ECU News, Notes and Commentary
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
By Bethany Bradsher
Stokes looks to harness
duo's street ball skills
Anyone who doubts that conference affiliation
makes a difference in recruiting should look no further than East Carolina’s
two boys from Brooklyn.
It’s a populous borough, but Japhet McNeil and
Mike Castro actually knew each other a little when they were learning hoops
in the gyms and parks of Brooklyn. And when the former ECU coaches came
recruiting, both Northerners were drawn by the competition they could face
in Conference USA.
“I looked into it, and it looked like it was a
nice conference, and I was just looking to get away from New York,” said
Castro, a junior transfer from Allegany College in Maryland. “The country
life was something that I was looking for.”
Now, as the two are more accustomed to the slow
pace of Greenville than the hurry and chaos of New York City, they are
hoping to help minimize the chaos on a Pirates team with new leaders and
plenty of inexperience. McNeil, the junior point guard who set the
single-season record for assists last season, has a particular burden on his
shoulders to help set the pace early in the season, head coach Ricky Stokes
“We need him to continue to make the right plays
at the right time,” Stokes said. “His heart is in the right place and he
adds a lot to our team, but we also need him to continue to lead.”
When he was first recruited from Christ the King
High, McNeil was also drawn to ECU because point guard Travis Holcomb-Faye
was graduating and he saw a chance to fill his shoes. The starting floor
general job is now his, and from his vantage point, with the Pirates 3-3, he
sees a team with heart and ability as well as unfulfilled potential.
“I feel like it’s a clean slate,” McNeil said.
“We’re young, we’ve got room to grow, and on the court we still haven’t
shown our full ability to play, we haven’t really put together a full game.
And that’s a good thing to me, because we’ve got so much room to grow.”
Castro, who is still rehabilitating a foot
injury he suffered in the preseason, has shown glimpses of promise so far in
his role as a backup forward. He said he has been impressed with his new
team’s communication and rapid connection with one another.
“We don’t have a lot of size, but we’ve got a
lot of heart,” he said.
Castro has discovered collard greens and other
Southern delicacies, and when he goes home he gets teased about his Southern
accent. But perhaps the biggest difference in the two areas, from a
basketball standpoint, is that it’s hard to find a blacktop pick-up game in
“It was just so easy, to go outside, across the
street, and there’s the basketball court,” Castro said.
“I grew up in the playground, playing all over,”
McNeil said. “That’s how you get those skills that a coach can’t teach you.”
Their new coach, who is a Southerner like the
majority of his team, likes the grit he sees in the Brooklyn pair, and he
and his staff are working to make sure their city-born talents find a place
to thrive in his new system.
“I think people look at New York as a hotbed of
talent, and naturally a city of that size has a wealth of talent, so I would
think the competitiveness of being able to play against good players on the
playground would be important,” Stokes said.
Players without a team
With one announcement from athletic director
Terry Holland on Tuesday, 24 ECU men’s soccer players went from
student-athletes to students without a sport. After a unanimous decision
from a panel consisting of Holland and the three other senior athletic
administrators, the men’s soccer program was eliminated from the slate of
It was a move that seemed drastic to anyone who
hasn’t been paying attention to the recent tribulations of the men’s soccer
program, but I can’t say that I’m all that surprised. The head coach from
1999-2003, Devin O’Neill, was a friend of mine, and I often heard from
O'Neill and his wife the struggles of leading a sport that was underfunded
The handwriting was on the wall when O’Neill
left his Division I head coaching post for the Division III job at
Gettysburg College and further confirmed when his replacement, Michael Benn,
left ECU two years later to become an assistant coach at the much-smaller
Even though ECU has promised to honor all
scholarships, this decision undoubtedly left a number of confused and
frustrated young men in its wake. But I still respect the honesty showed by
Holland and his advisors, who admitted that they were not willing to
sacrifice the kinds of funds that were necessary to salvage the soccer team.
Rather than putting more coaches and players on a sheer cliff with virtually
no foothold for victory, they ended something that seemed destined to fail.
Maybe, in the future, Greenville will be a place
where men’s college soccer can thrive. But for now, the young athletes who
want to see their college rally around their sport deserve to go find a
university that can offer that support.
DG: Just like old times
supposed to be the quarterback who would just sit quietly in the pocket,
hand off the ball and keep the seat warm for the team’s star, but former ECU
standout David Garrard showed Jacksonville fans that he had some flair too
deftly leading his Jaguars to a 20-14 comeback win over the Browns, Garrard
told a Florida Times-Union reporter that the outing — his best ever as the
backup to injured starter Byron Leftwich — reminded him of the old days in
the purple and gold.
like I'm back in college,'' Garrard said. "I'm with a great team, and
they're great guys who support me and rally behind me. It's just a great
feeling to play for this team.''
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