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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, July 18, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

McCarthy banks on young guns

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Mack McCarthy is counting down the days until football season just like everyone else in the Pirate Nation, he said Thursday.

But he’s also trying to keep his face out there as a vivid reminder of another date: In just three months the latest version of East Carolina Hoops will take the court for the first practice of the season.

The ECU head coach, in his second season at the helm of a program that won 11 games last year, knows that football is king around here, and he isn’t looking for empty publicity. At a press conference designed to give his program a little July punch, he said there is truly only one way to take up residence in a fan’s consciousness: to earn your way there.

“You always compete for the attention of the public,” McCarthy said. “I’m as big a college football fan as there is in this room. I love college football, but I coach college basketball, so we want the attention, and we want to do things to earn the attention. We have to do more than we did last year.”

His team had one opportunity to make an offseason splash last week, when the Pirates were named the basketball team with the highest GPA in Conference USA. That was a gratifying honor for a program that has struggled with academics and retention in recent years, and it is one indicator of the renewed discipline and work the team has adopted this summer.

“That kind of starts at the top,” McCarthy said. “When Coach Holland got here and put the rule in that if you miss a class you miss a game, that spoke pretty loudly. But it’s the result of a lot of people’s effort. We stay on top of when you have papers due, or when you have a test.

"I think it’s a credit to a whole lot of people, but mostly to the kids themselves.”

As he charts this course, McCarthy can move forward with the confidence that he is the captain of the ship for a good while. The ECU Board of Trustees agreed on Thursday to give him a five-year contract worth a total of $225,000 per year.

McCarthy and his staff don’t get to see their players much yet because of NCAA regulations, but when they do spend time with the group they sense a unique chemistry.

James Legan, one of only two upperclassmen on the team, has noticed it too.

“With all of us being up here, we’re getting to know each other a little better, and it’s definitely helping us for the future,” Legan said.

When they’re not hitting the books, the Pirates are hitting the weight room in an effort to silence those who can’t see past the youth on their roster. The senior class has only two members — Legan and Sam Hinnant — and the offseason departures of Gabe Blair and John Fields nearly emptied the rising junior class.

The Pirates will take the floor with eight freshmen and sophomores (the youngest team McCarthy has ever coached), a three-point line that is a foot further away from the basket than it was last year and a ramp-up period to intense Division I competition that will, by necessity, last mere weeks.

“The big challenge for this team is, can we guard people, in particular in the post, and can we rebound the basketball,” McCarthy said. “If we can rebound and play defense, we can really be a good basketball team. We can be better than everyone will expect, and the preseason rankings will be thrown out the window.”

Freshman like Chris Turner – a heavily recruited 6-foot-5 guard who last starred at a Texas prep school called Humble Christian, won’t have the luxury afforded sophomore point guard Brock Young, who was able to ease into his starting role in the shadow of Darrell Jenkins. Suddenly one of the most experienced Pirates on the roster, Young will help set the fast pace that McCarthy hopes will define his Pirates.

“Brock had almost the exact year we hoped for him,” McCarthy said. “The games he played well he played more, the games he didn’t play well he didn’t have the pressure to perform. He’s really worked hard this summer at being more of a leader on and off the floor, and I think he’s right on schedule.”

Guard Hinnant, the other senior on the team, said that he has been impressed with the determination of his teammates so far this summer and he has confidence in the newcomers to take the team further than previous squads.

“Right now everybody’s working as hard as I’ve ever seen them work before, in the weight room, in the classroom,” Hinnant said. “We’re working hard.”

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07/18/2008 01:40:16 AM

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