basketball practice

Members of the ECU Basketball team practice for the upcoming season.

Thomas Weybrecht

East Carolina University men’s basketball team will begin its regular season play with a matchup against Coppin State University inside Minges Coliseum on Sunday at 5 p.m.

The team is coming off a season where it finished 15-18 overall, going 6-12 in American Athletic Conference play and 9-6 in non-conference play.

ECU posted its first win over the University of Connecticut as a member of the AAC last season with a 66-62 victory back on March 1. The Pirates also won the season series against Temple University going 2-1 during last season while sweeping the season series against Tulane University for the first time since 2010.

The Pirates proved to be able to play well at home winning 12 of the 15 victories inside Minges Coliseum, but struggled on the road, going 1-11 overall, with their only victory coming at Tulane, with a 2-2 record in neutral or tournament play.

This season, 12 of the first 14 games will be at home, while ECU will have a total of 19 home games during the regular season. Its first road game will not be until Nov. 24 in Piscataway, New Jersey, where the Pirates will take on Rutgers University as part of the Showcase on the Banks, facing non-conference opponents.

“Being at home is always helpful, we learn a lot about ourselves and we don’t have to go through the trials and tribulations of the travel,” head coach Jeff Lebo said. “Our travel is so hard once we get into conference play, we want to try and get as much as we can at home in non-conference and challenge ourselves.”

Junior Kentrell Barkley led the team in points per game (13.2), rebounds per game (7.6), while playing an average of 32.3 minutes per contest. The team will look for him to do more, especially with the loss of former ECU shooting guard Caleb White last year. During his four years at ECU, White finished as the all-time fourth-leading scorer in program history with 1,578 points and second all-time at ECU in three-point field goals made with 256.

“I feel like we need somebody to step up and be a leader on the team. That is where my job comes in,” Barkley said. “I have to be more of a vocal leader. I have worked on my ball handling and on my three-point shot. Now I have been trying to add the mid-range jump shot to my arsenal as well.”

A key factor for the Pirates will be if senior B.J. Tyson can stay healthy. Tyson had a knee injury that kept him out for a stretch of a month which included seven games last season. Tyson has been working in the offseason to get healthy and prepare for his last year as a Pirate.

“I feel like I am at 90 percent right now,” Tyson said. “Once you start as a freshman, you will never be 100 percent. I feel like I can put the team on my back (and) this is going to be exciting because this is my last year and I want to leave it all out there on the court.”

The AAC recently added Wichita State to the conference. The team has proven to be a powerhouse, as it has made the NCAA tournament for the past six years and have gone 179-35 in that time period, with the playoffs included.

“Wichita State is a big time team,” Tyson said. “With them being in our conference, I look forward to playing them, and I know the team is looking forward to playing them as well.”

While the leadership and experience from Barkley and Tyson will help the team adjust to the season, six new faces were added to the team following the loss of the team’s seniors and transfers.

Graduate student Aaron Jackson and junior Seth LeDay are both transfers, junior Usman Haruna is originally from Kaduna, Nigeria but is transferring from Bismarck State College, while K.J. Davis, Dimitri Spasojevic and Justin Whatley are three freshmen who joined the team. Lebo also announced just yesterday that Jayden Gardner of Wake Forest, North Carolina, DeShaun Wade of Charlottesville, Virginia and Mike Wynn from Charlotte, North Carolina will also join the Pirates in the 2018-19 season.

Sophomore guards Jeremy Sheppard and Raquan Wilkins were suspended from the team on Friday, according to a statement from ECU Athletics. Playing without them can possibly hurt the team in the long run, as the starting lineup now takes a hit just five days before the season opener.

“We have a lot of bigs and a lot of guards,” Tyson said. “If one man goes down, we have someone else who can step up and hopefully they will be ready to play.”

Lebo said he is “thrilled” to receive commitment from each member of this talented class.

“Each helps fill specific needs we have and all have tremendous upside,” Lebo said. “The trio represents another piece of the puzzle as we continue to build and improve in the American.”

Lebo also announced just yesterday that Jayden Gardner of Wake Forest, North Carolina, DeShaun Wade of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Mike Wynn from Charlotte, North Carolina will join the Pirates in the 2018-19 season when they inked their names to a signing after being scouted.

The Pirates look to defend their home court and have a better year overall than last year.

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