East Carolina started the basketball season with a
goal of postseason play, the NIT or the NCAA Tournament. When the record was
7-0 and later 10-2 there was a perception that the program had turned a big
The subsequent reality of the rigors of competition in
Conference USA showed that the Pirates still aren’t there.
Gradually the goals changed to making the Conference USA
Tournament and having a winning season, neither of which will happen — and
yet there is reason to be optimistic about the future.
The basis for that optimism is the man at the controls,
Coach Bill Herrion. Despite what might be perceived as a midseason demise
this season, he has a grasp of where the program is, where it needs to go
and a willingness to work as hard as he has to in order to make it happen.
He and assistant Greg Herenda were in the ECU basketball office Sunday night
working on recruiting.
Few people in college athletics are into taking solace in
losing to heavily favored opponents by narrow margins and Herrion is no
exception, but close games at Cincinnati and Louisville this week represent
“Obviously, what we can’t get caught up with is settling for
moral victories,” Herrion said. “We’re trying to win every single game we
play but from the coaching standpoint you have to look at the big picture. A
year ago we lost at Louisville by 33 and at Cincinnati by 27. Some people
might say those teams are down a little but I think we’re a little better,
Still, ECU has lost 12 of its last 14 games.
“The frustrating thing is that the kids are playing hard,”
Herrion said. “And we’ve played better basketball the last couple of weeks.
We don’t have anything to show for it. That’s the frustrating thing.”
The Pirates close out the regular season at 11 a.m. on
Saturday with a home game against Saint Louis. The students will be on
spring break this week which will allow the team to practice early in the
day so Herrion can make some relatively short recruiting trips at night.
Herrion plans to go to a junior college tournament in Kansas on Saturday
night after the Saint Louis game and be there most of next week.
ECU has signed forward Keith Foster of Winston-Salem
Reynolds but whether he will qualify academically is questionable. If Foster
qualifies, Herrion said the Pirates will have two more scholarships. If
Foster doesn’t make it, there will be three grants available.
ECU will go after a point guard with Travis Holcomb-Faye
finishing his eligibility, and more scoring help from the perimeter. The
offensive needs from outside are similar to last year when ECU brought in
freshman guard Belton Rivers and junior college transfers Luke MacKay and
Derrick Wiley. Rivers was plagued by inconsistency in his first year on the
college level, MacKay’s mobility has been hindered by injuries and Wiley is
a scorer although not a great shooter.
One thing ECU did early this year was win non-conference
games and the Pirates snapped a winless string on the road with wins at
Middle Tennessee State, Radford and Old Dominion..
“Before the season we had to prove we could win
non-conference games and we did that,” Herrion said.
The Pirates had wins over Ole Miss, Old Dominion and
Virginia Tech and opened C-USA play with a stunning 73-70 win over
“I think we got knocked back on our rear ends a little bit
with the road game at Charlotte and the home game with Louisville,” Herrion
said. “Those games knocked us back and took our confidence. What we really
are finding out is that it’s really a tough league. If people who follow our
basketball team don’t realize that then they’re missing something.
“This league collectively may be better than last year.”
Another factor that hindered the Pirates was the absence of
senior point guard Holcomb-Faye for five games due to an academic
suspension. His absence coincided with losses to George Mason and Coastal
Carolina. When the coach suspends his only senior, there are obviously
questions about the upperclassman’s leadership.
Last year, the Pirates may have taken a few teams by
surprise in C-USA.
“The second time through people were more prepared and we
didn’t sneak up on anybody,” Herrion said. “We’re not there yet. We need to
continue recruiting. We need to continue getting better people.”
The Pirates will also work to develop the players on hand
for the 2003-04 season.
“A couple of our guys did not have great offensive years,”
Herrion said. “Erroyl Bing had 37 threes last year. This year he’s made
eight. We went through a very difficult offensive year. We told Gabriel
Mikulas late in the season that he couldn’t lock in the low post with his
back to the basket. He had to step away and face up.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do with individual players.
Moussa Badiane has got to get stronger.”
Herrion also must maintain his focus in directing the
“If I give in to the frustration then we’re never going to
get it done,” said the ECU coach. “I know people are disappointed or
frustrated over the last month and a half. No one is more disappointed or
frustrated than me. It’s just an unbelievable building process. It might be
tougher than I ever thought it would be.”