View from the East
Friday, April 8, 2016

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Nova executed ECU script



Pirates win wild one in 11th

ELON East Carolina scored two runs on a pair of wild pitches in the top of the 11th inning for a 7-5 win at Elon on Tuesday night. Travis Watkins, Eric Tyler and Bryce Harman all walked with one out in the final frame to load the bases ... More...

Next: Friday 7:30 pm | Saturday 5 pm | Sunday 2 pm



Pirates face eight-game road stretch

Chalk up another series win for East Carolina as the Pirates took two out of three from American Athletic Conference preseason favorite Houston. In a battle of nationally-ranked teams the Pirates took the first two games of the series before falling on Sunday. ... More from Brian Bailey...

Audio: The Brian Bailey Show
The Brian Bailey Show airs on Pirate Radio 1250 on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. Brian's guests this week were ECU baseball coach Cliff Godwin (left) and WNCN sports anchor Todd Gibson (right): Replay show...


Pirates shore up backcourt

Three-star shooting guard Raquan Wilkins of state champion Atlanta (GA) Westlake High School entertained offers from a number of schools before choosing to join ECU coach Jeff Lebo's recruiting class of 2016-17. ... Thumbnail sketches...

Thumbnails: Class of 2016-17



Pirates foiled in sweep bid

GREENVILLE Houston took a 6-1 win at East Carolina on Sunday to keep East Carolina from sweeping a three-game American Athletic Conference series. The Cougars (17-10, 1-2 AAC) scored three runs in the top of the second in support of winning pitcher Mitch Ullom (4-1), who went seven and one-third innings. ... More...


Boyd leads Pirates to series win

GREENVILLE Jimmy Boyd lost a shutout bid in the top of the ninth inning but East Carolina won its American Athletic Conference series with Houston by topping the Cougars 5-1 at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Saturday. Freshman Dwanya Williams-Sutton had three RBIs and Joe Ingle got his seventh save as ECU improved to 19-8 overall and 2-0 in the AAC with a crowd of 2,966 looking on. ... Story, pictures & audio...

Pictured: Winning pitcher Jimmy Boyd focuses on his breathing exercises in the ECU half of the eighth inning during the Pirates' 5-1 American Athletic Conference win over Houston on Saturday at Clark-LeClair Stadium. (W.A. Myatt photo)


Pirates take AAC opener

GREENVILLE Bryce Harman, Parker Lamm and Kirk Morgan had RBIs in support of winning pitcher Evan Kruczynski before Joe Ingle got his sixth save as East Carolina topped visiting Houston 3-1 in the American Athletic Conference opener for both clubs on Friday night. A crowd of 2,603 converged on Clark-LeClair Stadium. ... Story, pictures & audio...

Pictured: Both head coaches, Todd Whitting of Houston (red cap) and Cliff Godwin of East Carolina, converse with home plate umpire David Buck during Friday's American Athletic Conference opener at Clark-LeClair Stadium following an ejection of ECU's Bryce Harman in the sixth inning for an illegal slide. (W.A. Myatt photo)


Clean-cut Pirates host Houston

East Carolina baseball personnel shaved their mustaches on Thursday afternoon at Clark-LeClair Stadium. The Pirates grew mustaches in March to support awareness of ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, the infirmity that took the life of former ECU baseball coach Keith LeClair in 2006. ... More from Al Myatt...

Pictured: WNCT-TV sports director and Bonesville columnist Brian Bailey ends Mustache March for ECU skipper Cliff Godwin. The Pirates sported the mustaches during the month of March to raise money for ALS research. (Photo by W.A. Myatt)


California juco bolsters line

Almost two months after signing day, East Carolina has added some talent to its offensive line. Hartnell College's Branden Pena, a first-team Golden Coast All-Conference performer, has pledged to join the Pirates for the 2016 season. ... Thumbnail sketches...

Thumbnails: Class of 2016 | Class of 2017


By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.


Villanova's 77-74 win over North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament final in Houston on Monday night bore a strong resemblance to East Carolina's 77-74 win at Weber State three years and two days beforehand in the championship contest of the Tournament.

Kris Jenkins essentially did for the Wildcats what Akeem Richmond did for the Pirates hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to seal the outcome.

Jenkins, a junior, connected on an assist from senior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. ECU senior point guard Miguel Paul drove and found Richmond, a junior, for the game winner in Ogden, Utah.

Just like Arcidiacono, Paul wanted the last shot but unselfishly deferred to a teammate's shooting accuracy.

Villanova coach Jay Wright reserved his elation until it was confirmed that the deciding shot was released before time expired. Similarly, Pirates coach Jeff Lebo followed officials to the scorer's table to await their review.

The 2012-13 ECU team finished 23-12.

In some ways, that team faced factors similar to the most recent Pirates, who went 12-20.

Six players accounted for all but 10 minutes of playing time in the CIT final as ECU's attrition list included Erin Straughn, who subsequently became a student assistant coach, Shamarr Bowden, Corvonn Gaines and Marshall Guilmette.

The 2012-13 team went 9-7 in Conference USA, which by consensus is not as tough as the Pirates' current affiliation in the American Athletic Conference.

ECU's top players at that time were more experienced and more consistent.

Senior forward Maurice Kemp averaged 18.9 points and 8.0 rebounds. He gave the Pirates an inside balance to guards Paul (13.9) and Richmond (10.9). ECU also got post production from Auburn transfer Ty Armstrong, a junior who contributed 9.3 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Three seasons ago, ECU regrouped from a 79-72 loss to host Tulsa in the first round of the league tournament to beat Savannah State (66-65), Rider (75-54), Loyola of Maryland (70-58) and Evansville (81-58) in four CIT games in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

That run was as exhilarating for Pirate Nation as this past season was puzzling.

Diminished personnel

Lebo looked at the 2015-16 season in retrospect earlier this week.

"It was a season where it took a lot of unexpected turns," Lebo said. "It started we lost two starters in Terry Whisnant, late after the (2014-15) season was over, and Marshall Guilmette, right before we started practice. That obviously threw a big crinkle 40 percent of your returning starters that you lost.

"Then you lose the back-up right when the season starts, a guy who we thought was going to help us, Deng Riak (6-feet, 10-inch freshman). Inside, we lost two there so that really hurt us. It hurt us from the standpoint of depth. There's nothing you can do about injuries. It's just part of it. We were unlucky in that area. That's just something we had to deal with and we had to make it work with what we had. The guys worked really, really hard."

Sophomore B.J. Tyson and freshman Kentrell Barkley have made the All-AAC freshmen team in the past two seasons, an indication that ECU is recruiting the talent necessary to compete in a league that produced the NCAA champion, Connecticut, in 2014.

"We did some really good things," Lebo said. "I thought the play of Kentrell Barkley was outstanding. We've had two guys back to back on the American All-Freshmen team, which is really, really good. I thought the play of Prince Williams (senior point guard) for the year, him being the Most Improved Player in the American, was a highlight."

Some peaks among the valleys

The most recent Pirates had their moments, some of which were without precedent.

"We had some good wins," Lebo said. "We won all of our nonconference home games, which was a first in many years of being able to do that. I thought our schedule this year was probably the hardest we've had in 20 years. The league, I thought was at its peak with possibly five teams in it (the NCAA Tournament). Then we played Cal, which was a tournament team. We played Wilmington. We beat them, who was a tournament team. We played Arkansas-Little Rock, which won 30 games this year and was an NCAA Tournament team. We played San Diego State, who probably should have been a tournament team, on the road.

"Houston, in our league, was a No. 2 seed in the NIT so we really played about 13 almost half of our games against teams that were in the NCAA or should have been in the NCAA with SMU (which was not eligible due to sanctions) or high seeds in the NIT. Our schedule was very, very demanding. I look back and it was definitely the toughest since I've been here but I look back farther than that. It was probably the toughest we've had since Louisville and Marquette were in Conference USA.

"We had that to overcome also. We played a ton on the road. We played, I think, as much as anybody in the league on the road. We had a lot of travel. They were the hurdles for us, along with the injuries. ... We beat the No. 1 team in the league in Temple at home. We won at Memphis for the first time in school history."

ECU had not beaten the Owls in football or basketball since joining the AAC. Temple doesn't have a baseball program.

"We had some good wins," Lebo said. "We threw a couple away I thought at home that we should have won. We had a couple of multiple overtime games. The Central Florida home game we had and we gave it away. There were three of them this year that we had legitimate shots and should have probably won with a ball bouncing our way, a made shot or something going our way. I think that was really the difference in the season.

"That Central Florida game at home, we miss a dunk to go up by nine with about five minutes to go. They score on the other end on a three. The game against Houston, obviously, kid (Wes VanBeck) comes off the bench, makes a couple of plays.

ECU saw a 13-point lead with 14:07 left in regulation disappear in a 100-92 triple overtime home loss to Tulane.

"You win those games, that's three," Lebo said. "We had a couple of road games. We struggled on the road early but then, all of a sudden, we played great at Memphis. We win on the road at Tulane. We win on the road at South Florida, so three road games in the league, which was something that we needed to improve upon our ability to play on the road.

"We didn't play as well at home for whatever reason. I don't know why. This year, we didn't play as well at home. That was kind of the odd thing of the season. I thought we actually a lot of times played a little bit better on the road than we did at home.

"(UCF) that was a disappointing, heartbreaking game for us because that was one we just kind of gave way. You can't do that in this league. You don't have many opportunities and we had that. We make one play and I think we win that game. Momentum is such a big thing in our game. We didn't have a lot of stretches where we could handle that momentum.

"We talked about the injuries. We had guys who were done for their career or for the season, but we had multiple ones where they missed games. Caleb (White) out multiple games. Ziggy (Michel Nzege) out multiple games. When you miss multiple games in basketball it takes you for whatever amount you're out, it takes you twice as long to get back and get back into the rhythm of things. We weren't at full strength by any stretch of the imagination at any time during the season. That was the hardest and most frustrating thing I think we had to deal with all year.

"It was frustrating. We wish we could make it different but part of being a good team is having the luck of not having injuries, not having sickness, not having those kinds of things. You can't have those. For us, because we had lost so much already, you lose another guy, you're down sometimes 60 percent. In basketball, we've got such low numbers that are playing only five. For football or baseball, we're playing a lot more guys. One guy is not as big a deal, but in basketball with one, it's a gigantic deal because it's such a high percentage of what's on the floor for you."

Almost fittingly, flu kept White, the team's leading 3-point shooter, out of a 71-66 first-round league tournament loss to South Florida in Orlando. Barkley was not at full strength from illness and managed just three points.

Trio leaving

It's been reported that guard Lance Tejada, guard Charles Foster and forward Grant Bryant will be leaving the ECU program.

Transfers have become an increasingly common factor.

"It's just part of the landscape now in college basketball," Lebo said. "No one is immune to it. It's happening. It's going to continue to happen. It's the culture that we have in basketball in particular. It's not getting better. It's getting worse.

"It's just part of what we have to deal with on a daily basis all of us as coaches. ... We might have 800 people this year in Division I that will be transferring. That's an average of almost three a team. That's something we have to deal with, we always have to prepare for, we always have to work through. Things are changing and things are fluid in recruiting all the time.

"Some of the guys that are leaving our program we had lengthy talks. We want to help them. It's not like a bad divorce or anything like that. We're trying to help them. A couple of guys really want to play. They want to have an added responsibility on the floor and there are some guys in front of them that they don't feel that they'll be able to do what they want to do. That's part of it and that's OK. I understand that."

There are means to address personnel losses and deficiencies, primarily recruiting and player development. The Pirates have hosted some promising transfers this week, now that there are additional scholarships available.

Kemp, Paul and Richmond all found success at ECU after starting their careers elsewhere. Robert Sampson, who played a significant role on the CIT championship team, transferred to Georgia Tech. Armstrong didn't play his senior season for the Pirates.

"We're looking under every rock, every nook and cranny for anything that may fit for us," Lebo said. "Everything is open. We've got the ability and flexibility to kind of move in any direction we need to move in."

ECU played mostly zone defense and relied on scoring from perimeter players due to personnel limitations this past season.

Player development no special dust

ECU's remaining players are in the process of offseason workouts.

"We've got some good players, obviously, coming back, especially at the guard positions, guys that are experienced in B.J. and Caleb and Kentrell Barkley now, so we're excited about those guys," Lebo said. "They know what this league's about. They know how good it is. They know what they need to do to get better and what we need to do to get better as a group. I've always said that great players are made during the offseason, great teams are made during the season.

"This offseason as far as lifting, conditioning, skill development, leadership development, all of those things are going to be really, really important in the summer time for our guys. We've got Ziggy (Michel Nzege) obviously back, Clarence (Williams) back, Deng Riak hopefully will get cleared maybe to go in June. He's a guy I think can help us. He's not going to be a big scorer right away I don't think but he's got some size and some savvy in understanding how to play, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He's got to get stronger. Unfortunate for him, he wasn't able to do anything this whole year.

"With the surgery, he wasn't able to get a lot better on the floor. He wasn't able to be out there. With that surgery, not being able to lift and condition and all those kinds of things, so it's going to take some for him to get back and get into the rhythm of things. It's an unfortunate thing but hopefully that will help his shoulder from popping out.

Barkley, Tyson and White are all left-handers who have been working on developing their right-hand skills to become more balanced players.

"All three of these guys in the backcourt, that will be something we have to work on and they've gotten better at that," Lebo said. "We've got good guys and they work hard at it. Part of being a good basketball player is not thinking that you did everything well and being mature enough to understand there are things that you've got to work on to get better without neglecting the things that you do well. We've got guys that kind of understand that. We've got guys that will work at it."

Self motivation is important in offseason individual development.

"The NCAA allows us two hours a week to be with them in eight weeks of the summer," Lebo said. "Two hours a week is not going to get you where you want to go. It's not going to get you better. You've got to be able to do these workouts six days a week. So we can be with you two but there's going to be four of those days you're going to have to do those things on your own. You've got to be self-motivated to be able to do those because we're not able as coaches to be out there with you. That's the only way to get better individually. You can't do it two times a week. You can't do it three times a week. You can't do iy four times a week. You've got to do it six times individually in the offseason. That's how you get better.

"It's been proven that's the way to get better. You've got to be really disciplined. You've got to have an extreme motivation and desire and willingness to be able to punish yourself during that time to get yourself better. There's a price to be paid. They just don't sprinkle the good player dust on you and then you're good. It doesn't work like that. It doesn't work like, 'Hey, I'm older, now I'm better.' It doesn't work like that either.

"To me, it's a game you get better or you get worse. I challenge them where are you going to be? ... You've got to come back a much better basketball player not just an older basketball player."

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