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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Friday, March 12, 2004

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Football percolates, basketball shifts modes


It's halftime for East Carolina's spring football practice and intermission will have a lengthy duration as the Pirates take time off for spring break.

A full scrimmage on Thursday saw a recurring problem with turnovers, which may not be an entirely bad thing since they were generated by ECU's defensive unit.

Patrick Dosh, a transfer at quarterback from Florida, threw four interceptions. James Pinkney, who was tossed into the fray last season as a freshman after an injury to starter Desmond Robinson, had three passes picked off.

"We turned the ball over way too many times," said coach John Thompson. "On the other hand, the defense created turnovers."

Pinkney completed 12 of 22 passes for 177 yards for the best numbers of the day. Robinson was 4 for 11 for 84 yards with no interceptions and Dosh completed 8 of 26 for 95 yards.

"James Pinkney played well," Thompson said. "He probably had the best day. We've got to eliminate mistakes. We've put a lot in on both sides and the defense is probably a little bit ahead. We'll take a break and zero in and see if the offense can catch back up."

The passing game was hindered by the running game being at less than full strength. Art Brown is being withheld from full contact as he comes back from a knee injury that sidelined him last season and Marvin Townes was out with an ankle injury.

Junior Tyrece Hayden, a converted receiver, ran nine times for 74 yards and Robert Tillman had 24 carries for 104 yards. Tillman also had a 56-yard scoring pass from Robinson.

Kevin Roach was the top receiver with four catches for 44 yards. Cameron Broadwell had field goals of 43 and 28 yards.

Patrick Dickerson, a walk-on from Wake Forest-Rolesville, had two of ECU's seven interceptions at outside linebacker. Defensive lineman Shauntae Hunt had three sacks and a stop for a safety. Mickey McCoy was credited with a pair of sacks.

Several players are working at new positions. Lorenza Pickett has moved from defensive line to fullback. Kort Shankweiler has moved from tight end to fullback and Tutu Moye has shifted from tight end to linebacker.

The Pirates return to spring practice on Tuesday, March 23. The spring game is March 27 and spring workouts are scheduled to conclude on April 1.

Basketball recruiting intensifies

With the men's basketball season concluding with a 61-54 loss to Louisville in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament in Cincinnati on Wednesday night, the ECU coaches turn their attention to recruiting.

Coach Bill Herrion plans to attend the North Carolina state championship games in Chapel Hill on Saturday and will leave on Monday for next week's national junior college tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Pirates signee Mike Castro has led his junior college team into the national tournament and was named MVP of the Maryland area regional. At 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, he will provide the Pirates with a physical rebounder. ECU has also signed 6-10 Charles Bronson of Philadelphia.

"With the emergence of Moussa Badiane, Charles will give us the possibility of playing two 6-10 players next year," Herrion said. "He's an offensively-skilled five man who can play with his back to the basket or face up."

Forward Keith Foster, who was sitting out this season as a freshman non-qualifier, will "take advantage of other opportunities," according to Herrion.

The Pirates have just two scholarships left to award unless NCAA limitations are changed. ECU could have just 10 scholarship players next season out of a possible maximum of 13.. The NCAA may repeal Division I restrictions that limit programs to eight grants over two years and five grants per class, a move Herrion favors.

"When it was instituted, it was aimed at coaches running kids out of programs," Herrion said. "The focus was on retaining players."

But what's a program to do when players elect to transfer?

Herrion is thinking in terms of perimeter players with two remaining grants under current limits.

The roller coaster

ECU started fast in its non-conference basketball schedule, then struggled at the outset of league play. The Pirates won their first ever C-USA road game at South Florida and then finished with wins in four of their last five league games, including a 63-50 triumph at Southern Miss.

The team had to adjust to the loss of starting senior center Gabriel Mikulas to a broken arm in mid-January.

"Mikulas got hurt and I don't think anyone knew where this team was going," Herrion said. "The kids, to their credit, hung in there and this team got better as the season went on. I'm proud of this team. They had a decision in January. They could have rolled over and folded but they persevered."

The bottom line was 13 wins, one more than last season, and five league wins — against a revamped C-USA scheduling format — which was two more wins than last year. More importantly, perhaps, Herrion doesn't feel his team is overmatched nearly to the extent that it was at one time in one of college basketball's premier conferences.

"In three short years in this league, we've proven we can compete and play with just about anybody in this conference," Herrion said. "We've really closed the gap from an athletic standpoint. The first two years it seemed like everybody had better athletes and was quicker to the ball. Just watching our game with Louisville, it seemed like we were just as quick and I think we were physically stronger than Louisville."

Cook, McNeil point guards of the future

Mike Cook emerged as a scoring threat for the Pirates and made C-USA's all freshman team. Another freshman, Japhet McNeil, started at the point earlier in the year.

"We kind of knew at the beginning of the year that Mike Cook had the potential to be a very good player," Herrion said. "The question mark was that he had to understand that he had to play hard all the time. He had been able to get by in high school and in prep school on his physical ability.

"He's a player who needs the ball in his hands and he's very good with the ball. He's not a speedy, blow by you guy. As he gets older his decision making will get better. When he develops a consistent 3-point shot he's going to be that much tougher to play."

McNeil brings a different set of skills to the table.

"We've got two young point guards with a different set of abilities," Herrion said. "Japhet is quick in transition. He's a good defensive player on the ball with his quickness."

Rising sophomore Frank Robinson may be the heir to senior Derrick Wiley, the team's leading scorer, at small forward. ECU also loses rugged rebounder Erroyl Bing.

"We had some young kids get tremendous experience," Herrion said. "That will help us in the future."

Putting the schedule together

The ECU Pirates were snowed out of a trip this season to play Seton Hall, but Herrion has been assured that the Big East's Pirates will give strong consideration to playing in New Jersey next season. Other elements of the non-conference schedule include return trips to Gardner-Webb and Hampton. The series with Old Dominion will likely resume in Greenville.

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02/23/2007 12:45:15 AM

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