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ECU News, Notes and Commentary

The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, December 7, 2005

By Bethany Bradsher

Stokes looks to harness duo's street ball skills


Anyone who doubts that conference affiliation makes a difference in recruiting should look no further than East Carolina’s two boys from Brooklyn.

It’s a populous borough, but Japhet McNeil and Mike Castro actually knew each other a little when they were learning hoops in the gyms and parks of Brooklyn. And when the former ECU coaches came recruiting, both Northerners were drawn by the competition they could face in Conference USA.

“I looked into it, and it looked like it was a nice conference, and I was just looking to get away from New York,” said Castro, a junior transfer from Allegany College in Maryland. “The country life was something that I was looking for.”

Now, as the two are more accustomed to the slow pace of Greenville than the hurry and chaos of New York City, they are hoping to help minimize the chaos on a Pirates team with new leaders and plenty of inexperience. McNeil, the junior point guard who set the single-season record for assists last season, has a particular burden on his shoulders to help set the pace early in the season, head coach Ricky Stokes said.

“We need him to continue to make the right plays at the right time,” Stokes said. “His heart is in the right place and he adds a lot to our team, but we also need him to continue to lead.”

When he was first recruited from Christ the King High, McNeil was also drawn to ECU because point guard Travis Holcomb-Faye was graduating and he saw a chance to fill his shoes. The starting floor general job is now his, and from his vantage point, with the Pirates 3-3, he sees a team with heart and ability as well as unfulfilled potential.

“I feel like it’s a clean slate,” McNeil said. “We’re young, we’ve got room to grow, and on the court we still haven’t shown our full ability to play, we haven’t really put together a full game. And that’s a good thing to me, because we’ve got so much room to grow.”

Castro, who is still rehabilitating a foot injury he suffered in the preseason, has shown glimpses of promise so far in his role as a backup forward. He said he has been impressed with his new team’s communication and rapid connection with one another.

“We don’t have a lot of size, but we’ve got a lot of heart,” he said.

Castro has discovered collard greens and other Southern delicacies, and when he goes home he gets teased about his Southern accent. But perhaps the biggest difference in the two areas, from a basketball standpoint, is that it’s hard to find a blacktop pick-up game in Pitt County.

“It was just so easy, to go outside, across the street, and there’s the basketball court,” Castro said.

“I grew up in the playground, playing all over,” McNeil said. “That’s how you get those skills that a coach can’t teach you.”

Their new coach, who is a Southerner like the majority of his team, likes the grit he sees in the Brooklyn pair, and he and his staff are working to make sure their city-born talents find a place to thrive in his new system.

“I think people look at New York as a hotbed of talent, and naturally a city of that size has a wealth of talent, so I would think the competitiveness of being able to play against good players on the playground would be important,” Stokes said.

Players without a team

With one announcement from athletic director Terry Holland on Tuesday, 24 ECU men’s soccer players went from student-athletes to students without a sport. After a unanimous decision from a panel consisting of Holland and the three other senior athletic administrators, the men’s soccer program was eliminated from the slate of Pirate athletics.

It was a move that seemed drastic to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the recent tribulations of the men’s soccer program, but I can’t say that I’m all that surprised. The head coach from 1999-2003, Devin O’Neill, was a friend of mine, and I often heard from O'Neill and his wife the struggles of leading a sport that was underfunded and underappreciated.

The handwriting was on the wall when O’Neill left his Division I head coaching post for the Division III job at Gettysburg College and further confirmed when his replacement, Michael Benn, left ECU two years later to become an assistant coach at the much-smaller Lehigh University.

Even though ECU has promised to honor all scholarships, this decision undoubtedly left a number of confused and frustrated young men in its wake. But I still respect the honesty showed by Holland and his advisors, who admitted that they were not willing to sacrifice the kinds of funds that were necessary to salvage the soccer team. Rather than putting more coaches and players on a sheer cliff with virtually no foothold for victory, they ended something that seemed destined to fail.

Maybe, in the future, Greenville will be a place where men’s college soccer can thrive. But for now, the young athletes who want to see their college rally around their sport deserve to go find a university that can offer that support.

DG: Just like old times

He was supposed to be the quarterback who would just sit quietly in the pocket, hand off the ball and keep the seat warm for the team’s star, but former ECU standout David Garrard showed Jacksonville fans that he had some flair too on Sunday.

After deftly leading his Jaguars to a 20-14 comeback win over the Browns, Garrard told a Florida Times-Union reporter that the outing — his best ever as the backup to injured starter Byron Leftwich — reminded him of the old days in the purple and gold.

“I feel like I'm back in college,'' Garrard said. "I'm with a great team, and they're great guys who support me and rally behind me. It's just a great feeling to play for this team.''

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02/23/2007 01:11:56 AM

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