caleb White (12.3), Guilmette
(6.2) and Michel-Ofik Nzege (5.8). There will generally be less teaching
and more experience going into next season than this past year when six
new players were indoctrinated.
The incoming talent next season includes Clarence
Williams (6-9, 210), a promising big body from a strong junior college
program at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas and Northern Durham
star Kentrell Barkley (6-5, 185), one of the top-rated prospects in the
"Clarence Williams has a terrific upside," Lebo said. "He
can block shots. He can run. He's got skills to shoot the ball from the
perimeter and also score inside for us."
Barkley averaged 22.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists,
1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks for a 19-8 Knights team that lost in the
playoffs to eventual 4-A champion Garner.
"I love his toughness," Lebo said of Barkley. "We call
him a junkyard dog. He does all the little things, the toughness things,
that you need to win. That's something that we've got to upgrade, our
physical, mental toughness. This league's full of guys that have that. I
think he'll bring that element to us. He'll stick his nose in there to
get the charge. He'll stick his nose in there to grab the rebound. He
can bust out with it. He can score in a variety of ways. He just makes
winning plays and he's used to winning. He will take a back seat to
nobody. I love that attitude that he has. That will be really, I hope,
infectious with our group."
Offseason work ahead
The Pirates have another offseason to develop. ECU will
have a better idea of what it takes to be successful in AAC and
ultimately to make it to the big dance.
"We've got to get stronger," Lebo said. "We've got to get
quicker. We've got to be able to react a little bit better to things
that happen quickly. Obviously, rebounding the ball. All those things I
talked about kind of go into rebounding. That wasn't an area that we
were very good in at all. I thought offensively we did some good things.
We shot the ball from three pretty well. We found a way to defend that
was I thought effective for us. I really don't want to play a lot of
zone but I ended up having to this year because we thought that was the
best way to defend. We tried to keep people out of foul trouble. Our
man-to-man D was just not where it needed to be, especially at some
crucial spots. That's something that we need to get better at.
"We were young this year. That's the biggest thing. We
played a lot of sophomores and a lot of freshmen. We played a junior
that didn't play last year in Terry Whisnant. We had a lot of
inexperienced guys. You're looking at starting three sophomores and our
leading scorer coming off the bench is a freshman. That's exciting. I
think we've got some good young players but they're going to have to in
this offseason — I always tell them — the offseason is when you become a
better individual player. The season is when you become a better team.
It's going to be really important.
"We'll take some time
off . . . and take a deep breath and mentally and physically try to heal
a little bit and then we'll be back at it the beginning of April."