Consistency a must for rebuilding Pirates
Published 9:55 am Thursday, November 13, 2008
BY BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — After years of dejection East Carolina basketball fans can enter the 2008-09 season with a little more optimism than years past.
While they have lost some key players, the Pirates head into the season with stability at the top of the ranks, as it appears head coach Mack McCarthy should be here for the foreseeable future.
There is no doubt the transfers of promising junior post players Gabe Blair and John Fields stung ECU fans a little bit. However, the Pirates are trying to build long term success, and that starts with letting go players who aren’t happy, and working with the ones who want to be here.
East Carolina (11-19, 5-11)) showed some promise last year as it won over 10 games for the first time since 2004, and beat an ACC team for the first time in the school’s history when it knocked off N.C. State 75-69 in Greenville.
While Fields, Blair and graduated senior point guard Darrell Jenkins were a big part of last season’s progress, there is reason to believe McCarthy and his crew can build on that.
Besides, it’s the start of a new hoops’ season, and fans should allow to themselves to indulge in optimistic thoughts now, because who knows how long it will last when it comes to East Carolina basketball.
The first step in establishing a respectable program is getting the players to play hard every night, which McCarthy felt his team did last year, but he said the next phase is to have consistency.
That’s going to be a hard trick to pull off with a team that returns only two seniors in Sam Hinnant and James Leagan, while losing four out of last year’s five starters.
Hinnant, who is battling knee and back injuries, can without a doubt consistently hit the three, as he knocked down 40 percent last year and was amongst the Conference USA leaders in that department.
Hinnant is East Carolina’s top returning scorer from last year, and averaged 10 points per game.
The rest of the roster is relatively unproven, and nursing a ton of aches and pains. As of Monday, McCarthy was still undecided on who will start in the Pirates’ season opener against Coker College on Friday because he wasn’t sure who would be able to play.
When everybody gets healthy, the Pirates starting lineup isn’t to hard to predict. McCarthy already said sophomore Brock Young will start at point guard, fellow sophomore Chad Wynn should get the nod at center, while promising freshman Darrius Morrow will play power forward.
Sam Hinnant will get the start at small forward, but could be moved to shooting guard. The big question is who will be playing the other wing position.
The 6-3 Leagan is the best bet to at least be the starting at shooting guard early in the season being that is a senior. However, sophomore Jamar Abrams has the potential to overtake him, as well as sophomores Daquan Joyner (6-7), Jontae Sherrod (6-2), or freshman Chris Turner.
The Pirates desperately need a player who can create shots off the dribble, and who ever emerges as the best slasher should rise to the top of the list.
Opposing matchups will also play heavily in who gets more minutes at the wing. If McCarthy needs a rebounder, he may go with the bigger Joyner, but if he needs a staunch defender, he could pick whoever fits the stopper role to play more that particular night.
Offensively, the Pirates will look to run this year and are very much a perimeter team. Hinnant is expected to carry a big portion of the scoring burden, but McCarthy said there are others that are ready to step up.
“I think we have more diversity on offense than we have had in the past, I think we can score more ways,” McCarthy said. “Last year we were basically a three-point shooting team, period. But we do have more of a post presence with Wynn and Morrow and Joyner. With have more people that can come in and score. Abrams is a four man/three man who can step out and shoot as well as play inside. I think Brock has really improved his offensive skills. Chris Turner when, if he gets healthy, is more of a scorer than just a shooter. He can shoot the deep ball but also get to the rim.”
ECU should be able to score some points, but the real question is can they stop them. The Pirates let up 72 points per game last season, second highest in C-USA.
McCarthy said he favors a pressing, man-to-man defense, but is open to explore other options.
“We are still struggling to find our identity on defense.” McCarthy said. “We can put a group out there that can pressure you, but that may not be what’s best over the course of a 40 minute game or a 30-game season. We are still struggling to find the right combination of pressure and conservatism on the defensive end.”
The other big concern for the Pirates is their lack of rebounding. Last year they were last on the offensive glass, and third from last on the defensive boards.
If the Pirates want to run, they have to rebound, period. At 6-10, 250, Wynn is a massive man who should be able to pull down at least five boards a night, while Morrow is 6-8, 250 and will have similar expectations.
The importance of rebounding this year can not be overstated, it is a must if East Carolina wants to be competitive in every game.