The past week has been like a good
news, bad news routine for the East Carolina basketball program.
The good news was that the Pirates
signed a highly-regarded power forward, 6-foot-8, 250-pound Darrius
Morrow of Decatur, GA, to a scholarship.
Official word of that impressive catch
came one day after the NCAA came down on the program regarding its
academic progress rate.
Morrow was ECU's first hoops signee
since it was announced that Mack McCarthy had agreed to a five-year
contract after a season as interim coach following the departure of
Ricky Stokes. McCarthy's club produced an 11-19 record in 2007-08.
Among the highlights under McCarthy's
first season at the helm were a triumph over N.C. State for ECU's
first-ever win over an ACC program plus wins at home against Houston, at
George Mason and the end of a 23-game road losing streak in Conference
USA with a win at Rice.
McCarthy was upbeat about bringing
Morrow aboard the Pirate ship.
"Darrius will be a great addition to
Pirate basketball," McCarthy said in a statement released by the
university's athletic media relations department. "He will impact our
program in many areas. Not only is he an outstanding player, he also
comes from a winning tradition and brings an infectious enthusiasm with
Morrow played for coach Phil McCrary at
Columbia High School where he averaged 14.5 points and 11.2 rebounds. He
was MVP of the championship game as his team captured the Georgia 4-A
"Playing for an outstanding coach like
Phil McCrary will also contribute to his being prepared for success
early on in his career here at ECU," McCarthy said.
Morrow initially signed with South
Carolina but received his release from the Gamecocks after Dave Odom
announced his resignation as coach. Darryl LaBarrie, a former Georgia
Tech player who joined McCarthy's staff last season, was instrumental in
the secondary phase of Morrow's recruitment. LaBarrie is a Decatur
native, who led Tucker High to a state title.
Auburn, Marquette, UAB and West
Virginia also expressed interest in Morrow after he was released by USC.
Morrow is rated No. 30 in the nation
among power forward prospects by ESPN.com.
The Pirates lost sophomore post player
John Fields after the 2007-08 season. Fields averaged 9.6 points and 5.0
rebounds in his second season at ECU. Fields has announced that he plans
to play at UNC-Wilmington. Morrow's signing reduces the potential
effects of Fields' departure.
Immediate playing time was an incentive
for Morrow to join the Pirates.
"East Carolina is an up and coming
program," Morrow said. "I believe I can come in and help turn things
around. I think it's a place where my game can really blossom.
"They really do need a post player.
They have good shooters. I'd love to come in and help them compete with
Memphis for a Conference USA championship. That's why I chose them. I'm
trying to play right away."
Morrow had apparently been educated
about Greenville's ardent support of Pirate athletics.
"It's a good town, everybody loves ECU
and there's no pro teams," he said.
Morrow's prep coach endorsed his choice
of the Pirates.
"East Carolina is getting a solid
player who I expect will do big things in Conference USA under the
tutelage of Coach McCarthy," McCrary said. "Darrius is a smart player
who plays within himself."
ECU had already inked Raheem Smith,
younger brother of former Pirates star wide receiver Troy Smith, during
the fall signing period. Smith was a standout at Greenville Rose on the
high school level. He averaged 16.3 points and 4.5 rebounds at Louisburg
College this past season. He hit 59 percent of his field goal attempts,
inlcuding 37 percent of his three-point tries for the Hurricanes.
Guard Brandon Evans also had announced
his intentions to transfer from the ECU program after the 2007-08 season
after his playing time diminished to 7.6 minutes per game during his
Although McCarthy had indicated a
desire to sign a player with the ability to drive and score, Evans'
scholarship may go unused after NCAA sanctions were announced regarding
the academic progress rate of ECU's hoops program.
An inordinate number of transfers prior
to Stokes' second season at ECU apparently has impacted the NCAA ruling
that the Pirates must forfeit one basketball scholarship for the 2008-09
season. ECU's practice time also will be reduced from 20 hours per week
to 18 hours. The two hours of practice time will be replaced with
additional academic opportunities in study halls and tutoring sessions,
according to an ECU release.
"Our men's basketball staff has worked
extremely hard to address the factors under their control and the
resulting grade point average improvement is nothing short of
spectacular," said ECU chancellor Steve Ballard.
The basketball team's cumulative grade
point average has gone from a 2.13 in the fall of 2004 to 2.78 in the
fall of 2007. Although the Pirates have had a significant number of
transfers, the departing players have been in good academic standing
with GPA's of 2.0 or better.
The academic standing of transfers is
not factored into the NCAA's computations of academic progress rates but
perhaps it should be since players can leave programs for a variety of
reasons other than academics.
"The high number of transfers in men's
basketball around the country attests to the reality that institutions
do not have the ability to control this particular concern," Ballard
ECU has aggressively sought to support
the academic performance of its players. The entire non-conference
schedule this past season was played without missing any classes.
Although the Pirates do not control
their schedule in geographically-dispersed Conference USA, university
officials have noted that, by using charter flights and traveling on the
days of games, only two days of classes were missed last season.
Athletic director Terry Holland said
ECU will continue to be proactive in its approach to the academic
"The hands-on efforts of our coaching
staff will continue to address the APR in a constructive manner,"
Holland said. " ... I believe that the ECU men's basketball team's class
attendance is among the nation's best as well. ... An unusual number of
transfers continues to hamper our efforts to improve the APR score."