PirateIllustrated - ECU Ready For First Official Basketball Practice on Saturday
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ECU Ready For First Official Basketball Practice on Saturday

Jayden Gardner and ECU begin basketball practice on Saturday in preparation for the season opener against VMI on Nov. 5 in Minges Coliseum.
Jayden Gardner and ECU begin basketball practice on Saturday in preparation for the season opener against VMI on Nov. 5 in Minges Coliseum. (PirateIllustrated.com photo)

ECU prepares to open practice on Saturday for year two of Joe Dooley's second era in Greenville and he took some time on Friday to bring us up to date about the upcoming season.

The Pirates enter this season with a drastically different team. Just two players from last year’s squad return in forwards Seth LeDay and Jayden Gardner. Gardner was arguably ECU’s best player last season and most consistent scorer at 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. He hit 49 percent of his shots from the field and 75 percent of his field goals and was a third team All-AAC selection as well as Freshman of the Year in the league.

ECU went just 10-21 last season in Dooley's first season including 3-15 in AAC league play.

More height on this year’s team could make for a interesting situation for ECU both along the arc and inside. For Gardner, it will be intriguing to see how he adapts to playing more with his face to the basket. Former Virginia Tech product Seth LeDay battled an injury late in the season and was probably the best leaper on the team.

Literally everyone else from last year’s team has exited, making room for a drastically different roster for the Pirates this season.

“Defense is always ahead of the offense early in the year and I do think it will take us some time to get acclimated. The summer workouts helped us. I think they’re starting to get a feel for each other and that will continue to happen as the year evolves,” Dooley said.

“I think we get bigger everywhere. The front line is bigger, we’re longer along the wings,” according to Dooley who told PI, “Those things all help obviously from being able to get a shot, being able to space the floor a little bit, being able to take up space especially around the rim."

"The biggest thing is that they like each other. The other biggest thing is they like to play, they like to stay and compete. Those are all positives. That’s great in September but all of sudden when eight guys are playing in the game, that’s when you find out where you are.”

Three players of 6-11 or better headline a bigger ECU squad in Brookline, Mass. 7-footer Charles Coleman who originally committed to Wake Forest before making his way to Greenville. He is joined by 6-11 Ludgy Debaut out of Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida and Tyler (TX) Junior College 6-11 center Edra Luster.

The Pirates get bigger across the wings with 6-7, 225 Bitumba Baruti who originally played at Washington before going to Chipola College. Baruti made nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts last season. He is joined by a 6-6 Palm Beach State College guard Miles James who got there by way of Massanutten Military in Woodstock, VA. James who averaged just over twelve points a game while connecting on 37 percent from the arc.

Baruti talked about forming team chemistry with such a large group of newcomers and two players who both played big roles last year in Jayden Gardner and Seth LeDay.

“I think we’re all very comfortable with each other really. We talk all of the time and joke all the time. We smile, laugh every day in the locker room and wherever we see each other. We have a bunch of classes together so we get to see each other all the time. I think we’re getting closer and closer, said Baruti who is rooming with Gardner and told Pirate Illustrated, “Still we have to got to learn each other and get a chemistry on the court but I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”

When asked if he feels this will be a pretty good ECU team, Baruti responded in the affirmative.

"Most definitely I think this is going to be a good team. We want to be a good team. The fact is we want to be a good team and we're hungry"

At 6-7, 215 J.J. Miles from Cape Fear Community College was considered one of the very top JUCO products in North Carolina where he averaged 15 points and five boards a game last season.

One of the more intriguing guards among this bunch is 6-5 freshman guard Tristen Newton from Burges High School in El Paso. Newton was credited with over 3,000 points in his high school career including 37.4 points a game as a senior. Newton scored over 40 points 12 times in his career including one fifty point game to go along with nine rebounds a game.

Among the best point guards in the group, Tremont Robinson suffered a dislocated ankle a month ago putting his availability in question to begin the season. Dooley says he is slowly rounding back into form, but still isn’t cleared for full contact as of yet. He can do almost everything else though. He and former Virginia Tech guard Tyrie Jackson who played 28 games in Blacksburg before transferring to Northwest Florida State College should battle it out for playing time at the point.

“We want to get old and stay old overall. I think it worries you when you have two freshmen at backup with Logan and Tristen. Tyrie has played multiple positions. We can also use Jayden, Seth and probably Bitumba almost like a point forward to get you into an offense or initiate it the way we like to play,” said Dooley who told PI, “Once you get past halfcourt, one through, four are almost interchangeable anyway.”

Jackson talked about his overall feeling about this new group of individuals that have come together to form ECU’s 2019 basketball team.

“I feel good about it. Every team I’ve been on has been a good team,” Jackson told PirateIllustrated.com, “Good chemistry, good attitudes. We have our ups and downs but we get over it and back to the wins and keep it going stronger and stronger every day. Over all the teams, it’s the same routine and you’ve got to go about it.”

“The majority of us are all JUCO players, so we played against each other or we’ve heard about each other or have seen each other play,” said Jackson, “The communication is going well. They all want to win and that’s what is keeping us connected. I’m always the same whether we have a man down or not. We’re always going to work with what we have and try to be our best - follow Coach Dooley’s orders and do what we have to do to win.”

Jackson outlined the areas the team is working to improve on the most at the moment.

“I think we can improve mostly communicating on the defensive side and all of the rest of it will connect,” Jackson told PI, “If you get better at that communication and have that feeling and bond on the court we will have that good team. Offensively will come so we don’t worry much about the offensive part.”

The Pirates open practice on Saturday and begin the regular season schedule at home on Nov. 5 against VMI where ECU will play just three home games in the first month of the season.

PI AUDIO: JOE DOOLEY TALKS ABOUT HIS 2019-20 TEAM

PI AUDIO: BITUMBA BARUTI ACCLIMATING TO NEW ENVIRONMENT

PI AUDIO: TYREE JACKSON TALKS ECU HOOPS