GREENVILLE, N.C. - The East Carolina men's basketball team played host to the media during their annual media day. Coaches and players interacted with the members of the media prior to their final preseason team workout, one day before holding its first official practice on Saturday, Oct. 13.
Season Preview With Head Coach Jeff Lebo
As you enter your third season at ECU, how would you evaluate the program's progression since your arrival? "We are growing as a program. We are starting to have some expectations with our basketball program, which is always nice. Obviously there is a lot of changeover with the league and that continues to happen as we speak. I think we've gotten some of the things that I think are important in place already. We're going to play hard every night, we're going to learn how to defend and we're going to play together. Those are very important components to put in as you take over a program and that usually takes two or three years to get in place. We think those things are in place now. Our veterans know what to expect out there, what a practice will be like, what I'm expecting them to do consistently night in and night out. Hopefully when you have a true program, those older guys teach that to the younger guys. The coach doesn't even have to be involved."
What are your biggest priorities heading into the "official" start of practice? "The importance of timing and execution on the offensive end and defensively, putting in our man-to-man principles. Understanding positioning on the floor is really important and not making multiple mistakes defensively. I thought we did that too much last year."
What do you believe your strengths are heading into the start of the season? "I think we've got a lot of depth this year. We're young inside, but we've got a lot of bodies and I think we've got some legitimate size. The problem with that size is that we've got two true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and another big guy in Ty Armstrong, who wasn't played in two years. We really don't know what to expect from those guys. They've got 6-10, 6-9; they've got weight on them and we're going to be able to play a lot of different guys there together. We've got some experienced guys coming back at the power forward position in Robert Sampson and Maurice Kemp. We're inexperienced there, but our backcourt is very experienced and it starts with Miguel Paul at the point guard position."
Miguel Paul was named preseason first-team all-conference. What does he bring to the team and what makes him so valuable? "I like my point guard to be a scoring point guard when the opportunity comes. He was one of the leaders in the conference in assists; he was one of the leaders in steals. I think defensively he made a lot of improvements. We've got to be able to count on him to control is emotions more at the quarterback position. He was so excited to play last year that sometimes he got a little out of control. We've talked about and he's seen that. Hopefully he can channel that the right way this year and be the leader of our team. He knows he has to step up and be the quarterback, be vocal, say the right things and do the right things not only on the court, but also off the court and in the locker room."
Is there anybody other than him that you're looking to for leadership? "Corvonn Gaines, Shamarr Bowden, Erin Straughn, and Maurice Kemp are all guys that have played a lot of minutes for us that we're going to look toward for added leadership. We lost Darrius Morrow, who turned out to be a pretty good leader for us. We're going to have to pick up the pieces that he left for us. Somebody else along with Miguel is going to have to step and be a vocal leader for us. I'd really like to see Corvonn Gaines do that. I like to see my point guards be the vocal leaders."
In what ways will the newcomers in frontcourt (Armstorng, Guilmette, Kolo, Zangari) help compensate for the loss of Morrow? "It's going to be hard. We're going to have guys that haven't played and we don't really know what to expect from them just yet. They work awfully hard. It's the best group of shooting big guys I've ever had. Their ability to step out to shoot the ball from 15 feet and beyond is going to be really helpful."
Ty Armstrong hasn't played competitively since his freshman season at Auburn in 2010-11, what are your expectations for him? "Ty brings athleticism to us. He's got size, speed, strength and toughness. He brings some age to our young guys, he just doesn't bring a lot of playing experience due to injury and sitting out. He's a strong, physical, athletic body that we really need to bang inside."
The roster is loaded with players at the shooting guard and small forward positions. Could you talk about that group and how you envision it evolving over course of the year? "We've got a lot of guys that can the two and three positions. We've got all the guys back from last year that played for us, but also add Akeem Richmond to the mix. There is going to be a lot of competition there for minutes. When you have competition in practice everyday, I think that is a healthy thing. It helps individuals grow and your team grow. Paris (Roberts-Campbell) played very well for us at the end of the year and brings a lot to the table. I don't think you've seen the best from him, especially shooting the basketball. We're going to count on Shamarr Bowden to shoot the ball well again this season and Corvonn brings a lot of experience and can play the one, two or three. Akeem is going to bring a lot to us with his ability to make shots from the perimeter, but he'll have an adjustment period since he didn't play last year."
Essentially, you have the same personnel as last year minus Darrius Morrow. What are some of the other notable differences between this year's team and last year's team? "We've got a lot of depth this year. We can split up and have a really good practice. There isn't a lot of difference between number 15 on the team number one on the team. The best teams I've coached have had that. It really makes them focus and be accountable. When we step on the floor, they've got to be ready to practice and ready to compete. They've got to be sharp physically and mentally or else they're not going to play."
What type of chemistry has the team developed heading into the start of practice? "It's going to be a constant thing that we work on. We don't have roles defined just yet, but that will take place as we consistently get into practice and we learn more about our team. I think chemistry is more about players understanding their roles, what they're good at, how they can help the team win, what they can do each time they go on the floor and that all things are important. Scoring is obviously important, but there are other areas in which you can affect the game and get on the court to make a contribution. We are constantly emphasizing that to our players."
Do you expect to continue to play an up-tempo style this season? "We like to play fast, we want to play quick. We want to be able to have a good balance between inside and outside. We want to utilize the abilities of all our players, but we would like to play fast. You'll see us continue to mix defenses, perhaps even a little more this year with our better backcourt players. We might play a little more zone when we have a bigger lineup on the floor, but we'd like to be able to get up and down and score in the upper 70s and 80s each game if possible."
What will be the keys to having a successful season? "We've got to have someone at the two and three positions consistently shooting the basketball for us. We've got to have someone inside that we going to be able to go to when we need a basket inside. We don't know who that person is going to be, we may have to do it by committee. We hope someone will emerge at that position. I think the one area that we've got to get much better on is our transition defense and we've got to get better rebounding the basketball."
Player Quotes From Media Day
Senior Maurice Kemp
On things he worked on to improve his game
"I worked a lot on my perimeter game over the summer. The coaches told me after last season that they expected me to play on the perimeter a lot more this year. I've been working on everything that comes with that. Shooting, ball handling, ball screens and all the things that would help me become a better perimeter player."
On his expectations for the upcoming season
"We think we have a lot of really good pieces and we have more depth down low this season. I think this can be a special season for us and we are really excited about it."
Senior Shamarr Bowden
On goals for the upcoming season
"We haven't really talked much about our goals yet. We've really talked about how we want to give as a team maximum effort each practice; our dedication to doing whatever it takes to get better. I feel like from the end of last year until this year, we've made the transition. We got better towards the end of last year and I feel like that gives us good momentum heading into this season.
"I want to do whatever it takes to make our team better. I want to do more of the intangibles that I didn't do last year as much. I want to grab more rebounds, get more steals and just make more plays like making a deflection and grabbing a loose ball. This summer I really worked on doing things other than scoring."
On the makeup of the backcourt
"Every guard on our team brings something different to the table. With the depth we have, I don't think we should ever struggle. Of course you're going to have your tough times, but I feel like we have a lot of guys who can pick one another up."
Senior Corvonn Gaines
On his role this season
"I view myself as guard who does whatever coach needs me to do. I pride myself on defense. I want to be the defensive stopper that the team needs and the guy who stops the other team's top player."