2009-10 Basketball Season Preview
Oct. 15, 2009
East Carolina may have lost two of its best all-time three-point shooters, but the development of a core group of returning players - Jamar Abrams, Darrius Morrow, Chad Wynn and Brock Young - has third-year head coach Mack McCarthy feeling optimistic about his Pirates this season.
ECU returns eight lettermen from last year's 13-17 team, including three players with 24 or more starts, and another who started 11 games after Conference USA play began. The Pirates also added four highly acclaimed freshmen.
A year ago the Pirates were a perimeter-oriented team, setting school records for three-point field goals made and attempted. During the year ahead, ECU will be looking to get the ball in the paint more with a foursome of players listed at 6-foot-7 or taller.
"This upcoming season we should be more inside-oriented, a better passing team and an improved rebounding team," said McCarthy. "We have more players who can drive the basketball and finish in the half court and in transition.
"The problem is youth and the big question is whether anyone will develop into the consistent go-to guy, inside or out."
The maturation of Morrow and Wynn, along with the return of DaQuan Joyner and addition of 6-foot-9 freshman Darius Morales, will give the Pirates a much-improved frontline. With Joyner in the lineup, the Pirates had a plus-two average rebounding margin, while without him they were outrebounded by an average of two boards per game.
Statistically, ECU will look to improve its rebounding margin for a second consecutive season under McCarthy in 2009-10. The Pirates improved from 12th to ninth in Conference USA in rebounding offense last season.
"We made some strides to where [rebounding] wasn't a huge negative last year," stated McCarthy.
Morrow and Wynn, both Atlanta natives, return to anchor the Pirates' frontcourt and will each have the opportunity to emerge as the go-to guy.
While both players showed what they were capable of doing last season in spurts, coach McCarthy is looking for his towering duo to be more consistent this season and draw more attention to open space for their teammates.
An all Conference USA All-Freshman Team performer last season, Morrow became a steadier player as the year progressed as he averaged 10.4 points over the final seven games. He ranked among the top three rookies in both scoring and rebounding and is the fifth leading returning rebounder (6.7 rpg) in C-USA this season.
While he recorded a trio of double-doubles against non-Conference USA foes, Morrow's coming out party came in Dallas against SMU where he scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Pirates earn their first C-USA road win of the season.
"Darrius showed glimpses of his outstanding talent and will be more consistent," McCarthy commented. "He has proven that he can play with the best players in the league at his position."
McCarthy hopes that Wynn will also surface as a player that can compete among the best at his position.
"Chad was dominant in several games last season and has worked really hard to improve his agility and conditioning," he explained. "It's now up to him to become more consistent."
Wynn showed that he has the potential to put up big numbers on numerous nights last season, including a 21-point output at Rice, 16-point performance against Marshall and a 12-rebound game at Clemson. He also has the ability to be a defensive presence and returns as the second-leading shot blocker in the league.
Joyner makes his return to the court after missing most of the 2008-09 season with an injury. He played in the first five games last season before being shut down. Although he has only played in 17 games since arriving on campus, Joyner has been able to observe from the sidelines and gain a better perspective on how to play.
In his final game before being lost for the season, Joyner scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds against VCU, providing a glimpse of what type of player he could become.
The addition of Morales gives the Pirates a long and athletic player in the post whose defensive skills are ahead of his offensive potential as the fall semester begins. He spent the summer playing for Puerto Rico in the FIBA U19 World Championship. His development over the course of the season could pay dividends for the Pirates during conference play.
Responsible for distributing the basketball again this year will be Young, the league's leader in assists per game last season. He finished his sophomore campaign ranked second in the NCAA in assists per game (7.6), second only to Oakland's Jonathan Jones, and set a new school record for assists in a season with 227.
Young is the Pirates' top returning scorer and one of only two players on this year's roster to average double figures last season. He ranked third on the team in scoring last year, averaging 10.6 points per game. He led the team in double-doubles with six, including a 17-point, 14-assist performance against Rice.
The only other player to average double figures scoring last season was Abrams, who numbers steadily improved as the season progressed.
Abrams averaged 8.0 points against non-conference opponents, before compiling and 11.8 points per game average versus Conference USA foes, scoring double figures in nine league games. He was the Pirates' second leading scorer in conference play and its top rebounder (5.9 rpg).
In the home finale against UAB, Abrams recorded the first double-double of his career with 18 points and 10 boards, which was followed by a 13-point night at UCF to ensure that he finished the year averaging double figures.
"Jamar showed flashes of being that [go-to guy]," McCarthy said. "He became more consistent as the year went on and that bodes well for this season."
Jontae Sherrod and Chris Turner will each see action at the two-guard position. Both players saw limited action behind the starters last season, but will now be given the opportunity to play extended minutes.
Sherrod came off the bench to average 4.1 points as a sophomore, while Turner, who missed the preseason with an injury, averaged 3.3 points as a freshman reserve.
The Pirates' trio freshmen guards are also expected to compete for a vast amount of playing time. Wakefield Ellison and Erin Straughn are natural wing players who are very skilled, while Corvonn Gaines is primarily a ball handler.
"All of our freshmen will have a chance to play right away," McCarthy said. "These four joining our returnees give us more depth than we had a year ago. This will certainly be beneficial playing the up-tempo style we like to play."
Walk-ons Greyson Sargent, Howard Hurt and Evan Salzano add backcourt depth. Sargent is the only senior on the team and has been one of its most valuable players. Hurt redshirted last season and is expected to be a bigger asset this year. Salzano was invited to walk-on the team after spending his first year of college as a practice player for the ECU women's team.