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UNC’s Disaster Relief Jamboree preview: ECU Pirates

Kentrell Barkley leads an improving Pirates team

NCAA Basketball: East Carolina at Connecticut
Guard Kentrell Barkley #15
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

One of the teams joining the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Disaster Relief Jamboree tomorrow is the East Carolina Pirates. Coached by former UNC guard Jeff Lebo, the Pirates return their top scorer and rebounder Kentrell Barkley, and have a flux of new players on the roster.

Coaching

Jeff Lebo, a 1,000-point player, had a solid career as a four-year starter at Carolina. Lebo remains in the top five in program history in season and career three-point and free throw percentage. His 41 consecutive free throws made from January 3 to March 12, 1989 remains the UNC record for most consecutive free throws made.

Lebo was a second team All-ACC selection in 1988, and was named to three All-ACC Tournament teams in 1987, 1988 (second team), and 1989. In his senior season, he and guard Steve Bucknall were captains of the 1988-89 team.

Entering his eighth season as the head coach of East Carolina, Lebo has a 114-118 record. In his 18 seasons as a head coach, he owns a 325-274 record that includes stops at Auburn, Chattanooga, and Tennessee Tech.

Last season, Lebo underwent hip replacement surgery and was not on the sidelines from the middle of January through the end of the season. Assistant coach Michael Perry took over head coaching responsibilities during games while Lebo was recovering.

NCAA Basketball: East Carolina at Southern Methodist
Jeff Lebo on the sidelines
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

New to the coaching staff this year is Doug Wojcik. He replaces Mike Netti, who accepted a job as the Men's Basketball Special Assistant at Ohio State University. Wojcik was formerly an assistant coach of Matt Doherty during his three seasons at Carolina. His last position was the head coach at College of Charleston, and whose tenure came to a sudden end in 2014 due to allegations around verbal abuse.

Players

The Pirates return three starters from last season: senior guard B.J. Tyson, junior forward Kentrell Barkley, and sophomore guard Jeremy Sheppard.

Barkley led the team in points per game (13.2) and rebounds per game (7.6) last year. In league play, Barkley average 15.8 points per game, good for ninth in the American Athletic Conference, and his 9.0 rebounds per conference game was the best in the AAC.

Tyson injured his knee last season during a January loss to Houston, and missed seven games in the heart of ECU’s conference schedule. Prior to the injury, Tyson was the leading scorer for East Carolina. The Pirates went 2-5 during his absence, while going 4-3 after his return.

NCAA Basketball: East Carolina at Houston
B.J. Tyson #21 last year versus Houston
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

ECU added several players to the roster this season, and will have two more available that sat out last season due to NCAA rules. Junior guard Isaac Fleming was a Hawaii transfer, and redshirt freshman guard Shawn Williams was forced to take an academic redshirt by the NCAA.

Seth LeDay, a Virginia Tech transfer, has not received clearance from the NCAA for eligibility this season. LeDay and ECU requested a transfer waiver from the NCAA due to LeDay sitting out the 2016-17 season after transferring to Virginia Tech from Seminole State junior college.

The Pirates also added Akron graduate transfer Aaron Jackson, Bismarck State College transfer Usman Haruna, along with incoming freshmen K.J. Davis, Cooper LaRue, Dimitrije Spasojevic, and Justin Whatley.

Projected ECU Pirates Starting Lineup

Player Number Height Position Class
Player Number Height Position Class
Jeremy Sheppard 1 6-1 G Sophomore
B.J. Tyson 21 6-3 G Senior
Kentrell Barkley 15 6-5 F Junior
Jabari Craig 25 6-10 F Senior
Usman Haruna 35 6-11 F Junior

Outlook

One of the biggest issues for the Pirates last season was shooting. Lebo identified this as a major area of concern, especially from the perimeter. The eligibility of Shawn Williams this season and a healthy B.J. Tyson will improve this area. Williams was recruited as a perimeter threat, and he will likely be one of the first off the bench for ECU.

Expectations are high for Kentrell Barkley this season. Lebo described him as a “stat stuffer,” and Barkley will once again be looked upon for his scoring and rebounding abilities.

NCAA Basketball: East Carolina at Houston
Kentrell Barkley #15 versus Houston last season
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question mark for East Carolina this season is the frontcourt. Andre Washington, their seven-foot-one starting center, and Michel Nzege, a six-foot-eight forward, graduated. Deng Riak, a six-ten center, transferred to Akron. Jabari Craig is the only returner over six-foot-five. Three additions to the team over the summer, Usman Haruna, Dimitrije Spasojevic, and Justin Whatley, will fill the void in the frontcourt.

East Carolina was picked seventh out of 11 teams in the AAC preseason coaches poll. Tyson was picked for the preseason All-AAC Second Team.