ECU ready to tip-off the 2012-13 seasonPublished 3:52pm Friday, October 12, 2012
GREENVILLE — The East Carolina basketball team will be gunning for only its second winning year since the 1996-97 season, but first it must figure out who fills the giant pair of Nikes left behind by Darrius Morrow, who graduated as the school’s fourth-leading scorer and seventh-best rebounder.
Head coach Jeff Lebo delivered a winning season in his first year with the Pirates, and last year fell just short of doing it again as the club finished 15-16 and 5-11 in Conference USA.
As he enters his third year with the program, Lebo will lean on a bevy of guards and a crop of inexperienced post players to push his team past the .500 mark.
“We’re going to have some of the freshmen step up (in the post) and give us some solid minutes there and we have to be really good in the backcourt,” Lebo said.
Leading the way for this year’s edition of the Pirates will be senior point guard Miguel Paul, who after averaging registering team-highs in points (15.2 ppg), assists (183) and steals (39), was named to the preseason All-Conference USA first team.
“It’s a good preseason honor but it means nothing,” Paul said during ECU’s media day on Friday.
Paul shined for the Pirates after transferring from Missouri as a junior, but this year he will be asked to increase his leadership role as well as his production on the court.
“Coach Lebo has helped me with it … I think I’m ready now (to be a leader),” Paul said. “It’s about decision making on the floor and how you talk to your teammates.”
East Carolina will bring back several key players as senior SF/PF hybrids Maurice Kemp (10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Erin Straughn (5.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) are back to bolster the frontcourt, along with junior SF/PF Robert Sampson (5.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
The Pirates have several players vying for time at the shooting guard and small forward spots, which is highlighted by veterans Shamarr Bowden (8.3 ppg), Paris Campbell (5.2 ppg) and Corvonn Gains (3.5 ppg, 38 steals).
Looking to crack their way into the guard rotation will be junior transfer Akeem Richmond and freshmen Prince Williams and Peyton Robbins.
Richmond practiced with the Pirates last year but was forced to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules. The 6-0, 180-pounder is viewed as a top-notch scorer and should make and impact right away.
“Akeem can flat out score the ball,” Lebo said. “He’s trying to make and adjustment and figure out where he’s going to best fit here; whether it’s going to be at the 1 or the 2. Right now he probably has more of a comfort level at the 2 position.
“He can shoot the ball and score. He has range on his shot and I think he led the state in scoring in North Carolina for three consecutive years. He needs to learn what a good shot is, that’s the key for him.”
The biggest mystery facing Lebo is who will play center. Competing to take the place of Morrow will be two freshmen in 6-9 Michael Zangari and 6-10 Marshall Guilmette, along with Ty Armstrong, a transfer from Auburn, and redshirt freshman Yasim Kolo.
“We’re very inexperienced inside,” Lebo said. “We have two freshman and a redshirt freshman and a transfer who hasn’t played in two years. We have great size there, but very inexperienced size. I’m very excited about it, I think our big guys have the ability to shoot the basketball.”
The Pirates will begin the 2012-13 season on Nov. 10 when they host Washington & Lee at 5 p.m.