Greenville - Sir Charles himself, Charles Barkley found his way to the Pirate Nation on Saturday as the Pirate basketball team held an open practice at Minges Coliseum. ECU Head Coach Mack McCarthy was an assistant while Barkley was at Auburn from '81-'84. The two have remained friends for the last 27 years and Barkley offered his services to raise a little excitement as well as talk to the team about the upcoming season.
Barkley met with fans before the scrimmage, signed autographs and took pictures. After the scrimmage, the Round Mound of Rebound spent time answering questions for the several hundred fans.
Coach Mack and Barkley met with members of the media Saturday to talk about their relationship as well as Barkley's involvement with the program. Below are selected quotes from their media session.
ECU Head Coach Mack McCarthy
"We had a lot of meetings in the off-season about how to get interested drummed up for East Carolina basketball. We did a lot of brainstorming to try to come up with some unique things; this was not one of the things we talked about.
"Charles and I talked about two months ago and he said very benevolently, what can I do to help? We kicked around some ideas and came up with this possibility. We've got a lot of people wanting to help us establish a consistently good atmosphere and this was a step toward that. We want to do everything we can to let the fans know that we are going to be here and we are going to get this thing going. We appreciate Charles coming very much."
"What Charles did at Auburn is exactly what we are trying to do here. He had a single big impact. We don't have that guy, but we have a group of guys who have to go into a situation without a great deal of basketball tradition, without a great deal of enthusiasm about basketball, but with some people who really want us to do well in basketball. It's not as simple as just show up and be good and you're going to change the program. There is a certain mentality.
"When Charles spoke to the team earlier, he told them how hard it was going to be. At Auburn, they had never been to the NCAA Tournament before Charles got there and we didn't go immediately when he got there, but because he was there and having success we attracted others and that's the challenge this group has; to make this program reach those kind of heights. I think our guys have that mentality, but I'm not sure they understand how hard it is to change the momentum of the program, which has not been positive. We've got it going forward, we've just got to keep it going forward.
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Charles Barkley
"This has been a lot of fun. I've gotten to interact with a lot of people. I enjoyed watching the team. The game is somewhere now, I'm not sure where it is, but to go back and be around younger kids that haven't been jaded by the system is cool."
On what led him to come to participate in the event
"My relationship with Mack. Mack had me at Auburn, I followed him at VCU and now I'm following him here. I have no relationship with the people at VCU, I just went up there because of my relationship with these guys. I like to see people who have helped me be successful and that's important."
On his relationship with Mack
"I was leading the SEC in rebounding, but Mack was on me all the time. I didn't appreciate it until later. Great coaches will push your buttons all the time, but a lot of times young kids, myself included, don't understand it. I was lazy and fat in college, but I was successful because I was really talented. Then when I got to the NBA I wasn't better than everybody else. I asked Moses Malone why I wasn't getting to play and he said because you are fat and lazy. It was different coming from Moses Malone than it was from these guys. They were right and I was wrong. When I started being successful I kept in contact with this guys. Mack, Sonny (Smith) and my high school coach all had a great influence on me and if they call and ask me to do something I'll do it if I can."
On his impressions of the ECU basketball team and program
"They've got bigger players than I thought and they've got more talented players than I thought. Sometimes when I visit schools like this, they've got a bunch of little guys; and I was like wow you've got some big guys. I also think they've got a lot more talent than people give them credit for. They've got six or seven guys in the 6-4, 6-5 range and couple of guys 6-8, 6-9, so they're going to be able to compete.
"This is a great challenge because this is not a basketball place, but the rewards are worth it. But as player, you have to say to yourself we can do better. There is no reason for this school not to do better. I like this city for the reason that college towns are cool. When you are in a city and the college is the big deal, I think that's pretty cool. Basketball season shouldn't be something you do until football starts again. I hate that mentality."
On his stance on education
"You see so many horror stories where guys haven't got their education. Now that I am who I am and I get a chance to go speak to these kids I try to explain to them the system. To be successful it takes a lot of effort."
On the possibility of him coaching in the future
"They call me every year and ask me if I want to coach and I say about as much as I want to go out and play in traffic."