Perry takes over for recovering Lebo

Published 3:53 pm Saturday, January 21, 2017

GREENVILLE — It’s business as usual for the East Carolina basketball team in the wake of Jeff Lebo’s absence due to hip surgery — or so interim head coach Michael Perry says.

“It’s the same message just a different voice,” Perry said Friday after speaking with reporters for the first time. “The guys have been working hard. They’ve given me the same respect whether I’m the head coach or the acting coach.”

Senior forward Michel Nzege added, “We’re used to every single coach because we’re always around them on a regular basis. In the summertime, they get us as individuals. Everybody was familiar with coach Perry. He’s kind of old school, a hard-working type of guy.”

Lebo, who underwent hip surgery Monday, will be sidelined indefinitely, leaving the long-time assistant Perry as the interim. Before arriving at ECU in 2007, Perry was the head coach at Georgia State, where he led the program to two postseason appearances before being relieved of his duties. Now, he has a second crack at manning the ship, even if it’s only temporary.

“I’m excited but you’re so overwhelmed with preparation,” Perry said. “We have UConn coming up and other conference opponents. You don’t have time to think about or enjoy the excitement.”

For Perry, the message has been similar to what Lebo has preached this season and before. The Pirates need to be tougher, he says, and while Lebo likely won’t have much reign over practices, he’s still around the corner, keeping an eye on the day-to-day function of the team.

“I’ve been communicating with (Lebo) on a daily basis,” he said. “How are guys doing in class? Are they going to study hall? Game plan, practice preparation, he’s in the loop on everything.”

Perry, the self-admitted new voice, is keeping the goals simple as the Pirates go into the home stretch of conference play. Riding a five-game losing streak and currently sitting one game below .500, Perry and the team want to string together some wins and gain momentum for a possible post-season berth.

That’ll mean beating a slumping Connecticut team on the road Sunday before returning home Wednesday for his home-coaching debut.

“For the most part the guys are communicating,” Perry said. “I had a chance to talk with them about moving forward, in terms of where we are at this time of the year and our goals and how they can be realized.”

While at Georgia State, Perry averaged 16.5 wins per year and guided the team to a 20-9 campaign during his first season as the head coach. He was a four-year letterman at the University of Richmond before being drafted by the former Kansas City Kings in 1981.