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Thursday, October 6, 2005

By Al Myatt

Hoops recruit Blair proven under fire


Gabe Blair is excited about joining the basketball program at East Carolina and Pirate fans should be excited as well.

The 6-foot-8 recruit from Hope Christian in Kings Mountain, NC, recently became the second high school senior to commit to ECU in the current recruiting class.

That followed Blair's strong summer on the AAU circuit.

Blair more than held his own in AAU competition against teams featuring 6-8 Thaddeus Young of Memphis and 6-9 Brandan Wright of Nashville, TN, both of whom are rated as 5-star prospects. Young and Wright are both in the top five on's top 150 players in the 2006 high school class.

Blair's AAU team topped Stevens' team as Blair limited Stevens to 12 points this past summer. Blair's team lost to Wright's team, although Blair had 23 points and 12 rebounds.

Blair's summer exploits generated recruiting interest from Colorado State, St. Bonaventure, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia. His first recruiting visit was to Greenville. He subsequently took a trip to Colorado State but canceled the remainder of his visits after realizing he wanted to join Coach Ricky Stokes' building effort.

"I like the coaching staff, I like the players and I think I can make an immediate impact," Blair said Wednesday. " ... I like the campus, the workout facilities and I like the gym. I could see myself being there and being productive."

Rod Seaford coached Blair's Charlotte Royals AAU team. In his 24 years in AAU, Seaford has coached players such as former North Carolina standouts Antwan Jamison and Rashad McCants, as well as current Wake Forest player Justin Gray. Seaford will transition into the prep ranks to guide the independent Hope team this season.

Hope's point guard, Devon Seaford, is the coach's son. He has committed to Lipscomb, a Division I program in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

ECU fans in the Greenville area will have a chance to see Blair early in the basketball season. His team will be on display Nov. 18-19 in doubleheaders at Terra Ceia Academy in Beaufort County. Hope will play at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 18, a Friday, and at 3:30 p.m. the following day. Seaford said Norfolk Christian and Northeast Academy are also involved in the doubleheader.

"Except for Gabe and my son, everybody else is playing football, so I don't know how much of an opportunity we will have had to practice before we play at Terra Ceia," Seaford said.

Blair's team is also scheduled to play Charis Prep in Goldsboro on Feb. 3 at a site to be announced. Hope will play in the National Association of Christian Athletes Tournament in Dayton, TN, in March.

Seaford said Blair is a "face the basket player," a forward capable of connecting from behind the arc. He's a good shot blocker on the defensive end.

"He's a good fit for East Carolina, I think," Seaford said. "He needs to work on his ball handling and, like a lot of high school kids, he needs to get stronger."

Blair weighs 216 pounds. He joins 6-8 John Fields, who played last season at Fayetteville (NC) Academy, as current ECU commitments. Fields will play this season at Fayetteville Jack Britt High.

Blair has seen his future ECU teammate in AAU competition.

"He's a long shot blocker," Blair said of Fields.

Rice no cupcake

Look beyond the 0-3 record that new Conference USA member Rice will bring to ECU on Saturday night and one sees trips to UCLA, Texas and UAB. That gauntlet has earned the Owls the distinction of a No. 1 ranking in terms of schedule strength from Jeff Sagarin of USA Today.

"I don't think you look at their record right now," said ECU coach Skip Holtz. "The combined record for the teams they've played is 11-1."

Rice has been on the road more than Charles Kuralt. Because of hurricanes the Owls won't play a game at home in Rice Stadium, site of Super Bowl VIII, until Saturday, Oct. 15. A game with Navy, originally scheduled for Sept. 24, had to be moved to Oct. 22.

The Owls are coached by Ken Hatfield, who guided Clemson to an ACC title in 1991. Hatfield has an interesting history. He was a vital member of Arkansas' national championship team in 1964, returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in a key 14-13 win over Texas that season.

He was offensive coordinator for Bill Parcells at the Air Force Academy in 1978, taking the head job for the Falcons when Parcells went to the pros. His 1983 Air Force team beat Notre Dame.

He had a 55-17-1 record as head coach at his alma mater.

Hatfield's Owls will bring a spread option attack to Greenville and they traditionally run the ball extremely well. His last 18 teams have finished in the top 20 nationally in rushing offense. The 2004 Owls led the nation in rushing yardage at 306.5 yards per game.

"I don't think there's anything we can show him defensively that he hasn't seen," Holtz said in regard to Hatfield's experience. "If you show him something different, they just move to the next phase of their offense. ... They are an offense that runs every option known to man. They have a couple of extremely fast tailbacks."

Assignment football is a phrase frequently used in dealing with an option attack, such as Army has presented the Pirates in recent years.

"When you play an option team, they take your aggressiveness away," Holtz said. "Most teams are taught to run in packs to the football."

But the option forces defenses to fight their instincts and respect multiple points of attack.

"We will practice without a football some this week," Holtz said. "When you practice without the football, somebody has always got to tackle the dive, somebody has always got to tackle the quarterback and you've always got to tackle the pitch. You've got to make sure everybody is on their man."

Another factor in preparing for Rice is the difficulty in getting the scout team to execute an option offense smoothly.

"It's hard to simulate with the scout team the speed it's going to come at our defense," Holtz said.

The ECU offense no doubt has been practicing with the football after getting a lesson in the value of maintaining possession in that 33-7 loss to Southern Miss last week. Five turnovers were a huge factor in the loss.

"Turnovers and penalties," Hatfield said. "Whoever has the least of those combined usually wins the game."

An early lead for the Pirates could put Rice in a difficult position.

"Not many people stop them," Holtz said. "Teams have gotten up on them early to force them to get big chunks of yardage in the air. Their offense is not a comeback kind of offense. The scary part for us is starting fast has not been our M.O. (method of operation)."

Baker doubtful

A bruised kidney sustained in the second half of the Southern Miss game has kept ECU strong safety Zach Baker from practicing this week. It was an unusual injury. Baker was blindsided by a Golden Eagle blocker and fell awkwardly with his own elbow hitting him in the abdomen, resulting in the bruise. He is scheduled to be examined today.

Rice has announced that Owls senior defensive end Rob Daniel, who started the first three games, will not make the trip to Greenville because of a right shoulder injury.

Best wishes for Coach Dye

The announcement that Coach Pat Dye would not be able to take part in ECU's 2005 hall of fame inductions was disappointing, but the first response should be prayers that he recovers quickly from the surgical complications that will keep him from coming to the Rice game.

From his All American days at Georgia, to compiling a 48-18-1 record at ECU, to leading Auburn to four straight wins over rival Alabama, Dye has always been a big time guy.

We will look forward to his induction in 2006.

Team effort

Terry Holland has great confidence in Ricky Stokes' recruiting abilities and notes that the first-year Pirate basketball coach has a strong supporting cast in addition to other members of an impressive ECU coaching staff.

"As good as Ricky is, his wife, Karen, is a superstar and ace recruiter in her own right," Holland said. "And daughter, Sidney, is becoming just as good. It is a TEAM effort."

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02/23/2007 12:33:38 AM

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