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Pirate Notebook No. 299
Monday, March 12, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

High ceiling for Lady Pirates

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

If you want to see the most exciting athlete on East Carolina's campus, book a ticket to the women's NCAA Tournament.

That's where Lady Pirates point guard Jasmine Young will be. Somewhere between Raleigh and Los Angeles, she'll dribble her 5'5" frame through, around, and past opposing defenders with dynamic skill and blazing speed.

She'll do it with enough energy to fully power the building in which the Pirates play. And on the odd chance that her tank runs low, there is plenty of firepower to help fuel ECU should it make a deeper run than many expect.

Backourt mate Lacoya Terry proved that much in the Conference USA tournament. The versatile combo guard is equally comfortable leading the break or finishing it, and creates match-up problems for almost every opponent.

Cherie Mills provides a dominant inside presence who can relieve much of the pressure from the Pirates' athletic guards. Nicole Day and Impress Manning are they type of lunch pale performers essential to any team's success, while Jessica Slack is an outside assassin who is capable of changing a game's course in a couple of possessions.

Together they form an entertaining, athletic bunch that is a microcosm of what Lady Pirates basketball potentially could become — which is the next major sport at East Carolina.

If ECU AD Terry Holland can keep Sharon Baldwin-Tener away from interested suitors, there are few roadblocks preventing the Pirates' future advancement. Given the nature of the women's game, a regular presence in the national polls is not out of the question.

Unlike the men's game, membership in a power conference is not a prerequisite for long-term success in women's hoops. That's been the case throughout the sport's history, and there is no shortage of examples.

Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion were powers during much of the 80's and 90's, while George Washington, Middle Tennessee, Bowling Green, Wisconsin-Green Bay, and Montana make up 25 percent of the current national rankings. And that doesn't include six others currently on the wait list.

What's more, the Pirates don't face the harsh history lessons of which the men's program is often reminded. Though Duke, North Carolina, and N.C. State possess dynamite programs, most of the mystique in the women's game is found in Knoxville and Storrs, not Tobacco Road.

With so much of East Carolina's talent packaged in the sophomore and freshmen classes, the Top 25 is a realistic destination before they graduate. Baldwin-Tener's proven ability to locate and lure major college talent only accentuates that possibility.

So does her competence in running a team.

Her performance over the last month was one of the finest in recent memory at ECU, regardless of sport. The achievement of going from 9-13 with postseason aspirations seemingly on the backburner to 19-13 and a conference championship can't be overstated.

Rarely does a team so destined for the chiller find a pulse, let alone close a season among the hottest in the country. Baldwin-Tener not only altered ECU's path in midseason, she did so with a team short on upperclassmen.

And she just might have shifted the program's culture in the process.

Just where ECU is seeded won't be known until later tonight. The most likely guess is somewhere between 11-14, even though ECU enters the tournament performing more like a five or six.

The latter could become more the norm for East Carolina in the very near future. Unlike some sports, the climate is more favorable for that to occur.

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03/12/2007 12:17:36 AM

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