Freshman hints at bright future for Pirate hoops

Published 1:15 pm Friday, February 6, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS FRESHMAN PHENOM: ECU guard B.J. Tyson has been a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season for Pirate basketball.

FRESHMAN PHENOM: ECU guard B.J. Tyson has been a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season for Pirate basketball.

GREENVILLE — B.J. Tyson dropped 20 points Thursday night on 8-for-11 from the field to lead the Pirates in scoring. He also added six rebounds; this coming three days after an 18-point, five-rebound performance to lead his team’s to the biggest upset in years — a 50-46 shocker against Cincinnati.

Even in a losing effort on the road against the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies Thursday night, it remains clear that the future, and largely the present, of ECU basketball flows through the freshman from Wadesboro.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound combo guard is second on his team in both points (12.5 ppg.) and rebounds (4.4 rpg.) coming off the bench.

Among others, Tyson is in competition with another B.J. — Central Florida’s B.J. Taylor, who is averaging 14.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, for American Conference Rookie of the Year. Nevertheless, Tyson continues to strengthen his resume for the award and also for the conference’s sixth man award.

Tyson is asked to fill a crucial role for head coach Jeff Lebo — the same role that Akeem Richmond played for ECU’s 2012-13 CIT championship team — provide instant offense off the bench.

It’s a lot to ask of someone with such little experience on the big stage, but his coach had few doubts in his young guard’s ability to produce.

“We realized pretty early in the process that he had some leadership skills,” Lebo said. “He’s also a terrific athlete. He can really run, he can really jump and he’s not afraid. Those are areas that you can’t coach.”

Teammate Terry Whisnant starts at two-guard, the position where Tyson plays most of his minutes. Whisnant also mentioned Tyson had the ability to contribute from day one.

“On the first day of practice he came in confident. He’s been a huge contributor in practice and it’s carrying over to the games,” he said.

Lebo doesn’t have to worry about Tyson feeling too small for the moment. Tyson said that his father preached that confidence is a key to success from a young age, and that confidence opened the door for B.J. to focus on the little things like technique, rather than needing to harp on having the right mentality.

“My dad would teach me how to do the little things rather than having to do too much,” Tyson said. “He taught me how to be a leader from a young age and he taught me to never be too hard on myself, play the game and just have fun.”

The only aspect of Tyson’s game that hasn’t necessarily come easy at the college level is consistency in a very competitive AAC.

Tyson started the season on a high note, then hit a lull midway through the conference season. He dropped 38 points in the last two games, but Tyson scored just seven points in the three games prior. It was a bizarre turnaround, but his drought was likely more of an anomaly than his scoring flurry.

“On Sunday, an hour before the [Cincinnati] game, I went in and shot 150 shots,” Tyson said. “My coaches tell me I have a lot of leadership but I need to stay focused, play tougher and be smarter on the court.”

Lebo and Tyson appear to be on the same page with areas of improvement for Tyson to focus on.

“He’s got to understand that as a young player no one cares what you did the last game, whether good or bad,” Lebo said. “If you play well, you gotta do it again and do it again and do it again. That’s the way it works at this level. He’s got confidence but he’s got to be consistent for us. He’s learning about the grind and how good you have to be on every given night.”

The Pirates are playing better team basketball right now than they have all season, albeit during the toughest stretch of their schedule. ECU will continue to rely on Tyson’s scoring as conference play winds down.