Pirates’ hoops — A trick or treat?

Published 7:56 am Tuesday, October 23, 2007

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE - It’s that time of year again. The air gets a little crisper, leaves begin to fade and as Halloween approaches East Carolina basketball fans wonder whether this year’s team will be a trick or treat.
The truth is, it will be a bit of both.
Once again ECU heads into the season with questions surrounding its coaching staff. Though he brought in some potentially talented players, it’s safe to assume that not too many fans are shedding a tear over Ricky Stokes’ departure.
It’s also safe to assume that the promotion of Mack McCarthy to acting head coach isn’t making the Pirate faithful do backflips either.
Though East Carolina fans have longed for a big name coach for years, they should enter this season with reserved judgment.
McCarthy, who has been a head coach at UT-Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth, brings to the table a lifetime winning percentage over .600, a number the Pirates haven’t seen in a while.
The players, the people that matter most, seem genuinely enthused to have McCarthy at the helm.
Senior point guard Darrell Jenkins said he was thrilled about his new skipper.
Jenkins said he and McCarthy have a special relationship that dates back to last year, and that the Pirates’ coach cares about more than just performance on the hardwood.
“A great personality trait that coach Mack has is that off the court, he comes and seeks you. You don’t have to come up to him and tell him that you have a problem. There is just something about him, he can sense it, and he will come up to you and talk about it. Not only is he a great coach on the court, but off the court he does his job as well. He has formed great trust not just with me, but with all the players.”
The player-coach bond is often an overlooked aspect of a college team, but Jenkins said it is an important one.
McCarthy clearly has Jenkins’ trust, but the next step is to earn the fans. McCarthy is working the players hard so that the Pirates can play an up-tempo style this year. While that may sound great, the Pirates have been saying that for the last three years. So will this be the year fans see a fast team? Jenkins believes so.
If the Pirates want to run-and-gun, they will have to play some defense. Jenkins said the Pirates will be much more active on defense than they have been in the past.
Sophomore power forward John Fields is coming off a fantastic freshman season in which he was Conference USA’s fourth leading shot blocker, and will have to build on his defensive presence if the Pirates want to run.
The Pirates’ front court will be pivotal in their run game. The duo of the 6-9 Fields along with fellow sophomore Gabe Blair, who is 6-8, will have dominate on the defensive glass as well as change or block several shots a night to ignite the ECU fast break.
Jenkins feels Fields is up to the task.
While you can pencil in a steady dosage of blocks and boards from the ECU front court, it’s their on-ball and perimeter defense that remains a mystery.
Jenkins does a nice job on defense, and is good for about a steal per game, but the Pirates will need more than that if they want to run.
McCarthy will need at least two players to emerge as primary stoppers and ball hawks if he wants his offense to take flight.
Possible candidates for the primary perimeter stopper are sophomore Brandon Evans and freshmen Jamar Abrams, Daquan Joyner, Jontae Sherrod and Brock Young.
Evans, though only 6-4, is a great athlete and if he dedicates himself to defense could be a good choice. Everyone else is a toss up, McCarthy raved about his freshmen’s athleticism, but they are yet to be battle tested.