Out for respectPublished 7:50pm Wednesday, October 12, 2011
GREENVILLE — After posting their first winning season in 14 years, the Pirates basketball team heads into the season with a newfound confidence that can hopefully translate into more success.
Last season, first-year head coach Jeff Lebo led East Carolina to an 18-16 overall record and a 8-8 Conference USA standing. Earning that a winning record was a big achievement, while ECU’s back-to-back C-USA tourney wins proved to be the icing on the purple and gold cake. Those wins would be the first and second Conference USA tournament victories in the school’s history.
Despite the breakout season, Lebo’s crew still has a ways to go before it earns respect outside of Greenville.
“I didn’t see officially where we were picked (to finish in the conference), but I saw a lot of magazines where we were picked to finished anywhere from 10th to last,” Lebo said. “So I think our kids who read the magazines have read that, and we obviously feel that we are better than that. We’re excited about the season here so we can prove everybody wrong.”
The Pirates enter the 2011-12 season with some holes to fill as point guard Brock Young, the school’s all-time assist leader, shooting guard Jontae Sherrod and forward Jamar Abrams have all graduated. Overall, Lebo said he must replace 60 percent of the scoring from last season.
Helping fill the that void will be senior F/C Darius Morrow, who after scoring 13 points and pulling down 6.5 boards a game last season, was named to the preseason all-conference second team this year.
Last October the 6-8 Morrow checked into camp overweight, but after dropping 30 pounds he really came on towards the end of the season. Morrow was beast in tournament play as he averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds to make the all-tourney team.
“At this time last year I weighed about 270; I’m about 240 right now. I’ve maintained that weight the whole summer,” Morrow said. “I used to be very strict (about my diet), I cut out fast food completely, but it’s hard cutting out Zaxby’s.”
Morrow’s ability to score in the paint was enabled by the threat of the departed Sherrod, Abrams and Young from beyond the arc. Morrow said that this year’s team has several new and old faces that can provide him the same protection in the paint.
The Pirates have also added some big bodies to bolster their frontcourt. Joining the team this year is 6-8, 245-pound senior South Carolina transfer Austin Steed and 6-8, 185-pound Miami Dade College junior transfer Maurice Kemp. Those two, along with 6-8 sophomore Robert Sampson and 6-10 freshman Yasin Kolo, should help provide a presence in the paint.
“Austin is going to be a great complement, we will compliment each other because he can score with his back to the basket and he can face up. Our game’s are very similar, I think we can play very well together under the rim,” Morrow said.
Bringing a shooting threat to ECU will be Missouri transfer PG Miguel Paul, JUCO transfer Shamarr Bowden (Chipola College), as well as returning players Erin Straughn and Corvonn Gaines.
Paul, who Lebo said has similar speed to Young, is expected to play a big role for the Pirates this season and said he is happy to get back on the court after having to sit out all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
“I’m very exciting, it was a long year having to sit out,” Paul said. “I didn’t really hit me when I first transferred how long it was going to be, but when we first practiced and they stared getting ready for games I was like ‘man, it’s going to be a long year.’”
Paul played in 69 games with the Tigers and averaged 3.2 points in 11.7 minutes per game and said he has a diverse style of play.
“I can score, I’m a very good scoring, but I’m unselfish,” Paul said. “I like to see my teammates score, but when the shot clock is down I’m capable of creating my own shot and making it.”
The Pirates will hold their first official practice of the season on Friday and on Saturday the players will be at the Meet the Pirates event that takes place at 5 p.m. at Minges Coliseum. East Carolina will play its first game of the year on Nov. 11, at home against Milligan College.