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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Stokes banks on new blood to recharge program


Ricky Stokes counts Terry Holland as his boss, former coach and lifelong mentor, and they are usually on the same page in coaching theory and practice.

But on the subject of suiting up freshmen, Stokes knows that he is deviating from Holland, who favors the idea of making new players sit out for a while until they have earned a spot in the lineup.

Waiting on the new Pirate talent is simply not a luxury that Stokes can afford right now, he said.

“I’d like guys playing right away,” said Stokes, who spoke to the media last week at an informal off-season lunch. “Not to go against the boss, but when you’re 8-20 you don’t want to wait until the next year. I want to suit up every available person.”

In the wake of a difficult first season at the helm marked by 20 losses and the eventual departure of seven former Pirates for other colleges, Stokes gathered the media to promote the new, younger version of the Pirates that is currently on campus following a strength and conditioning program.

“We have a lot of new faces,” he said. “We have a lot of young men. We’ve had a full year to recruit. I’m excited about the group we have. I think our talent level is better.”

Of the 14 players currently listed on the ECU roster, three — Hillary Haley, Chad Wynne and Corey Farmer — are still waiting official word of their eligibility from the NCAA. Ten out of the remaining 11 are in Greenville this summer, many taking summer school, and all working in the weight room and on the track with strength coach Michelle Boswell.

They are not permitted to work out with the coaches at this point, but they are gathering often for informal shooting clinics in an effort to bandage their most serious wound from last season, Stokes said.

“As we looked at our statistics from last year, we have to shoot the basketball better, we have to shoot free throws better,” he said. “We’re looking at shooting percentage, at getting us better shots. We’re working hard at that.”

Only four players — senior Courtney Captain, juniors Jeremy Ingram and Taylor Gagnon and sophomore Sam Hinnant — are returning from the 2005-’06 squad, and of those only Gagnon has been on the team for more than one season. Collectively, Stokes hopes they will fill the leadership gap created by Corey Rouse’s graduation.

“We’re demanding that they provide us some leadership, I think that’s going to be a great role for them,” Stokes said.

As for the newcomers, Stokes is sure of one thing just by looking at them: They will add the size that the Pirates desperately need. Justin Ramsey and Wynne are both 6-foot-10, John Fields is 6-foot-9 and Gabe Blair is 6-foot-8. They are also a largely homegrown group, with half of the recruits and three-fourths of the returnees hailing from the Tar Heel State.

“We’re definitely bigger, wider,” Stokes said. “That’s what I’m most excited about. All of our guys in the paint will be young. We don’t have an experienced guy in the front court. But I do like each guy individually, and I like them collectively.”

Stokes also senses, from the few times he has seen the new group together, that the recruits will spark more competitiveness on the practice court.

While he remains mum on the upcoming schedule — the dates and opponents won’t be released until late August — Stokes knows that the Conference USA teams and possibly ACC teams that will tip off against ECU this season will give an intense test of the new squad’s mettle very quickly.

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02/23/2007 01:13:11 AM

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