Becoming one of the most recognizable mid-major programs in the country is no easy task. However, that is exactly what the ETSU Buccaneers have accomplished in just the last two years.
After a 2002-03 season which saw the Bucs win 20 games and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 seasons, the squad set an even higher standard of success in 2003-04. The team set program records for conference wins (15) and most wins in a row (16), and ran away with the Southern Conference regular season title, finishing with a 27-6 overall mark - just one win shy of the school record of 28.
By the end of the regular season, the national media had certainly taken notice of the Bucs. ETSU received votes in both the Associated Press Media and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls, and national publications such as Sports Illustrated, the Sporting News, and ESPN The Magazine were ready to start writing about this team from the hills of
As postseason play began, the Bucs did not disappoint. ETSU rolled through the Southern Conference Tournament and for the second straight year the ETSU faithful enjoyed a trip to the field of 65 and the NCAA Tournament. In the tournament, the Bucs - led by point guard Tim Smith (
As the Bucs looked back on such a memorable season, there were plenty of honors and awards to be shared by everyone. First-year head coach Murry Bartow was named the Southern Conference Coach of the Year, while senior forward Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) took home Player of the Year honors. Smith was named the Southern Conference Tournament MVP for a second straight year, and Smith, Wadood and senior forward Jerald Fields (
"Last year was certainly exciting for our team and our fans," said head coach Murry Bartow. "Our players accomplished a lot last season, but now our focus is toward building for the future. We already enjoy a winning tradition here, but it's our goal to take the next step with this program."
As the Bucs prepare for the upcoming 2004-05 season, the excitement of the previous two seasons is only growing. ETSU returns its entire backcourt this season, led by Smith, senior James Anthony (
With a newly renovated home-floor seating plan, a state-of-the-art scoreboard overhead, and more television exposure than ever before, the 2004-05 season is certainly expected to be a special one again in
It does not take long to analyze this season's ETSU roster and realize the strength of the team is found on the perimeter. The Bucs return all three starters from a year ago, with Smith - already a 1,000-point scorer in just two seasons - joined by Anthony and Rhoda. A year ago, Smith scored in double figures 29 times and eclipsed 20 points in 12 games - including seven straight 20-point efforts to end the season. While Smith's electrifying floor game served to help power the ETSU offense a year ago, both Anthony and Rhoda provided plenty to the cause as well. Anthony was the team's top clutch shooter, connecting on a team-high 61 3-point field goals and hitting on a 42 percent clip from outside the arc. Meanwhile, Rhoda was fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 10.7 ppg with his gritty, hard-nosed style of play.
While those three players look to continue to build on their career numbers, sophomore Travis Strong (
In addition, sophomore Aaron Scott (
"Our backcourt should be and is expected to be a point of strength for us this year," Bartow said. "Tim Smith is one of the most exciting players in the country, but he is not a one-man show. With Ben Rhoda, James Anthony, Travis Strong, Aaron Scott, Sam Oatman and Mike Tolliver, we have several options on the perimeter."
The loss of senior Jerald Fields and Zakee Wadood can not be minimized. Both were 1,000-point scorers and two of the most successful players in the history of ETSU basketball. However, Bartow is convinced he still has players capable of giving the Bucs a formidable presence under the basket. Junior Brad Nuckles (Council, Va.), and junior college transfers Chris Mitchell (Chicago) and Dillion Sneed (Chicago), top that list of candidates.
Nuckles returns after playing significant minutes and becoming one of the team's most dependable big men the past two seasons. At 6-foot-9, he is the Bucs' tallest player, averaging 5.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, and 1.2 blocks per game a year ago. Meanwhile, Mitchell joins the Bucs after a 2003-04 season in which he was named a JuCo All-American, averaging 17.0 points and 10.5 rebounds at
Joining Nuckles, Mitchell and Sneed will be true freshman signees Andrew Reed (Port Richey,
"We recruited solely to fill the holes left by Jerald and Zakee," Bartow said. "We believe we did that with the additions of Chirs Mitchell, Dillion Sneed, Andrew Reed and Greg Surmacz, and we are expecting a great deal from Brad this season."
Yet again this season, the Buccaneers will challenge themselves with a daunting non-conference schedule, as well as the always tough Southern Conference slate. Road games at
The Bucs will once again compete in the ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday on Feb. 19 against a still-to-be-determined opponent, and other tough home games include Furman (Jan. 8), Appalachian State (Jan. 29), UNC Greensboro (Feb. 12) and Chattanooga (Feb. 21).
"Our schedule is demanding, but strong teams play strong schedules," Bartow said. "We expect to be challenged and we expect those challenges to prepare us for the postseason. As a coach, that is what you want from a quality schedule."