...and I got SHOE GAME!

Senior guard Isaac Fleming prepares to throw ball over opponent.

When East Carolina University tips off its season opener with Delaware State University tonight at 7:45 in Minges Coliseum, it will be the first game in the head coach Joe Dooley era. Not the first Dooley era, when he was head coach from 1995 to 1999, but his second act as head coach instead.

With it being a second start with a familiar place, Dooley compared himself to Billy Martin. Martin famously spent five different stints as the New York Yankees’ manager in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

“It is different, been gone 19 years, but we still feel very comfortable here and I think walking through Minges and starting to see the game setup it’s starting to feel familiar,” Dooley said.

Dooley said he is both nervous and excited about tonight. Nervous because coaches always are on opening night, but excited to finally start the season with the Pirates as they look to improve upon last year’s 10-20 record.

Dooley isn’t the only one who faces a fresh start beginning tonight. While Dooley has been hard at work establishing his culture since he took over in May, it is senior point guard Isaac Fleming who has bought into it most, taking on a leadership role.

Fleming notched the first triple double in ECU basketball history late last season, and followed it up with the second one right after. Fleming lost significant weight in the offseason and said since he is the only senior, he takes it upon himself to lead by example for the younger players.

Dooley was noncommittal on a starting lineup, joking even the rotation is being determined on a minute-by-minute basis, but said there are two or three they feel good about. Fleming is sure to be one of them, and he shares excitement for the season opener with his head coach.

“This is what everybody had been waiting for,” Fleming said. “We got a new coach, new style of play, new enthusiasm. It’s gonna be a great feeling stepping out there.”

Fleming’s fresh start comes from a new head coach going into the season along with his new leadership role. ECU has many home games to start its non-conference schedule, Fleming said past seasons highlight the importance of getting off to a good start this season.

“Very important, just knowing the past history of losing seasons and everything and we’re not trying to be about that anymore. Coach Dooley came in, he hates losing. We don’t want to lose, don’t want to be here the next day if we do,” Fleming said.

Another player with a fresh start is freshman Jayden Gardner. Gardner said he can’t wait for gametime, saying every four years is a new start and he is ready to start his next four years at ECU.

Gardner is among the many freshmen who will be counted on by Dooley and the coaches. What’s good for Dooley is Gardner has also bought into the culture change. What’s good for fans is what Gardner said he is most concerned with: Building a winning culture.

“I want to win. I want to help my team win, help the coaches win, help the fans win, I just want to win,” Gardner said.

The first team in the Pirates’ way of building that winning culture is Delaware State tonight. Delaware State went 4-28 a season ago, including a 63-57 loss at ECU on Dec. 2.

Dooley said he knows Delaware State has a lot of newcomers, including Eric Skeeters being a new coach as well, and is mostly unknown outside of Saleik Edwards. From Winterville, North Carolina, Edwards leads a team which Fleming said plays up-tempo. However, ECU is unpredictable to fans and even to Dooley at times.

“There’s stretches where you watch the tap and you say ‘we know what we’re doing’ and there’s other stretches where I forget we have nine freshman and sophomores. That’s awfully young and that’s not always ideal and I have to catch myself at times,” Dooley said.

Dooley acknowledged the players are ready to go against someone other than themselves. Dooley said the season opener is as much about themselves as it is about the other team. Teams haven’t shown everything they will use in preseason scrimmages

With all the unknowns that come from a season opener, the one thing that can be counted on is the way players will play under Dooley tonight.

“You want to play with a competitive spirit, that’s most important,” Dooley said.

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