(ECU SID image)
All Rights Reserved.
It was only a year ago that Terry
Holland was the target of criticism from media and fans. I contributed
more than my share.
Shortly before the deal was struck with
current East Carolina hoops coach Jeff Lebo,
I penned a column explicitly
stating that hiring the former North Carolina point guard would be
subject to significant scorn from Pirate Nation. His powder blue roots,
coupled with mediocre results at Auburn, had me convinced that the move
wouldn’t be met with much favor.
Initially I was right.
Many didn’t like the notion of a UNC-Chapel
Hill graduate leading the ECU hoops program. After all, Lebo’s alma
mater has historically been the political thorn in East Carolina’s side.
could certainly understand the hesitation to accept him.
Others couldn’t get past the fact that
Holland pursued a “retread,” a recently fired coach in need of a program
to rehabilitate his career. It seemed contradictory given the statements
the Pirates’ AD made during the search to replace former football coach
To be specific, a recycled coach would
not be targeted during that process.
Some, including me, also believed
Holland should have aggressively pursued more successful coaches who had
indicated an interest in the opening. Current Clemson coach Brad
Brownell immediately comes to mind.
Add it all together and hiring Lebo
seemed a risk at a time when ECU had all but flatlined. Fast-forward to
today and the Pirates have suddenly discovered a basketball pulse.
Credit Holland for staying the course
and not caving to popular opinion. His decision to hire Lebo is more
than paying off.
In his inaugural season, Lebo took a
team light on size and offensive firepower and somehow squeezed 18
victories and a postseason berth out of it. Along the way he knocked off
both the Conference USA regular season (UAB)
and tournament (Memphis)
champions with a roster that easily was among the bottom third of the
league in talent.
What’s more, some of the most talented
players on ECU’s roster had fallen well short of reaching their
potential prior to Lebo’s arrival. Forward Darrius Morrow had yet to
develop the work ethic necessary to be consistent at the major college
level, while Jontae Sherrod and Brock Young had previously put
themselves ahead of their team.
But Lebo got that trio to embrace hard
work, as well as their roles. Rarely did you see them — or anyone else
on the roster — loafing down the court or attempting to play outside of
how they were instructed.
That’s just one reason to feel good
about the Pirates’ future.
Another is the recent success by
non-traditional powers in the NCAA tournament. Final Four runs by
Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, which a decade ago wouldn’t have
happened, give hope to schools lacking much historical success.
Since the NBA adopted the ‘one-and-done’
draft rule, the bluebloods have suffered from major attrition. Players
who have the talent to bypass college now must spend at least a year
there before they can go pro.
The result has created a revolving door
for the programs that typically attract blue-chip talent. That abundance
of youth, while talented, has proven to struggle against those 2nd-tier
basketball schools that are able to keep players for a full four-year
Considering that East Carolina’s
recruiting base is more on par with Virginia Commonwealth than Kansas,
the Pirates are unlikely to experience any early exits outside of the
occasional transfer. As a result, ECU should be able to establish both
stability and chemistry throughout the program.
It has been void of both since Joe
Dooley was ousted in the late '90s.
Given C-USA’s steady decline in recent
years, there is no reason the Pirates can’t quickly become a regular
contender under Lebo’s watch. With John Calipari no longer at Memphis,
the league no longer has a national contender — or one that is even
remotely close — meaning ECU can now make the NCAA Tournament a
So long as Lebo is the coach.
If Lebo strings together a pair of
20-win campaigns, rest assured he will be a target for bigger programs.
But that type of attention wouldn’t be such a bad thing for ECU hoops.
Should East Carolina post consecutive
20-win seasons, I’m guessing Pirates fans would welcome the tradeoff.
Thanks to Holtz, they’ve developed the necessary skills to cope with
And thanks to Holland, ECU basketball
finally has something other programs might eventually want.