The excitement about East Carolina’s upcoming basketball
season is building. Gabriel Mikulas senses it.
“We had a pretty good season last year so people are
expecting us to perform like last season, maybe even better,” said the
junior frontcourt player from Argentina. “We’re focusing on having a good
Mikulas was unavailable to the Pirates until early January
last season because of NCAA sanctions. He had played in a league in
Argentina with professionals. His absence — along with that of post man
Moussa Badiane, who was involved in a similar situation in France — hindered
the Pirates not only from a personnel standpoint but in developing team
“I’ll definitely be looking forward to playing the entire
season,” said Mikulas, the Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the year
as a freshman in the 2000-01 season. “It was not nice to be sitting out that
many games last year. That’s over and now I’m trying to focus on playing the
full season and start from day one to play every game.”
The biggest effort made by ECU coach Bill Herrion and his
staff in the offseason was to augment the returning frontcourt of Mikulas,
Badiane and Erroyl Bing with scoring from the perimeter.
Luke Mackay and Derrick Wiley are junior college transfers
in the backcourt. Mackay, an Australian, is more of a shooter while Wiley is
a versatile scorer with driving ability.
Belton Rivers is a freshman guard who can drive. The Pirates
also added freshman forward Corey Rouse from Kinston and junior college
forward Garth Grindley.
“Belton is probably one of the best drivers on the team,”
Bing said. “He’s very strong. He’s very controlled with the ball and he’s
got a pretty good outside shot. Derrick is really athletic. He can get to
the lane. He’s a good slasher. Luke is a very good stationary 3-point
shooter. I think those are going to be very good additions to our team if
we’re going to succeed in this conference.”
Bing, who did a great job of shouldering the inside load
until Mikulas and Badiane arrived last season, helped the Pirates establish
immediate credibility in Conference USA with five home wins.
“I think we got a lot of confidence, showing that we could
play with big time teams in this conference,” Bing said. “I think it’s going
to help us. We’ve still got to learn to win on the road. Winning at home — I
think we have a lot of confidence in that.”
The Pirates did not win a game last season on the court of
an opponent, although they did post wins over Rutgers and Northwestern in a
season-opening tournament in Raleigh.
“Our goal is to get to postseason play,” Bing said. “To do
that we’ve got to be able to win on the road. We’ve got some experience here
and if we just come together as a team we can continue to build as a
Bing feels the Pirates will be more competitive during the
early non-conference portion of the schedule because the team will be full
strength with Mikulas and Badiane. After the season opener on Friday, Nov.
22, at Middle Tennessee State, the Pirates will return home to face Ole Miss
at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24.
Those two games are great opportunities, with the opener
offering a chance to get a road win of any description and the second one,
in Williams Arena, to gain additional credibility against a Southeastern
“I don’t know too much about Ole Miss but I know that they
should be prepared because anything can happen in Minges (Coliseum).”
Herrion must teach the new players his system.
“We have a good handful of veterans that have been through
the program and through the system,” said the ECU coach. “They kind of know
the deal and what’s going on, but we’ve also got five newcomers. ... The one
thing you can’t do is assume is that the new guys know exactly what’s going
on and know how to play.
“The thing we’re trying to establish right now in the early
part of practice is, we’re using it as an evaluation period. We evaluate
these kids every day but we’re also trying to establish a competitive
environment, an ability to play hard and compete hard. The first days have
been really good from that standpoint.”
Herrion often appears at a Pirate Club luncheon before
returning to Greenville in the afternoon for practice as he did to a group
at the Golden Corral in Rocky Mount on Tuesday. Herrion is a tireless worker
who is seeking to develop his fan base even as he strives to develop his
team for the upcoming season.
“The move to Conference USA and going through it for a
season last year has opened our fans' eyes to the level of basketball we
have in this league and the national programs that you bring here to
Greenville when you bring a Louisville, a Cincinnati, a Marquette,” Herrion
said. “We were fortunate to answer the bell last year with this whole
Conference USA thing.
“Our first league game here with Cincinnati, we had a full
house and we played the 12th or 13th-ranked team in the nation and we really
competed for 40 minutes. We played with them and that opened up a lot of
eyes. We had a great win against Louisville for our first league win and
then we beat Marquette in late February when they were the 9th-ranked team
in the nation. The excitement with our fans is because we were able to do
some good things last year in the league.”
race back to square one
Southern Miss had an opportunity to take a big step in the
Conference USA football race on ESPN2 on Wednesday night at Texas Christian.
But it didn’t happen for the Golden Eagles as the Horned Frogs never trailed
decisive 37-7 victory.
The outcome means that there are
no unbeaten teams at this point in league play.
That’s good for ECU because Southern Miss essentially slipped back into a
pack of league teams with one league loss that also includes the Pirates.
TCU moved to 4-1, its only loss (36-29) at Cincinnati to
open the season. Since then there have been seven straight wins for the
TCU leads the league. Southern Miss, Louisville and UAB are
all 3-1 in C-USA. ECU is 2-1.
“With one loss you’re still in the league race,” said
Pirates running back Art Brown.
“Conference play gives you hope deep into the season,” said
ECU coach Steve Logan.
TCU’s win over Southern Miss helped deepen that hope on
Wednesday night. ECU’s next home game just happens to be against those Frogs
on Nov. 23. The Pirates visit Houston (Nov. 9) and UAB (Nov. 16) in the
There’s still time for the Pirate ship to get turned around
for a league championship.