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Pirate Notebook No. 340
Monday, March 24, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

Patience necessary as hoops rebuilds

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Terry Holland took the popular path when he retained Mack McCarthy as East Carolina's basketball coach.

McCarthy was the fan favorite to win the job after a season in which the Pirates beat George Mason, N.C. State and Houston, and also notched a late-season winning streak after all hope was seemingly lost.

But the most important detail in Holland's latest coaching move isn't necessarily the choice itself, rather the length of the contract under which McCarthy will operate. In rewarding McCarthy with a five-year deal Holland made a couple of significant statements about the Pirates coach:

One, he's confident that East Carolina can turn the corner under McCarthy's direction.

Two, he understands that such a shift in culture doesn't occur overnight, especially when you're dealing with a program that has been identified with losing to the degree that ECU hoops has.

Fans should take the same approach. They should abandon the more customary M.O. in which strides are expected at a much quicker rate than what reality typically delivers.

Just ask Clemson. Tiger Nation had to wait a decade between NCAA Tournament appearances, and half that was with current coach Oliver Purnell at the helm.

Given his credentials it would have been tempting to expect the Tigers in the Dance earlier in his tenure, despite the fact that the program slipped considerably during Larry Shyatt’s watch. Instead, faith and perseverance has paid dividends as Clemson is slowly evolving into a consistent force in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

McCarthy deserves parallel treatment.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the current staff, under Coach McCarthy's leadership, will continue to move this basketball program forward,” Holland said in a statement. “Therefore, we have developed a five-year contract with a bonus structure that rewards our coach for continuing excellence in already strong areas (academics and public relations) while also creating a strong incentive to improve the "bottom line" - as defined by C-USA wins and our expectations for continued improvement in rebounding.”

Good point about rebounding, perhaps the most immediate hurdle the Pirates face.

The common theme in college basketball is that guards and perimeter production are the perfect prescription for March Madness. After all, it is the little guys who often control the game's tempo and are the vocal and emotional leaders of their teammates on the floor.

But if this season has taught us anything, it's that balance is a must to rule in college hoops. We saw it from a Duke club that lived and eventually died beyond the arc, and closer to home with an ECU bunch that found success only when the rims reacted favorably from long range.

The lack of any physical presence inside put the Pirates at a noticeable deficit almost anytime they exited the bus. It was a competitive gap that likely won't close next season save for the appearance of a burly Juco gem or the dramatic improvement of project Chad Wynn.

If sophomore Brock Young steadily advances his game, the Pirates should have a stable backcourt manned by capable scorers. But without a defensive presence down low capable of altering shots and controlling the boards, it's unrealistic to expect a dramatic increase in the win column next season.

It will take time for McCarthy to fully indoctrinate his philosophies into the program. Perhaps more than our fast food sports society is traditionally willing to give.

The implementation of a successful recruiting strategy, for example, doesn't take place overnight, especially when doubt has hovered over the program's future for much of the year. Finding players that are both talented and fit within the system is a challenge for any school that isn't a major power.

The good news is McCarthy has done it before. He did it at Chattanooga when he guided the Mocs to the Sweet Sixteen. He also did it at Virginia Commonwealth, where he won 21 times in his final season.

If he can succeed at those two destinations, why can’t he at East Carolina? And if Davidson and Western Kentucky can play on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, is it reasonable to think the Pirates can, too?

Those are fair questions, and there's no reason that both can't be answered favorably for ECU.

Time is the key. Given that, a sound strategy and the appropriate resources, there's no reason to think McCarthy can't succeed.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

Dig into Denny O'Brien's Bonesville archives.

03/24/2008 12:37:30 AM

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