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Monday, February 18, 2008

By Danny Whitford
Publisher & Editor

Extreme makeover for hoops?

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When it comes to the countless variations of despair, hand-wringing and second-guessing associated with East Carolina basketball, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Or is there?

This time a sliver of hope could be a part of the mix.

Let's look at the setting.

Another agonizing campaign is almost in the books. Another dose of the inevitable is setting in. Another conscious mental shift from the frustration of the hardwood to the promise of more fruitful pursuits on the diamond and gridiron is underway.

East Carolina hoops fans know the drill well. Embrace the glimmers of hope in preseason, cling to the thrills of any measure of success in December. Then hunker down for the cold, hard reality of January and February.

They have learned to endure the worst winter has to offer because they know that relief is almost within reach. When you’re a Pirate partisan, you know that spring mitigates misery.

As the hoops program trudges towards the end of another melancholy season, the fan base, conditioned by decades of experience, turns to the old and trusted antidotes for gloom: baseball and spring football.

This time, however, the underlying dynamics are different. You can be certain that basketball has not begun receding into the background of Terry Holland’s hierarchy of priorities. In fact, Holland may be the only AD in school history with the combination of credibility, job security and presence to address the basketball program’s shortcomings head-on.

In the bigger picture, Holland’s hiring of Ricky Stokes was merely a false start, not a fundamental blunder. With that in mind, whether Holland elects to remove the “acting” qualifier from Coach Mack McCarthy’s title or opts to hire a new hoops boss, one gets the sense that corrective action on a scale that transcends the coaching question is about to commence.

Previous administrations have paid but lip service to the substantial financial commitment required to build and maintain a quality program. Based on his proven ability to rally support from donors and his demonstrated success at delivering returns on the investment – i.e., football – the assumption here is that Holland’s approach to solving the basketball enigma will be blunt and far-reaching.

Holland owns a portfolio of accomplishments that spans the gamut of success in college sports. He is accustomed to achievement. From playing to coaching to administrating. From fundraising to hiring. At no step along his decades-long career journey has he been identified with failure. Not in Clinton, not in Davidson, not in Charlottesville.

Our guess is that when he retires from East Carolina, he won’t be identified with failure in Greenville either.

After all, first and foremost, Holland is a basketball man. If a remedy is available for what ails ECU basketball, our guess is that Holland now knows what it is.

Holland has every justification if he decides the cure is to solicit a major and sustained infusion of new funds into the program, for significant facilities investments, a big upgrade in the recruiting budget, seriously competitive staff salaries and – if he concludes that McCarthy is not the answer – for attracting and keeping a head coach capable of leading the program into contention for annual postseason berths without sacrificing academic principles.

Success in major college sports doesn’t come cheaply. ECU fans have anted up in football and baseball and they can see and appreciate the payback.

It’s a safe bet, in our opinion, that they will be willing to dig deep and pony up again if Holland articulates a bold vision for Pirate basketball and reaches out to the faithful to underwrite that vision.

It may take a few years for such an undertaking to bear the sought-after fruit, but the first sign that the program is finally on the way will be that day in the future when fans keep their attention focused on basketball until the season is over.

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02/28/2008 12:52:12 AM

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