Fresh off a school-record 23 wins last season and a CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship there is plenty of excitement surrounding the East Carolina program this season. The Pirates opened the $17 million Smith-Williams Center, which houses a practice gym, coaches' offices, locker rooms, player lounges and athletic training room in August. Things have never been more positive surrounding East Carolina basketball.
The realization of a practice facility shows that the school is committed to improving its basketball profile and not a moment too soon with its impending move the American Athletic Conference next season. For now, fourth-year head coach Jeff Lebo must find a way to replace more than 70 percent of the team's scoring and 79 percent of its rebounds.
ECU lost leading scorer Maurice Kemp (18.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and two-time C-USA assist leader Miguel Paul (13.3 ppg, 7.2 apg) to graduation. Forward Robert Sampson (9.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg) transferred to Georgia Tech during the summer and Ty Armstrong (9.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg) left school just days before the official start of practice.
That leaves junior Paris Roberts-Campbell as the Pirates' lone returning starter. He made 30 starts last season averaging 5.6 points and 1.8 assists per contest and is expected to share more of the scoring load this season with senior Akeem Richmond.
The hero of the CIT championship, Richmond enters his final season eligibility with 261 career 3s, second most among all active players. He is the Pirates' leading returning scorer, averaging 10.9 points per game despite coming off the bench in all 35 games. Richmond is sure to get most of the opponent's attention when he's in the game, so the more inexperienced post players must develop to combat perimeter defenses.
Sophomores Marshall Guilmette and Michael Zangari look to help fill the void left by Armstrong, Kemp and Sampson down low. The duo combined to average 5.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Other than Roberts-Campbell and Richmond, no returning player averaged more than Guilmette's 13.3 minutes per game.
Waiting in the wings are three transfers: Keith Armstrong (Robert Morris), Michel Nzege (Winston-Salem State) and Terry Whisnant (Florida State), who must all sit out this season in compliance with NCAA rules, but who are certain to push their teammates in practice everyday along with walk-ons Francis Edosomwan and Petyon Robbins.
Sophomore Prince Williams, who ranks fourth behind Guilmette in minutes played among the returning player with 5.0 per game, will man the point guard spot alongside junior college transfer Antonio Robinson. At 6-foot-5, Williams gives the Pirates a big point guard with a more physical style than his predecessor. Robinson, a junior college All-American, was named his region's Player-of-the-Year last season. He is a classic pass-first point guard who the coaches would like to see become more aggressive at creating his own offense. Senior Petar Torlak will also add depth to the position.
The Pirates' trio of Virginia freshmen are likely to offer assistance both in the post and on the perimeter. Brandan Stith is already regarded as one of the team's top rebounders and should help with the inside scoring - the 6-7 forward averaged 19.3 points and 10.1 rebounds last season at Brunswick High School, leading his team to its third consecutive state title. Rookie Caleb White offers the Pirates some versatility as a small forward and has an impressive upside for the future. Greg Alexander has an eye for the basket and gives ECU another shooter from the perimeter.
Waiting in the wings are three transfers: Keith Armstrong (Robert Morris), Michel Nzege (Winston-Salem State) and Terry Whisnant, who must all sit out this season in compliance with NCAA rules, but who are certain to push their teammates in practice everyday along with walk-ons Francis Edosomwan and Petyon Robbins.