East Carolina's first-year head men's basketball coach Ricky Stokes discussed a variety of topics regarding the 2005-06 season and the state of basketball within the Pirate Nation.
What are your thoughts on the newly aligned Conference USA as you prepare for your first season in the league?
"Conference USA still has some excellent teams and coaches. It's a great opportunity for East Carolina to play in such a competitive league. Two of the newest six members went to the NCAA Tournament last season and that will only enhance the competitiveness that lies within an already strong conference."
As you approach your first season at ECU, do you have certain goals for your team?
"Having a winning season is first and foremost for this team and I think that is a very attainable goal. It would be a great step to take for this program, which hasn't had winning season in nine years."
What types of playing style do you plan to utilize from and offensive and defensive standpoint?
" I think a large part of how we play will be dictated by the personnel we have, but we'd like to play an exciting brand of basketball. Incoming players give us some depth, but I'm not sure if that's enough depth to be able to do what we'd like to. We're going to reserve how we're going to play until we've had an opportunity to practice as team. We'd like to be a very fundamentally sound team that shares the basketball, plays aggressive defense and has good balance inside and out."
What coaches in the business have had an influence on your coaching style and philosophy?
"My high school coach, Coach [Terry] Holland, Dave Odom, Jeff Jones, Rick Barnes; I think you take piece of everyone you've had the opportunity to be associated with and work it into your own coaching philosophy. "
What some of the steps you think that need to be taken to develop a solid program at East Carolina?
"I think the biggest thing is being disciplined and accountable. There are no secrets to being successful. We have to work hard, both on and off the court, and we have to continue to increase our talent level. We have to get the most talented players that fit East Carolina."
One of the biggest weaknesses of the team last year was shooting the basketball. You tried to address that issue through recruiting. How would you assess the perimeter strength of the team heading into the season?
"We put a lot of emphasis on shooting the basketball with the returning players during their individual workouts in the spring and encouraged them to shoot more. We attacked that from a recruiting standpoint by signing two guys that can shoot the basketball because it was such an immediate need. Both shoot around 40 percent from three. Courtney [Captain] and Sam [Hinnant] can both do a myriad of things, but by enlarge their strength is shooting the basketball. Tom Hammonds has gotten quicker and stronger. He had a terrific freshman year and if he continues to shoot the ball, I think he'll have an even better sophomore year. We're looking forward to him taking the next step."
How have the returning players responded to the coaching staff and its methods?
"The kids have bought into doing what we want done. I'm excited about how hard they've worked in the weight room and the classroom, but I'm also very encouraged by how hard everybody has worked on their own. We had everybody here the first session of summer school and to me that sends a statement that they want to work on their game; they want to get better, stronger, faster and get ahead academically. The summer is when basketball players get better and much like the first summer session, we'll have everybody here, but one, for the second session."
What do you expect your approach to be with the newcomers? Will you bring them along slowly or will your lack of experience in certain areas accelerate their playing time?
"I think all five will have the opportunity to help us this year. The two junior college guys were both very successful at their previous stops and naturally we expect those two guys to have the most immediate impact. It's still too early to know essentially how deep we're going to be until we actually practice as a unit. I do believe we're going to competitive at every position with guys really challenging each other."
What was your assessment of the team following a spring of individual workouts?
"We worked a lot on fundamentals and shot the ball better, I thought, than the statistics from previous year showed. We concentrated on that and shot a lot of free throws, granted it wasn't in a game setting. I thought our attitude was where it needed to be as we spent a lot of time on offense. If we can sustain a high level work ethic, I believe we'll be successful."
With the loss of Moussa, there is a void left in the frontcourt. How will you fill that void?
"Moussa had a great career here and there is no way in the world that one person could replace him. By committee we'll have the opportunity to do some of the things he did. Naturally, his shot blocking and rebounding will be sorely missed, but hopefully we'll be able to fill that void by relying upon our team defense."
As a former opposing coach inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum, how would you describe the atmosphere created by ECU students and fans for home games?
"Its truly a great homecourt advantage. The Minges Maniacs [ECU students] are right on the floor; they're very vocal and really into the game and along with other Pirate fans create a unique homecourt advantage. When you walk out onto the floor and have that level of support it only raises your level of play. The benefits you gain from that type of environment are often immeasurable."
How do you feel about the coaching staff you assembled for your first year as head coach at ECU?
"It's an all-star cast and I hope the Pirate fans get a chance to meet them quickly because I don't know how long I can hold this group together. All of these guys are going to be head coaches again. Not only are they all outstanding coaches, but they're also excellent recruiters and more importantly great leaders of young men. If I had a wish list, this would've been it, so I couldn't be any more excited about having each of them on board."