A quiet contributor

Published 6:55 pm Monday, December 12, 2011

East Carolina’s Erin Straughn (23) saves a ball from going out of bounds during a Pirates’ game earlier this year. It’s plays like that, that typify the quiet contributions the junior forward has made this season. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — He doesn’t have the flash of a Miguel Paul or the intimidating size of a Darrius Morrow, but Erin Straughn’s impact on East Carolina basketball games this season has been nearly as valuable.
Paul, the Pirates’ junior point guard and team’s leading scorer, tends to be the center of attention because of his flashy moves and the fact that he always has the ball. Morrow, at 6-8, 240 pounds, is the center of the offense both literally and figuratively, as ECU coach Jeff Lebo likes to run his sets through his big man.
Quietly tucked behind Paul’s 16.1 points and 5.6 assists per game and Morrow’s 12.5 points and five rebounds per contest are Straughn’s contributions, both the ones that show up in the box score and the ones that don’t.
Standing at a sturdy 6-6, 205 pounds, Straughn is averaging a career-best in points per game and rebounds with 6.9 and 5.4, respectively. On the defensive side of the ball, Straughn has been just as strong as he is second on the team in steals with 11.
While he may not dominate a game like Paul or Morrow, his blue-collar style and willingness to do the dirty work allows those Pirates’ stars to shine.
“Erin and Robert Sampson are the two hardest playing players on the team by far,” Morrow said. “Erin has a great motor, he goes after every rebound. He’s an exciting teammate to have.
“Erin is the type of player that he can go on any team and do the same thing he’s always done his whole life: play hard, rebound and make his shots and just play basketball. He’s the epitome of a basketball player.”
Recruited to play guard by former Pirates’ coach Mack McCarthy, the Pensacola, Fl. native has been asked to play small forward by Lebo and has stepped up to the challenge.  While Sampson, a 6-8 sophomore forward, leads the Pirates with 6.5 boards per night, Straughn, at 6-6, is tied with 6-8, 245 pound senior center Austin Steed for the second-most rebounds per game.
Straughn pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds in the team’s 63-58 loss to UMass its last time out and the junior said that it’s on the glass where he has made the most strides.
“My rebounding has improved the most,” Straughn said. “I feel like I have always had a knack for rebounding since high school but I feel like it has improved each year.”
Junior guard Corvonn Gaines, Straughn’s roommate, has taken notice.
“He’s a guy who plays a big role on the team and is a leader on the court,” Gaines said.  “He gets rebounds, he can score and he just finds different ways to help the team.”
Aside from hustling to save loose balls and battling in the paint for boards, Straughn has emerged as a quality defender. After Paul’s team-high 21 steals, Straughn is tied for second on team for most thefts with his roommate at 11.
“I’m versatile. I can guard the four (power forward) and I can guard the two (shooting guard), three (small forward) or the one (point guard).”
Gaines summed it up best by saying, “He’s just a basketball player. He can do it all. He plays wherever the coach needs him.”
With the Pirates (4-4) in the midst of a three-game losing skid thanks to some streaky shooting that has seen the team get both red hot then ice cold in the same game, the thing that Lebo wants to see more from his versatile swingman is shots.
While Paul is leading the Pirates with 16.1 points per night, he is also shooting only 37 percent from the floor. Straughn has silently been efficient making 46 percent of his attempts.
All year long Lebo has been seeking a consistent third scorer and East Carolina is hoping that its quiet contributor can make some noise in the scoring department.
“They want me to take my open shots and be more aggressive,” Straughn said. “I can’t just rely on my three-point shot, they want me to attack the goal. I got a big body — 6-6 on the wing — I should be able to attack more and get some fouls.”
If Straughn can find more ways to increase his point total, Morrow said his potential is endless.
“If think Erin can improve offensively and take a better role offensively,” Morrow said. “Once he gets his skills packaged and more fine-tuned the sky is the limit. Not too many players have the motor he has, once you got that motor you can do whatever you want.”