Fresh faces brighten men’s hoops

Men’s basketball Head Coach Jeff Lebo in game action during last season. -MCT

In October 2010, Jeff Lebo was learning.

He was learning the landscape of Greenville. Learning the nuances of ECU basketball. Learning his new players.

In October 2011, Lebo has learned the landscape and the nuances. His players? Well, that’s a different story.

“We have a ton of new faces on this year’s team,” said Lebo, who is entering his second year as head coach of the Pirates. “You’re not starting completely over, but you have a lot of things you have to begin again and teach again.”

Lebo’s first season on the bench for the Pirates resulted in an 18-16 record, ECU’s first winning season in 14 years. But the offseason saw the graduation of three of the top four scorers from last year’s team, and four players overall.

This year, the Pirates welcome seven newcomers to try to replace the production of Jontae Sherrod, Brock Young and Jamar Abrams.

“[Rebuilding] is just part of the process,” Lebo said. “There’s a cycle that you go through. Some years you have more losses than others. You’d like to have a little change each year, but sometimes it just doesn’t work like that.

“We have a lot of holes to fill, but we’re excited about our new faces.”

Lebo said one of the things he felt best about was the fact that most of the new faces already have Division I experience. Guard Miguel Paul hits the court this season after sitting out last year following his transfer from Missouri, while guard Shamarr Bowden played previously at UNC-Charlotte. Forwards Austin Steed and Maurice Kemp played formerly for South Carolina and Alabama A&M, respectively.

“Those guys have been through a few wars at this level and will be able to have a better feel of what it’s going to be like right away,” Lebo said. “I’ve been impressed with those guys.”

While the new faces on the roster are abundant, one face that is not new is that of Darrius Morrow, from whom many are expecting a fantastic senior season.

After struggling with weight and endurance problems in the early part of last season, Morrow played sensational down the stretch, averaging 21.7 points and 13.3 rebounds in ECU’s three Conference USA tournament games and being named to the all-tournament team.

Lebo said Pirate fans can expect more of the same from Morrow this season, and, this time, they won’t have to wait half the year.

“We’re not going to have to take two months of the season just to get his weight down where he could play well,” he said. “We didn’t see the true Darrius Morrow until the end of the season last year. He has to be good from the beginning and be consistent from beginning to end, and that’s certainly a lot to ask of a young man, but I think that he’s ready as a senior to shoulder some of that.”

Joining Morrow as returning upperclassmen are junior backcourt-mates Erin Straughn and Corvonn Gaines, who are tasked with the unenviable job of replacing Sherrod and Young.

But Lebo said he has been impressed with the drive shown by his two experienced ball-handlers, and thinks they will fill the roles well.

“Those guys are solid. They’ve played valuable minutes and gotten better,” he said. “It’s nice to have them back there because they’re not only some of my better players, they’re some of my best workers.”

While optimism is high within the program, ECU’s chances of making noise in C-USA don’t look too appealing to outside analysts. Lebo made mention at his media day press conference of many magazines that predicted the Pirates to finish anywhere from 10th to last in the 12-team league.

“I think our kids who read the magazines obviously feel we are better than that,” he said.

But while Lebo admits to paying attention to the media’s preseason perception of his team, he keeps the ultimate goal in perspective.

“We’re excited about the season being here so we can prove everybody wrong. It doesn’t really matter where you’re picked to start the season; it matters what you do in the end,” he said.

 

This writer can be contacted at sports@theeastcarolinian.com.

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