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View from the East
Monday, December 30, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Herrion: Pirates need to rediscover 'chip'

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East Carolina basketball coach Bill Herrion expects to find out sometime today if Pirates senior point guard Travis Holcomb-Faye has improved his academic standing to the point that the coach will allow him to play tonight against Marquette, ranked No. 13 by the Associated Press last week.

Holcomb-Faye is eligible by NCAA standards but Herrion imposed a suspension starting with the George Mason game on Dec. 19 until his first ECU recruit resolved some scholastic issues.

Herrion has taken a stance regarding academic expectations and that’s admirable, even though it definitely hinders the team’s competitiveness. College sports, after all, start with college.

With Holcomb-Faye, the Pirates were 7-0 and matched the best start in school history. Without him, they’re 1-2 with a 66-56 loss to George Mason and, most recently, 90-71 losers at Coastal Carolina.

Holcomb-Faye is the school’s career assist leader and he scored 15 points in last year’s 51-46 win in Greenville over Marquette, which was then ranked No. 9. That was ECU’s first and only basketball win over a Top 10 team.

Tonight's game was originally scheduled for March 5, during ECU’s spring break, but was moved to avoid a conflict with the NCHSAA Eastern regionals. It gives the Pirates a steep challenge in their Conference USA opener.

“Obviously, it’s a conference game and that makes it more important,” Herrion said. “Obviously, they’re ranked and that means it’s a great opportunity for our basketball team.”

But, even if Holcomb-Faye is available there will be some differences in this season’s matchup.

“Last year was our first time through Conference USA,” Herrion said. “We were trying to figure out who we were and what we were about. People realize our arena is a tough place to play and we’re not going to sneak up on anybody this year. That’s an important thing that our guys have got to realize.

“I think we earned some respect but the landscape is different now. Obviously, we beat Marquette last year so I think they’ll be more ready to play and respect us more this year.”

The Warriors, 8-1 with their only loss coming to Notre Dame, are led by 6-foot-5, 210-pound shooting guard Dwayne Wade, who is leading Conference USA with a 25.3-point scoring average.

“Obviously, they’re a heckuva basketball team,” Herrion said. “We’re real concerned with Dwayne Wade. Arguably, he’s the best player in the league. He’s a real handful and they’ve added a transfer, Robert Jackson, who started as a sophomore and junior at Mississippi State. He’s a big, wide body — a physical presence inside.”

Jackson (6-10, 260) is averaging 17.2 points and 8.8 rebounds. The Pirates will likely match up with junior college transfer Derrick Wylie on Wade and junior forward Gabriel Mikulas on Jackson.

ECU freshman Belton Rivers will draw Marquette point guard Travis Diener, who is averaging 9.9 points and 6.1 assists. Moussa Badiane, ECU’s career leader in blocked shots, will guard Warriors forward Scott Merritt, who is averaging 10.2 points and 7.1 rebounds.

Erroyl Bing of the Pirates will take sophomore forward Todd Townsend in what projects as ECU’s toughest test this season.

Tom Crean has earned respect nationwide for his role in the re-emergence of the Marquette program and is in his fourth year as Warriors coach.

“They’re as well coached and disciplined, as fundamentally sound and tough as anyone you’ll play against,” Herrion said. “They don’t beat themselves.”

Notre Dame shot and made a lot of 3-pointers in turning back the Warriors but Herrion won’t try to copy that approach.

“Our team the last two years took a lot of threes,” Herrion said. “But our game plan is not going to change.”

Herrion would like to work inside-out, going first to his experience in the frontcourt for offensive production.

The Pirates must also be ready mentally.

“I don’t know if we’ve played with the same energy or the chip that we had the first seven games,” Herrion said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about in practice the last several days. We’ve got to play with that edge, that chip because we’re not going to out-talent anybody. We’ve missed that the last few games and we’re trying to get that back.”

C-USA teams know more what to expect from ECU and the Pirates know more about the challenges of the league.

“We were just trying to prove to ourselves that we belonged in this league last year,” said the ECU coach. “We answered that — if we play hard, compete and guard people. We want to take the next step and win more games and it’s a real key to take care of the home court. This is a real opportunity. I think we’re going to have a good crowd.”

Fans can buy a package deal that includes four tickets, four soft drinks and four hot dogs for $50. The ticket office will be open this morning (1-800-DIAL ECU or 328-4500 in the Greenville local calling area)

Still, the Pirates must regain something that has been missing in the recent losses.

“I don’t know if it’s the holidays or what,” Herrion said. “But we’ve got to get back to playing a certain way. That’s how we’re going to be successful.”

Holcomb-Faye could provide a spark if he comes back.

“I’ve got to be convinced that he’s going to take care of things he needs to take care of as we move on,” Herrion said. “Then I can make a better decision as to whether he plays or not. ... If Holcomb-Faye is out, we’re not going to fix that overnight. We become very young with him out and that’s what we’re battling right now. Hopefully we can work through it and get him back in the mix.”

Herrion on Thompson

Herrion was on hand at the Murphy Center when new football coach John Thompson was introduced on Dec. 20 and shared his first impressions of his new colleague.

“I was really impressed,” said the basketball coach. “More from the standpoint that the guy really said a lot of the right things. I was impressed with his energy and enthusiasm.”

Herrion thinks Thompson’s personality is the right fit for the Pirates.

“At a place like East Carolina, at least in basketball, a lot of people wonder why I’m so intense and have so much energy and enthusiasm — almost more than the players do,” Herrion said. “It’s because the kids we get have to overachieve and play at a higher level.”

Two pieces of the puzzle

Thompson has named two members of his coaching staff, retaining running backs coach Jerry McManus from the previous staff and naming Florida linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Odom as defensive coordinator.

Thompson is considering how the staff will function as a unit in putting it together and he seems to have put two valuable pieces into place.

Odom has been a fulltime assistant for just two years but played on a high level at Florida and in the Arena Football League. He will have Thompson’s vast defensive background to draw from in his new responsibilities and he should also provide a recruiting presence for the Pirates in football-rich Florida.

Thompson won’t have to withdraw cold turkey from coaching defense and Odom’s maturity as a coordinator will hopefully correspond to Thompson’s development as a head coach.

McManus has been with the program for seven years. Leonard Henry in 2001 and Art Brown in 2002 have each run for over 1,000 yards.

McManus also has recruited ECU’s hotbed, the area East of I-95 in North Carolina. That’s still valuable territory even though Thompson appears intent on expanding the recruiting base.

It’s also important to have someone familiar with the background of the players in the program during a coaching transition and McManus can provide that.

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02/23/2007 12:57:48 AM
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