ECU hoops tips off 2012-13 season

Published 5:43 pm Friday, November 9, 2012

East Carolina's Maurice Kemp (center) and the Pirates will begin the 2012-13 season today when they host Washington & Lee at 5 p.m. in Greenville. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — Is bigger better? That’s the question the East Carolina basketball team faces as it prepares to tip off the 2012-13 season at home against the Div. III Washington & Lee Generals at 5 p.m. today inside Minges Coliseum.
The good news for the Pirates is that they return four starters from last year’s 15-16 (5-11 Conference USA) team, the bad news is that Darrius Morrow is not one of them.
Morrow, an all-conference center, was the team’s lone threat in the paint a year ago and Pirates’ third-year coach Jeff Lebo is hoping that a talented backcourt and a roster that features six players 6-8 or bigger can pick up the slack in his absence.
“We have a unique situation here where we have all young bigs and a really experienced backcourt and we’re trying keep the big guys caught up with the perimeter guys,” Lebo said.
Helping out down low will be high-flying 6-8 senior forward Maurice Kemp, who led the team in rebounding (6.3 rpg) and was third on the team in scoring (13.5 ppg), sturdy 6-8 junior Robert Sampson, who pulled down 5.6 boards and scored 5.3 points per game last season, and versatile senior Erin Straughn who posted 5.7 points and grabbed 4.6 boards a night.
As far the center position goes, ECU will look to freshmen Marshall Guilmette and Michael Zangari, along with junior transfer Ty Armstrong to play the five spot.
“I think we will be much bigger inside,” Lebo said. “I think the best low post player in the league last year was Morrow, so we’re going to have to do it a little big by committee. But, we do have some size and we do have some depth, so that’s exciting for us.”
So far, the 6-10 Guilmette and the 6-9 Zangari have impressed in the preseason.
“Marshall Guilmette is a freshman who has been surprisingly good for us and Mike Zangari is another freshman who has done a lot of good things for us, but they’re freshmen,” Lebo said. “We haven’t turned on the lights, we’ve just had a couple of scrimmages so you don’t know what they’re going to do when they get out there. That’s the uneasy thing as a coach.”
The good thing is that the Pirates have a pretty good idea of what they’re backcourt will do.
Last season point guard Miguel Paul, a transfer from Missouri, was tremendous as he led the team with 15.2 points per game and 39 steals, while leading C-USA in assists.
Paul, who was named a preseason C-USA first-team selection, will be paired up with a slew of potential partners as sharpshooters Shamarr Bowden and Paris Campbell will compete with Rhode Island junior transfer Akeem Richmond and senior defensive ace Corvonn Gaines for playing time.
Bowden, who shot 40 percent from three-point land and averaged 8.3 points per game last season, has done his best to catch his coach’s eye.
“I’ve been really pleased with the play of Shamarr Bowden,” Lebo said. “I’ve been quite impressed with him. He’s a senior and he’s starting to understand that he can help this team in a lot of other ways than just taking shots.”
Richmond, a Southern Lee High alum, ended his prep career tallying 2,846 points, the second-highest career total in North Carolina, and will no doubt provide a scoring spark. However, the big question surrounding the 6-0 guard is can he defend.
When asked about Richmond’s defense Lebo said, “I could get 10 or 12 on him right now and I’m 47.”
It’s on the strength of that backcourt that ESPN picked ECU to finish third in the conference, but Lebo shot down the lofty preseason prognostication and said that his team has plenty to prove.
“I don’t really care what ESPN (says), they don’t know anything, obviously. Most of the people in our league picked us down toward the bottom. I don’t know who did that pick and I don’t know how much background they did on us or our league,” Lebo said. “We’ve done nothing. We don’t care where we are picked. We don’t care if we are picked last or first, that’s the preseason. No one remembers where you are picked in the preseason, they only remember what happens in the end.”