ETSU men's basketball set for regular season opener Friday
ETSU men's basketball set for regular season opener Friday
Thursday, November 9, 2006


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 9, 2006) - Coming off an impressive 31-point victory in its only exhibition game of the year, the ETSU men's basketball team will tip off its 2006-07 regular season Friday night against UVa.-Wise. Game time is set for 7 p.m. inside Memorial Center.


Both season and single game tickets are available for purchase by visiting or calling 423-439-ETSU (3878). For more information on the 2006-07 ETSU squad and the upcoming season, see the preview below or visit


Season Preview    


As the Bucs prepare for a new season in 2006-07, the team is set to undergo a significant facelift. Welcoming six newcomers to go along with nine returning players, the Bucs enter the upcoming hoops campaign with the challenge of replacing three players that were significant contributors to 72 wins and two trips to the NCAA Tournament over the last four seasons.


The most prominent of that group was 2005-2006 Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year and two-time Southern Conference Tournament MVP Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.), who wrapped up his career as the program's all-time leading scorer with 2,300 points. In addition to Smith, the team also said farewell to 1,000-point scorer Ben Rhoda (Dayton, Ohio) and Dillion Sneed (Chicago), two players who finished last season averaging 11.2 and 11.3 ppg, respectively. In total, those three players accounted for over 50 percent of the team's offense a year ago.


While those three losses leave ETSU head coach Murry Bartow with some significant holes to fill in his roster, the Bucs will put their hopes in a quality group of returning players and a promising freshman class. Along with the eight returning players, the team will also add six true freshmen to its ranks, a group that is highlighted by four players who left high school as their program's all-time leading scorers. But offense has not been the real issue for the Bucs in recent years. Despite scoring an average of 81.6 ppg a year ago and ranking among the nation's Top 10 throughout the season in scoring offense, ETSU also relinquished 77.8 ppg, leaving the team with a focus to improve on the defensive end of the floor this season.


The Bucs will enter the new campaign with a 30-game schedule that includes a daunting seven-game road trip in late November and early December. Highlights on the schedule include trips to three Southeastern Conference foes, including in-state rival Tennessee, a visit from former Southern Conference rival Chattanooga, a trip to the South Padre Island Invitational, and the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Championship which will be played once again this year in Johnson City.




The Backcourt

With Smith and Rhoda stepping out of the picture, the biggest question mark this season for Bartow and his coaching staff may be finding a capable point guard and shoring up the Bucs' perimeter game. Returning from an extremely successful freshman campaign will be shooting guard Courtney Pigram (Memphis), who ended last year second on the team in scoring with 12.0 ppg and was selected to the A-Sun All-Freshman team. Pigram is joined on the perimeter by sophomore Dante Williams (Romulus, Mich.), who showed a year ago that he too has the ability to knock down 3-pointers, hitting on 10-of-28 from beyond the arc to lead the team with a 36 percent clip. Along with those three, transfer Ben Williamson (Knoxville) joined the Bucs late in the summer, bringing with him a deft shooting touch and giving the team even more depth at the shooting-guard position. Pigram, Williams and Williamson will have to overcome the loss of senior shooting guard Travis Strong (Memphis), who is out for the year with a knee injury and will redshirt.


With Pigram, Strong and Williams in place to battle for time, the point guard position may fall to either sophomore Tayloe Taylor (Memphis) or freshman Dequan Twilley (Shelbyville). Taylor played significant minutes as a freshman, showing signs that he may be capable of running the team's offense. However, Twilley comes from a successful prep program that he led to the Class AAA state championship game a year ago. Twilley and Taylor are both pass-first, score-second point guards, which will also be a change for the Bucs after four years of Smith's high-scoring play at that position.


Rounding out the perimeter on the wing will be a battle of newcomers. Redshirt junior Kenyona Swader (Smyrna) returns from injury with a great deal of off-season praise from the coaching staff.  The 6-foot-8 Swader gives the Bucs a rare commodity for mid-major schools, a long, skilled guard/forward that can distribute and shoot the basketball. However, Swader will have to battle a pair of freshmen who have also earned their share of attention in preseason workouts. Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.) and Micah Williams (Manchester) both finished their prep careers as their schools' all-time leading scorers. Smith, a two-sport star who played quarterback for the football team at Van-Far High, has earned comparisons to Rhoda due to his hard-nosed style of play, but he also possesses a fine shooting touch and ability to score at the rim. Williams, meanwhile, has returned from an early summer injury to display the athleticism that led the ETSU coaching staff to bring him to Johnson City.


The Frontcourt

Bolstered by the return of fifth-year senior Brad Nuckles (Council, Va.), as well as senior Eryk Thomas (Fremont, Calif.) and junior Andrew Reed (Port Richey, Fla.), the Bucs return three players who have seen significant floor time since coming to ETSU. A year ago, the 6-foot-9 Nuckles showed signs of dominance, particularly in A-Sun play where he nearly averaged a double-double for points and rebounds. He did average a team-high 7.8 boards a contest - including a 22 rebound effort on the road at Campbell - and finished sixth on the team in scoring with 8.0 a contest. Reed started in 16 of the Bucs' 27 games, electrifying fans with his high-flying dunks and ability to knock down perimeter shots. Meanwhile, Thomas averaged 17 minutes and 3.6 rebounds a game.


Along with the returning trio of Nuckles, Thomas and Reed, the Bucs have also added true freshmen Petras Balocka (Vilnius, Lithuania) and Blake Mishler (Metamora, Ill.) to their ranks. Balocka, a muscular 6-foot-7 player, has strong ball-handling and shooting skills, as well as the ability to score and rebound on the inside. Meanwhile, Mishler is the fourth of the Bucs' newcomers to end his prep career as his school's all-time leading scorer, using an unorthodox but effective left-handed shot to score on the inside. Both players are expected to battle for floor time. Wrapping up the frontcourt will be senior Nick Tuggle (Memphis), who joined the Bucs a year ago as a transfer and will once again add depth to the ETSU bench.


The Schedule

The Bucs will face a daunting challenge this year with a 30-game schedule that includes a seven-game road trip early on in the season. The Bucs will open at home against Virginia Wise on Nov. 4 and will also play host to Chattanooga in a much-anticipated rematch of former Southern Conference foes on Nov. 15. Road games at Auburn (Nov. 19), Morehead State (Nov. 21), Mercer (Nov. 30), Stetson (Dec. 2) and Vanderbilt (Dec. 5), along with a trip to the South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 24-25), will keep the Bucs away from home for 24 days before returning to face Milligan on Dec. 9.


The team will also match up with SEC in-state foe Tennessee on Dec. 30, before beginning a 16-game stretch of A-Sun games to close out the season. ETSU will then host the General Shale Atlantic Sun Championships March 1-3 in Memorial Center. It will be the second straight year the Bucs have hosted the tournament.