Bucs set to take court for official start of preseason workouts Friday
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Oct. 16, 2008) - The wait is finally over for the ETSU men's basketball team.
The Buccaneers will open official preseason practice sessions Friday evening at 7:30 p.m., inside Memorial Center, as the team begins preparations in earnest for the 2008-09 season. ETSU will play two exhibition games inside Memorial Center on Nov. 1 against Milligan College and Nov. 8 against Mars Hill, before opening their season Nov. 14 against Temple in the Charleston Classic.
"We're ready to get started," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team did take a preseason exhibition trip to Canada in September and has also participated in individual workouts throughout the last two months. "This is an exciting time not only for the players and coaches, but also for our fans, students and alumni."
ETSU fans will get their first public appearance of the new Buccaneers on Tuesday, Oct. 21, as part of the Bluenanza Tipoff '08 inside Memorial Center presented by the Buccaneer Athletic Scholarship Association. The special event will begin at 7 p.m., and will feature special giveaways, on-court contests, a dunk contest, and scrimmages by both the men's and women's basketball teams.
For more on the 2008-09 ETSU men, read the preseason Media Guide preview below:
Media Guide Preview Story
A program that has enjoyed seven trips all-time to the NCAA Tournament and was ranked in the Top 30 percent nationally by ESPN.com's "Prestige" Ranking earlier this year, the ETSU men's basketball team enters the 2008-09 season with redemption, a championship, and an eighth trip to the NCAA postseason as its goals.
The Buccaneers, who finished last season 19-13 overall and 11-5 in Atlantic Sun Conference play, ended the season tied for third in league action and advanced to the semifinals of the A-Sun Championships at Lipscomb University in Nashville. The Bucs return eight players from last year's squad, including the team's top two scorers and only All A-Sun picks, and will add a talented recruiting class to their ranks as they prepare to retake the top spot in the league.
Senior shooting guard Courtney Pigram (Memphis) returns for his final season in the blue and gold, having led the Bucs in scoring during both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. A year ago, Pigram averaged a team-best 15.8 points per game while also finishing sixth in the A-Sun with 3.4 assists per contest. Having scored 1,445 points in his career, Pigram stands seventh on ETSU's all-time scoring list and will look to move up that ladder throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Meanwhile, other returners include forward Kevin Tiggs (Flint, Mich.), who ended the year second on the team with 14.6 points per contest, junior guard Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.), who finished the year fourth on the team with 4.7 rebounds a contest, and senior guard Jocolby Davis (Meridian, Miss.), who started 17 games at the point guard spot a year ago. In addition to those four starters from a year ago, sophomore forward Micah Williams (Manchester, Tenn.), senior forward Greg Hamlin (Flint, Mich.), and sophomore forward Tommy Hubbard (Boston) also return after having provided valuable minutes last season.
As for the road ahead, the Bucs will open their season against a talented field in the Charleston Classic, facing off with Atlantic 10 foe Temple in the season opener on Nov. 14 and then playing two more games in the tournament. The Bucs will return home for one game before heading on a five-game road swing that includes trips to Missouri Valley foe Bradley (Nov. 29), Conference USA opponent Marshall (Dec. 2) and former Southern Conference rival Appalachian State (Dec. 13). The Bucs will open league play Dec. 5 at Mercer and will finally return home to take on hated in-state foe Chattanooga on Dec. 17. The team will open A-Sun play in earnest beginning in January, with home meetings against Lipscomb (Jan. 17), Belmont (Jan. 19) and Kennesaw State (Feb. 26) highlighting the slate.
Pigram has stood out as the catalyst and star in the ETSU backcourt over the last two seasons, and he will continue in that role this year. While his scoring will be counted on, the Bucs' main questions will come at the other shooting guard slot and point guard. Having lost the sharp-shooting touch of 1,000-point scorer and 2008 graduate Travis Strong (Memphis), the team will look to others for some firepower from outside. Williams or Smith could fit that role after having put up respectable numbers from beyond the arc a year ago, while incoming freshman Jarvis Jones (Memphis) may look to replace the points scored by his fellow Memphis native Strong. Jones' spot-on shooting during the Bucs' preseason trip to Canada was impressive and left the coaches looking to get him the ball on offense. Meanwhile, at the point, Davis also played well during the Canada trip, while highly decorated incoming freshman Adam Sollazzo (Tampa) may get a shot at playing time early and often after playing well in preseason workouts. The 6-6 Sollazzo brings uncharacteristic size to the point position, and showed throughout his prep playing days the ability to distribute the basketball.
With the departure of four-year starter Andrew Reed (Port Richey, Fla.) on the inside, the Bucs' biggest question marks coming into the season will be in the post. Tiggs and Hamlin return from a year ago, but while Tiggs was a major contributor, Hamlin's flashes of brilliance were rare because his time was limited due to injury. This leaves Hubbard, redshirt freshman Isiah Brown (Miami), and true freshmen J.C. Ward (Marietta, Ga.) and Seth Coy (Montgomery, Ind.) to battle out for playing time. While Ward is 6-6, Brown stands 6-8, and Coy is an impressive 6-11, Hubbard seems the odd player out at 6-4. However, during the preseason Canada trip, Hubbard twice posted double-doubles and showed a willingness to bang around with the big men inside. If the Bucs can find an adequate scoring and defensive asset in the paint to go along with the quality scorers from the perimeter, the team should have a formidable offensive punch.
Having given up a school record 295 3-pointers a year ago, the defensive end may be where the key to success or failure will reside for the Bucs in 2007-08. Opponents shot 35 percent from beyond the arc a year ago, and ETSU must cut down on those numbers in 2008-09 to reach its goals. On offense, scorers are present up and down the roster, but finding a point guard to consistently distribute the basketball may be the difference. Getting through the early season schedule - with nine of the first 12 games away from Memorial Center - will be a major task for the team and key to building confidence heading into the meat of the A-Sun schedule.