GREENVILLE, N.C. - Basketball practice opened with the first in-season workout in East Carolina's brand new basketball practice facility under Pirate head coach Jeff Lebo.
ECU will be without the services of Ty Armstrong who opted to forgo his senior season for personal reasons. Erin Straughn was optimistic about returning to the hardwood but will be unable to go at full speed. He will take on a student assistant coaching role with the program.
"It is exciting to get started. It seems like each year we start earlier and earlier. I've never started practice this early. I think we've got a lot of new faces so we'll slow things down and teach a lot more. It's nice to be able to practice around your kid's academic schedules and not around when the gym is available. We'll be able to have access to shoot whenever they want to. The players love having access to it any time of the day. We're still in the process in doing some things to make it more functional. We still need to put the toppings on the vanilla cone," said Lebo.
When asked about all of the personnel changes on the team and all the new faces, Lebo makes no bones about the fact that it's a time of anxiety.
"Well it's scary. You show me a team with a lot of new faces and a lot of freshmen and I'll show you a team who struggles," Lebo said, "We got a lot of experiences players back but we lost four starters off last year's team. Probably 80 percent of our scoring is gone and that's a lot but that gives some opportunities to some new guys too."
With Miguel Paul, Shamarr Bowden and Maurice Kemp all graduated and Robert Sampson exiting to transfer to Georgia Tech, this season brings on a different kind of challenge.
6-10 center Marshall Guilmette and 6-8 banger Michael Zangari will be called upon heavily this season. Akeem Richmond can light it up from three point range. Richmond no doubt plays big in the game plan for East Carolina shooting three pointers from the arc.
"We've had team workouts and weights three or four times a week. Pretty much the same as last year, individual work and lots of basketball," said Guilmette, "It's going to be really different this year. We've been working very hard. It's going to be a team effort to try to make up for what we lost."
"It's a great feeling. We've been celebrating since the end of last season but now it's time to get back to day one and back to the grind," Richmond said, "I know I come in here at 1 or 2 o'clock, in the morning if I want to and just shoot up shots.
Richmond hopes to take it to the next level this season and says he feels like ECU will be pretty good this year.
"We're trying to go higher than the CIT this year whether it's the NIT or the NCAA's. The program is really rising. We're just going to continue to work hard and try to compete with these teams. I feel like we have a lot of potential with the new guys. Other guys are just going to have to step up. I feel like we'll be pretty good this year," Richmond said."
Then there are the new players. Like Brandon Stith, who is the son of Virginia and NBA great Bryant Stith, will have to grow up on the fly. So will point guard Antonio Robinson out of Louisburg College who is a solid ball handler. He has faced many of the best in the junior college ranks and appears up to the challenge.
6-6 Caleb White and 6-3 guard Greg Alexander are names to remember who can shoot the basketball and can get out on the fast break. They both hold great potential for the Pirates.