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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Monday, January 30, 2006

By Henry Hinton

Stars may be aligning for upturn in ECU hoops


7:00-9:00 a.m.

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Ricky Stokes says East Carolina's season-to-date reminds him of the first year he was Dave Odom’s assistant coach at Wake Forest. That team struggled early but finished the season strong.

With that in mind, perhaps ECU's 59-45 Saturday night victory over Tulsa was the start of something good.

This team needed something good to happen. By most standards, the 2005-06 Pirates have been a disappointment. Even Athletics Director Terry Holland felt the need to weigh in with one of his open letters to Pirate fans this past week.

“While the most visible results are not immediate, the foundation being laid at this time will produce results,” Holland wrote in his letter on

“Realistically speaking, this is still a team that lost the two leading scorers from last year's team that won a total of seven games versus Division I competition while losing 19,” the letter continues.

Skeptics could accuse the AD of making excuses for his new coach, and some already are saying that.

However, Holland is right on target. He goes on to point out the lack of success and tradition in basketball at ECU.

Bingo again.

Former Pirate coaches have been known to affectionately refer to the home of the Pirates as the Minges Burial Ground. Only one former Pirate coach, Eddie Payne, has gone on to a bigger head coaching job after spending years in Greenville.

Certain members of the media and friends of Payne use to joke with him about his success in talking then-AD Dave Hart into allowing him to downgrade the schedule enough to allow him to get enough wins to escape — which he did to Oregon State years ago.

Stokes has been around the block. He knew the challenge when he accepted Holland’s offer to come to Greenville. Having been a head coach at Virginia Tech and an assistant at UVA, Wake and South Carolina, Stokes had everything to gain to accept his mentor’s offer to get back on the sideline as the head man, even at a school that has struggled at every level in the college basketball world.

ECU has seven regular season games remaining, three of which will be played at home. All of them are winnable or at least games in which the Pirates could be competitive.

Playing on the road has been an Achilles heel of every ECU team, particularly since joining Conference USA. Three of the four road games left are against teams that are newcomers to the league (Marshall, Rice, Central Florida), giving hope that Stokes team can get that first elusive conference win away from home.

In addition Marshall, Tulane and Houston will be coming to Minges in the final three home games of the year. All of them are teams ECU could beat with a strong effort and a good home crowd.

In his letter Holland promises that “our time will come.”

That is a promise that Pirate fans have heard many times before. Becoming competitive in basketball in a state where the hoops are king is easier said than done.

While the current Pirates play hard and seem to have a lot of heart, recruiting bigger and better players will be necessary before a real turnaround can be realized in basketball at ECU.

This time around, however, there is hope that having a basketball coaching legend overseeing the bigger picture will create a different outcome.

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04/21/2008 07:03:47 PM

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