Mack McCarthy's Letters of Marque
A "Letter of Marque" was a warrant issued by the government during wartime, entitling a privately owned ship to raid enemy commerce, or even attack enemy warships. Early letters of reprisal were issued to authorize the agent to pass beyond the borders of the nation and search, seize or destroy an enemy's vessel or fleet. Letters of Marque were abolished by the 1856 Declaration of Paris.
Each week Coach McCarthy will blog about the latest happenings in ECU basketball in his "Letters of Marque." In addition, he will answer selected questions regarding the program, the state of college basketball, and a myriad of other topics. Questions can be submitted by clicking the link below.
June 11, 2008
You all keep coming up with some interesting questions. I may have to ask some questions of you soon. Turn the tables on you so to speak. Anyway, here goes:
I continue to get questions about long-term success in the basketball program, and what steps we are taking toward that end. We talked last week about the stability needed--in all phases of the program. That will be key. The ingredient that will eventually become the overriding factor is talent. We have to identify, attract, retain, and develop talented players. Only time will tell, but we have the people in place to get this done. With this spring's signees, the indication is that we are headed in the right direction. Add those to the five freshmen from last year's squad and there is a positive trend. Overcoming the pecking order that exists in recruiting is difficult. We have to be very good evaluators as well as good salesmen. We occasionally will have to identify young men who might have been overlooked, and we will occasionally just have to beat the big boys head to head. Neither of these is easy, but they are possible. I've also been asked about the areas we recruit and recruiting junior college kids and transfers. First, we recruit all over, but we try to stay where we as a staff have contacts. Secondly, junior college players can answer some needs, even though everyone would like to have a young man for four years. Thirdly, there are transfers that make sense sometimes. We are not opposed to taking any young men from anywhere as long as they fit the standards we aspire to for Pirate Basketball.
Amazingly, I continue to get uniform questions. We had two new sets of uniforms last season. They were purple and gold and had East Carolina on the front. We will add two sets this coming season to those. One set will be white and it will be identical to the two new sets from last year. The other set will be gold and will be the style many teams wore last season, with very tight jerseys and the same old baggy shorts. This set will have the "PIRATES" script logo across the chest. The kids had a hand in picking out this set. Gold works well since we can wear it at home and away.
Our returning student-athletes are here for both summer sessions. The signees should join them for the second session. Most signees don't get out of high school in time to attend the first session. The guys are lifting four days a week with Danny Wheel and Mike Golden. We instituted a tough up-tempo program last season, which we thought generated some positive results and carryover to the court. They are working hard and then they play pickup ball about five days a week. Most of the kids also shoot a lot in the evenings. We are in and out of Williams Arena due to graduation and camps, but we at least have the Rec Center where they can go. Needless to say the practice facility in the plans is a huge deal. Around the clock access to facilities is very important to the success of any program. There are lots of dominoes that have to fall into place, but I've been told things are moving forward. It sounds like our tennis courts may move and that could be the location for the practice facility. I'm sure we'll have more updates on that in the near future.
We can practice as soon as school starts. We can do it in small groups for two hours a week until the middle of September, and then we switch to the entire squad for the same two-hour limit. The first official practice this year is October 17.
We are constantly evaluating our offensive and defensive schemes. Most coaches have some basics that they believe in and then they tweak it to fit a particular squad. We have more weapons offensively, and we need to play fast in order to best utilize these skills. Defense and rebounding are two areas we must improve in with next year's squad. How quickly the newcomers get acclimated to this level and how much last year's players have improved will dictate a lot of what we do strategically. We are anxious. It's going to be a long summer of anticipation waiting to get this group on the court.
I will continue to answer as many questions as possible each week. We are getting ready for summer camps. We have two individual camps for ages 7-17 and then we host a team camp in between the two-day camps. Our staff and players do a great job with the kids. We still have some spots open. Call the office at (252) 737-4592 if you are interested or know someone who is.
Go Pirates and let's keep talking positively about the future of East Carolina University!!!!
June 4, 2008
We had great response to last week's "Letters"! We had about 30 new e-mail questions and I will continue to attempt to catch up with the ones we didn't get to last week and answer as many new ones as possible. Let's keep this communication going.
As I mentioned last week, recruiting never ends. We can sign players to scholarships right up to the day that school starts in the fall. The "signing period" for the National Letter of Intent has passed, but this doesn't prevent young men from signing grant-in-aids (scholarships) for next season. We pursue leads daily to find prospects that fit our needs. International players have had a tremendous impact on the college and pro games and we are constantly cultivating these relationships. I have coached young men from Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Germany, Bosnia, Russia and other countries. ECU has had some outstanding international players in the past and it will continue to be part of our overall recruiting efforts. We get leads from both conventional and unconventional sources. Most of our data base information comes from scouting services and personal observation. We also get many references from high school coaches, alumni, parents of players, and other friends in the business. I have probably signed players from each of those categories over the course of time.
Another question I got was about what we look for in a prospect. This is not a simple question. Assuming the young man has a sound academic background and the character that we want in the program, we turn to the basketball part of the evaluation. Skills, size, and athleticism are probably the top areas we evaluate. You would love to have a well-rounded player, who is good in all three areas. However, usually there is some compromise. Then you have to figure out how a particular player's tools fit into what you already have on the team. I've seen teams that are very athletic and not skilled, and, conversely, I have seen teams that are very skilled, but not athletic enough to compete. One message asked about our shooting. Last season, we were 10th in Conference USA in field goal percentage, which is not good and would indicate a lack of shooting skill. We were sixth in the league in free throw shooting (69%) which was a significant improvement. However, we lead C-USA in three-point field goal percentage, which was outstanding at 38 percent. We were also third in the league in assists, which would indicate that our kids played very unselfishly and shared the basketball.
Non-conference scheduling is a beast of a challenge. We, along with our administration, have actually developed criteria which we think make sense for us. The criteria we use is posted below:
This is very important. We are guaranteed to miss quite a bit of class time due to the distances we travel in Conference USA. Therefore, we try to miss as little as possible during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
This is obvious from several different perspectives. Cost of travel to a game site is one budget consideration. We travel all over the country due to our conference schedule, flying to every away game and the conference tournament. Therefore, we feel should stay in our region as much as possible due to this factor. How much money we can make on a home game is also a factor. Some teams at our level and even below are paying exorbitant guarantees for home games. There is a limit to how much money we make on a home game, and losing money to bring in teams that, in general, the fans don't care about seeing doesn't make sense. Conversely, playing these guarantee games to make money would hurt us in several of the other criteria we have established (i.e. home and away schedule balance, team building, local and regional fan base). When we play a two for one series, like we are with Wake Forest or NC State, in order to balance the schedule we have to play a guarantee game. We make approximately $25,000 on a home game. The going rate for a "buy" game is between $50,000 and $100,000. This cost is growing each season. Simple math will tell you our administration has to balance the budget while funding 19 intercollegiate sports here at ECU. This definitely hurts the bottom line. The selling of season tickets is also a budgetary issue--maintaining enough home games and quality home games factors into our budget planning.
No successful team in America is playing more road games than home games. Several other factors such as budget, fans, recruiting, team building, and academics, impact this criterion. The budget considerations are obvious as it relates to season ticket packages and individual game ticket sales. Fans want to see you play on a regular basis. If you are traveling more than you are at home, they can't get into that regular routine. Recruits like to see you play at home in a great atmosphere, hopefully against quality competition. No one wins consistently on the road. Playing too many road games does not help you build a team. Academic considerations are also important in relation to playing as many home games as possible.
We want to provide as many good games as possible for our local and regional fans to see. Having as many home games as possible does this, and as many regional games as possible that the fans can drive to see. We have no true rivals in C-USA, although this will happen eventually. In the meantime, we will make it a priority to schedule as many of our rivals that our fans recognize (i.e. ACC, A-10, and CAA opponents). We also attempt to schedule as many Saturday night contests as possible for our fans' convenience. This has a surprisingly big impact on the budget line item. In any particular season, our needs and wishes may or may not coincide with some of the schools we wish to schedule.
Young men want to compete against the best teams in the country. We could play better teams by playing lots of road games where you have very little chance to win, you unbalance your schedule, you miss too many classes, your fans don't get to see you play, and you lose money on season tickets sales and cut into your fan base. We will play any good team on an even basis-- home-and-home. We have even compromised that slightly by playing some good teams twice at their place to get them here once. This is a problem, and you have to allow for that in balancing your schedule. One other way you can address the recruiting issue is to schedule games near the prospects' hometown. Most top programs do this and its something we are attempting to do as well. Prospects also want to play on winning teams that go to the NCAA Tournament. Therefore, considerations of winning and losing, and team building are factors in scheduling as it relates to recruiting.
We addressed this previously in another topic, but basically we haven't really developed any rivals in the C-USA yet. Therefore, we try for the regional rivals we cited earlier. This makes sense as it relates to travel, missed class time, budget issues, local and regional fan base as well as the established rivalry criterion.
This is a complicated issue. We need to play as challenging schedule as possible, while understanding a particular team's abilities and experience. The better and more experienced our team is, the tougher the schedule should be to prepare us for the C-USA slate. Winning is a habit. ECU hasn't had a winning season in a decade. We need for winning to become a habit. Recruiting is part of that. Coaching is part of that. Reasonable scheduling is a part of that. Putting together a schedule that challenges our team, yet prepares us to win and perform better as we go through the season, is our goal.
This is important as it relates to several areas of the basketball program. Our fans seeing us on TV is one area. Recruits seeing us play on TV is another. Fans seeing us play well and being motivated to come to more games is a factor. Television might also move games, from home to away or vice versa, or to neutral sites. This also impacts all of the other factors in our scheduling criteria.
III. The Future
Quite a few folks have asked how we are going to build a program that the University can be proud of in the future. I am not sure there's enough time or space to adequately answer this question to everyone's satisfaction. That being said, let me explain what I think has changed that gives us the very real chance to succeed when others have not. I think there is a real commitment by the University and athletic administration to compete in the league in which we play. This manifests itself in terms of finances and people and continuity. We have to spend the money in all phases that allow us to be competitive. Some of these areas which have improved are team travel, recruiting, academic support, strength and conditioning, coaching staff, equipment and supplies, video editing system, offices and locker room renovation, holiday tournaments and foreign trips. The staff extends way beyond the basketball offices, but it starts there. We have been very fortunate to assemble an experience and talented group of basketball coaches, and I think anyone who has had contact with them would affirm my thought on that subject. More than that, there are many people that have an impact on our program-- from strength and conditioning personnel to academic support to compliance to sports medicine to media relations to the Pirate Club to the business office to the facilities staff to tickets and marketing to the equipment room to the general athletic administration to the Student Pirate Club. All of these areas have a tremendous impact on the success of ECU basketball. I assure you there are quality people in all of these departments that contribute to what we are doing. The final piece of the puzzle is continuity-- in all of the aforementioned areas. It starts with the people around the program and eventually works down to the roster itself. Pirate Basketball can and will be successful. Ask the young men in the program and those coming into the program--you, too, will be convinced.
I said I would answer the question about the baggy uniforms. I am not a fan. The kids like them. We have deliberately ordered one set this year that are the very tight jerseys, which will address some of this. If you watch much TV basketball you see some of the same issues all over at every level. All manufacturers are different and sizing can even vary from uniform to uniform depending on where it is made. We are ecstatic about being with Nike and working through all of this with them. We are very fortunate to be working with Nike and they have really upgraded our equipment and being a "Nike" school has had a positive impact on our recruiting as well. I really want us to have the best looking uniforms anywhere and I think we get closer every year.
As I mentioned earlier the response to the "Letters of Marque" has been overwhelming, not only with questions, but a lot great and positive comments have been left. Below is one comment that was left by a professor here at ECU that I think gives you a little more insight about the kind of student-athletes we have on our basketball team. I thank everyone for their interest and support of Pirate basketball.
Talk to ya next week,
I am a professor here at ECU and my son and I attend every game. Against Rice, we forgot the game time got pushed back and showed up early. We ventured down to floor level to watch the shoot-around; you and many of your players came over to my three-year old son and slapped his hand and said hello. A little later that week my son was with me on campus and we saw Brock Young. Brock recognized us and shook hands with Brody; maybe he does this with all the kids. I just thought you should know that you have some special young men on your team and I think the community recognizes it. You and your players are class acts. From good people will spur good results. We are excited for next year. Good luck!! - Mike Behm
May 28, 2008
WOW! You Pirate fans are something else. Your reaction to our "Letters of Marque" feature has been overwhelming. I hope this type of response continues, even though I might have to hire a ghostwriter to help out. Nope. I will answer everything that I can. Many questions are similar and I will try to respond in general in those scenarios. In this first week the queries mostly dealt with the following areas: Gabe Blair, the 2008-09 season, recruiting, long-term outlook, scholarships and APR, and scheduling.
While I will keep you updated on what our staff is doing at a particular time of the year, this week I will answer as many questions as space allows. I am sure the length of this feature will vary, so just bear with me this week as to the length.
Gabe Blair's situation is still ongoing. In my mind, it has reached the point of no return, even though he hasn't made a final decision on where he is headed. He has been granted permission to talk to certain schools and is pursuing his possibilities. Gabe has handled this difficult decision with a great deal of class. We disagree on some issues, but I wish him nothing but the best wherever he lands. Gabe has been very solid academically, which is good for him and us. More on how his departure will affect our recruiting later in the "Letters".
In general I think APR is better talked about from our athletic administration, but I do want to address a few specific questions. The APR is just in its beginnings as an evaluation tool. There have been some unintended consequences, and the NCAA is reacting to those.
One tweak the NCAA has already made in the APR evaluation is that a student leaving in good standing with a 2.6 or better GPA doesn't hurt a program like it did before the change. For example, a player who left your program and was not in good academic standing in the past was 2-4 for that season. That was tough from which to recover. If they left and they were in good academic standing, they were a 3-4 for that season. Now, if they meet this new criterion, they are a 3-3. That's still not a 4-4 like a returning player, but it is better.
I've seen our situation explained many different ways, and it is complicated. The bottom line is this for next season: We will have 11 available scholarships for this season. Our in-season practice week will be 18 hours rather than 20. This only affects us for the first couple of weeks. Once we start playing games, we usually don't find time for the full 20 due to classes, travel, study hall, tutors, etc. We had a very good year APR-wise for 2007-08, and that is good news for the future.
Our program and administration have been very proactive in addressing the APR situation. Major improvements have been made over the past three seasons. When Coach Stokes came here, he implemented immediate steps to improve the academic performance. Not one player has become ineligible over those seasons, and the team GPA has improved from a 2.1 to over a 2.8. That is outstanding, and a tribute to the efforts of the players, our student development staff, and the emphasis put on academics by the coaching staff. That must continue.
The next part of the puzzle is retention. Sometimes we fail to realize this is not just an ECU issue, but also an epidemic in college basketball. Young men are transferring at record rates. You don't have to look very far away to see young men even leaving programs like Duke and North Carolina. Indiana, one of the most storied programs in the country, has only three returning players for next season.
We have to do a better job of identifying young men who want to be at East Carolina. We have to do a better job of identifying young men who can be successful here. Winning plays a part, too. College basketball is tough. Playing on a consistently losing team is even tougher. Winning doesn't solve everything, but it sure makes lots of things more palatable. Stability is a huge part of this equation. Hopefully, we have that now. The more continuity in and around our program, the more progress you will see. Some changes are unavoidable and some are even necessary, but the more stability the more success we will have.
Recruiting never ends. I get asked this all the time. "Ya'll finish recruiting yet?"-- Never Happens. Recruiting is a 24/7, 365-day process. You have to be relentless and our staff is. It is a complicated, challenging part of our chosen profession. Many talents are required to be successful in recruiting, but you better be relentless. We have had a great spring, and that is half the battle. Now we've got to get on to step two--making every athlete we have a better student, person, and player. We will continue to look for players who are a good fit for this team, and barring that we will look for available transfers or hold the scholarship for next season.
Next season is on a lot of folks' minds. Good. I'm glad you all are excited because we are too. We've lost six players, five who played significant minutes. That's not usually a recipe for improvement, but we have a chance to do just that. We are solid at the point with Brock Young and Raheem Smith. We have two of the best shooters in the conference returning in Sam Hinnant and James Legan and both are better. Jontae Sherrod had a year to acclimate to college life and is a talented athlete. Chris Turner is a perimeter player who has one-on-one ability and can really shoot the basketball. Jamar Abrams gained valuable experience playing the power forward last season, but also got to step out to take advantage of his perimeter skills. We might very well play four perimeter guys around one post. I have even had a of couple teams with five perimeter players which can be a very effective attack. Chad Wynn is improving daily. Last year was really his first year of playing regularly in a while due to injuries and red-shirting his first year here. He is ready to make a significant impact next season. Daquan Joyner is learning how hard and fast he has to play, and had a great year adjusting to the rigors of collegiate life. Darrius Morrow comes from a winning program and has skills, which should allow him to contribute from day one. He also has an infectious personality that generates enthusiasm all around him.
We are not deep inside, but I like our overall talent. Many successful teams around the country are using three and four guard offenses and making it work. We have more offensive weapons than any of our recent teams--that's good news. BUT, we have to rebound the ball and defend better.
I didn't get to every question, but I will eventually address them all--even the one about the baggy uniforms and the ones about scheduling. Thanks for your participation. This is going to be fun each week.
Now let's get to work selling out season tickets. We did it in football; we can do it in basketball! You want to know how we reach our long-term goals? Selling out Williams Arena every time we play would be a great start. Talk to ya'll next week.
May 22, 2008
Pirate Basketball Fans,
I have been approached by several fans about getting more updates concerning basketball during the off-season. Despite the quiet time on our website, there is still a lot of activity within our program. After talking with our media relations staff, we have decided that once a week I will post an update on the latest happenings surrounding ECU basketball on www.ecupirates.com. I will give you some insight on what we are doing to move our program forward, talk about the state of college basketball in general, or answer questions that you may have concerning the Pirates. Hopefully the response will be so great that I'll be unable to answer each question every week, but I'll make every attempt to answer all questions in a timely manner.
We will post this update on Wednesday each week. You can e-mail me your questions by clicking on the link above. I'm excited about this addition to our website and I hope it grows into something that will be both fun and informative.