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College Sports in the Carolinas
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View from the East
Thursday, October 31, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Herrion continues mission to lift Pirate hoops

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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 year.”

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 chemistry.

“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 program.”

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 Conference team.

“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.”

Football 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 in a 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 Frogs.

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 meantime.

There’s still time for the Pirate ship to get turned around for a league championship.

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02/23/2007 12:59:24 AM
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