On Friday, before kicking off its first official practice of the year on Saturday, head coach Joe Dooley and the East Carolina University men’s basketball team spoke about team depth and what they will look for as they prepare for the upcoming season.
After coming off of a 10-21 season, Dooley wanted to find a way to improve the team to produce more wins in his second year as head coach for the Pirates. According to Dooley, he and the coaching staff knew they would have to make changes to the team back in November and December of last year.
The Pirates said goodbye to several players including former American Athletic Conference Rookie-of-the-Year Shawn Williams and forwards Justin Whatley and Dimitrije Spasojevic. The team made changes to its roster during the offseason that involved bringing in 11 new guys to the roster in an effort to improve its depth on both sides of the ball. ECU brought in four new freshmen players, two sophomores and five junior players on board that include three seven-foot players that can help spread the floor.
“There was a little bit of a strategic deal we went with Jon Gilbert and with our staff about how the best way to have the best student athletes that we could have, and guys that want to win,” Dooley said. “We sat down, we had to study APR issues, and we had to study a lot of different deals. We got a bunch of guys that aren’t used to losing and that was a big factor.”
With any team that brings in several new players, one thing that has to develop at the end of the day is good team chemistry. The team has worked on getting familiar with each other on and off the court since the early summer and according to junior guard Bitumba Baruti they are doing just that.
“We’re very comfortable with each other,” Baruti said. “We talk, and joke all the time. We smile, laugh everyday wherever we see each other. We’re getting closer and closer, but we still got to learn about each other and get a chemistry on the court but I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that so far.”
The team wants to improve on both sides of the ball before its season opener so they can make a run in both conference and non-conference play. According to junior guard Tyrie Jackson, communication on the defensive side will help connect everything else.
“We all want to win,” Jackson said. If we have a man go down or not, we are always going to work with what we have and try to be the best, follow coach Dooley’s orders and do what we have to do to win.”
Moving forward, the team knows what it has to do to put itself in the best position to improve from its 7-6 record in non-conference play, and 3-15 record in AAC play. According to Dooley they have begun to already figure out what they need to do in practice to win more games as a team.
“From a defensive core we have got an idea of what we’re supposed to be doing that we have to refine,” Dooley said. “Offensively we’re starting to figure out some things. We have had some guys banged up but it’s making sure that we don’t get too far ahead of those guys that are out and can’t catch up. We try to simplify some things and make sure that they’ll be able to catch up quick. Are we where we want to get yet? No, but we are a lot closer.”
There are 36 days between now and the beginning of the 2019-2020 basketball season. Dooley and the Pirates want to give fans and spectators a reason to help pack Minges Coliseum on Nov. 5 on through the rest of the season.