ARTICLE OF THE DAY

Raising Pirate Basketball
by Brian North
3/29/06

Terry Holland brought Ricky Stokes to East Carolina in 2005 to overhaul a basketball program that has had nine winning campaigns in the last 30 seasons. After suffering through an 8-20 season, the Pirate roster is undergoing massive changes. The Daily Reflector of Greenville reported that three players are transferring (Japhet McNeil, Tom Hammonds, Jonathan Hart), and four more players will not be invited back (Josh King, Quinton Goods, Nick Mattone, Jeff Robinson).

The most disturbing part of this mass exodus is that two players (Josh King & Quinton Goods) are reportedly having their scholarships revoked.  Scholarships are given on a year to year basis and are not guaranteed for four years. But once a player receives a scholarship, there is usually a gentleman's agreement that the athlete will keep the endowment as long as they represent the university in a positive way and meet the required academic standards. Pulling a scholarship from a player just because he may not be as good as the coach wants is a tacky move.

Josh King has proved to be a popular player with the fans. He came to ECU as a walk on and was given a scholarship soon after. King and Goods have apparently been offered the chance to walk on, while Mattone and Robinson have not been invited back. Lefty Driesell tried to do something similar at JMU back in 1990 but was eventually told to reinstate the revoked scholarships. In a game later that season, the Dukes got into foul trouble at UNC-Wilmington, and two of those players who he tried to kick off ended up helping the Left Hander win an overtime game. I would hope Ricky Stokes would re-think pulling scholarships, Josh King is the kind of four-year player who could pay dividends in the future. Building a program is one thing, but building it the right way is another (at least that's what Terry Holland keeps saying).

While I don't agree with pulling scholarships, I do think Ricky Stokes is doing the right thing by letting three players transfer and starting with a fresh slate. ECU has been plagued by transfers over the last six years, and that has resulted in sanctions including the loss of a scholarship for two years because they failed to reach certain academic standards. But bringing in players who have been recruited by the current staff can only help in setting the foundation for the future both athletically and academically. To build a program, players need to stay four years, buy in to the system, and develop into reliable student-athletes. Stokes needs to get started on recruiting good players, and then make them great players over four years.

The returning players will all be ones Stokes brought in (except for Taylor Gagnon who was a walk on under Bill Herrion, and Jeremy Ingram who transferred in under Herrion), and a bumper crop of recruits will join them in the fall. During the early signing period in November, the Pirates inked four players; Gabe Blair (6-foot-8, 190 pounds), John Fields (6-9, 205), Chad Wynn (6-11, 255) and Hillary Haley (6-6, 195) have each signed letters of intent.

George Mason's run to the Final Four has given hope to a lot of non-traditional basketball programs including ECU. Now we will see if razing the program will help raise the program to new heights.

Brian North
bnorth@wcti12.com