Top ten reasons to watch the Pirates

Published 11:06 am Friday, November 9, 2007

By Staff
Commentary by BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
The Pirates’ hoops team is calling for your support. I know in recent years East Carolina basketball hasn’t given fans much of a reason to pack Minges, but here are 10 reasons.
Yes, I am fully aware that is four more reasons than wins last year, but hear me out. The Pirates open the season Saturday at home against Limestone. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.
No. 10) Fields of dreams
If you haven’t gotten a chance to see John Fields play, you really should. Pirates’ point guard Darrell Jenkins said recently that Fields has NBA potential and I honestly agree. The sophomore power forward may not be a first rounder, but he can be a defensive specialist and has the athleticism to at least earn an invite to a camp somewhere.
As a freshman, the lanky 6-9 shot blocker swatted away 48 shots, fourth in all of Conference USA. He also led the conference in field goal percentage (62.4). If Fields can add some low post moves to his repertoire, which teammate Brandon Evans said he has, and a 12-footer, he can make a major impact on the Pirates’ success this season and beyond.
No. 9) You’re a Pirates fan
I know it can be tough, but if you’re a Pirates fan, then be a Pirates fan. Anyone can be a purple and gold supporter when things are going well, but a true fan shows up even when the chips are down. If you really want to see ECU earn more than six wins, then fans should at least give them a solid home court advantage. East Carolina plays 19 home games this year; a rowdy home crowd could help the Pirates double last season’s win total without ever leaving Greenville.
No. 8) A purple heart
Is there anyone on the team that has more heart than Darrell Jenkins? Nobody wants the season to begin more than the Pirates’ senior. The kid was practically jumping out of his Nikes at the Pirates’ media day in anticipation of East Carolina’s season opener. Last season’s 6-24 record ate away at him all summer and he can’t wait to get that awful taste out of his mouth.
The junior transfer led the conference in assists (5.5 per game), but failed to make any honorary teams and said that the perceived snub left him with a John Fields-sized chip on his shoulder. Watching him try to will East Carolina to at least a .500 record should be worth the price of admission alone.
No. 7) The start of something big
Aside from Fields, East Carolina returns fellow post players Gabe Blair (6-8, 210) and Chad Wynn (6-10, 240). Like Fields, Blair is only a sophomore, while Wynn is a redshirt freshman.
Every school in America is always trying to recruit height, and the Pirates have a trio of baby big men that could make a big splash in the conference for the next few years.
While Blair looked a little lost at times on the court last season, he was a beast on the boards. He led all C-USA freshman in rebounding, while his seven boards a night was good enough for third place overall.
The combo of Fields and Blair could really change the fortune of Pirates’ basketball in the next three years.
Wynn still remains a bit of a mystery, but it will be exciting to see how he blends in with the rest of the battle tested bigs.
No. 6) Purple pedal to the metal
Coach Mack McCarthy said he plans on going all out on offense, which means fans could see a lot of fast-break, fun to watch hoops. I know that Pirates’ coaches have been promising a faster brand of ball for at least the last three seasons, but you still have to give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt.
Even the casual fan likes to see some up-tempo hoops. What’s more entertaining than Blair pulling down a defensive board, getting the ball out to Jenkins, who lobs up an alley-oop to a streaking Fields?
East Carolina will also try to change the pace of the game on defense. Look for the Pirates to play a lot of tight man defense, with different pressing schemes. If executed properly, ECU’s defense could set up a lot of running-and-gunning.
No. 5) Young guns
In recent history East Carolina has failed to produce an exciting wing player to compliment some of its front court talent. Courtney Captain had his moments, as well as Japhet McNeil and Jenkins last season, but each played point guard. The Pirates really need a shooting guard or a small forward to step up and slash to the hoop, and create shots on his own when the play clock winds down. This may be the year we see one emerge.
Ricky Stokes may be gone, but he left behind a batch of athletes who have play-maker potential.
To complement ECU’s baby big men, East Carolina has four freshman that could make an immediate impact. Brock Young, Jamar Abrams, Jontae Sherrod and Daquan Joyner drew rave reviews from the coaching staff and teammates, and are each expected to get some minutes this year.
Young is a talented point guard prospect who broke his high school’s single season records for assists and steals as a sophomore, and his teammates love his court vision.
Abrams, 6-5, is a small forward who made Virginia’s all-state team with nearly 19 points per game and 6.5 boards a night. Joyner is another candidate for the small forward spot with his 6-7, 215 pound frame. Joyner put up 16 points per game, along with 9.9 rebounds and 5.1 blocks a night at Goldsboro. Joyner was a McDonald's All-American candidate and has the potential to have a monster career at ECU. At 6-2, 186, Sherrod is more suited for the backcourt, and finished his prep career as Tarboro’s all-time leading scorer.
Aside from the freshman, ECU also returns combo-guard Evans, sharp-shooter Sam Hinnant and imported junior James Legan, who is supposed to be a threat from outside.
No. 4) How bad could they really be?
The Pirates finished last season with a 6-24 overall record, while going 1-15 in the conference. Can they really be worse than that? Yes, ECU will play some ACC teams this year (N.C. State and Clemson), and are also slated to battle Winthrop, George Mason and Memphis, but they have to get more than six wins. If you play in Conference USA, your schedule is already pretty weak; then throw in the Limestones and Liberty’s, and there is no way ECU should finish with under eight wins.
No. 3) McCarthy to the rescue?
Yes, McCarthy is only an acting head coach, but his resume has credibility. He has been a head coach for 16 years and amassed eight 20-win seasons. During his time with UT-Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth, McCarthy has been to the big dance five times and the NIT twice.
No. 2) The NLCS theory
The great thing about sports is that anything can happen to anyone. Raise your hand if you picked the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies to battle for a trip to the World Series in your preseason poll — exactly. So who is to say ECU can’t go .500 or above? Stranger things have happened.
No. 1) If all else fails
Lets just say the Pirates’ collapse, they can’t shoot straight and they play Swiss cheese defense. You can always watch the dance team and cheerleaders. They always put on a good show and, as far as I know, have never lost game.
Brian Haines is a sports writer with the Washington Daily News. You may reach him at 940-4216 or by e-mail at