The good news for East Carolina is that it will tip off the season with back-to-back home games. The bad news is the Pirates can’t play all their games at Minges Coliseum.
Last season, East Carolina was a solid 11-5 at home but an abysmal 1-11 on the road. Factor in a 2-3 record on neutral courts and you get a 14-19 overall mark and 6-12 in the American Athletic Conference.
The silver lining to last season, though, is the Pirates grew as the season did.
“I think we got better, that’s one thing. And we got healthier,” sixth-year coach Jeff Lebo said. “Earlier in the year we didn’t have Marshall (Guilmette) or Paris (Roberts-Campbell). They missed a lot of games, and they were two key cogs for us.”
Neither of them will be on the team this season. Roberts-Campbell was a senior last season and Guilmette, a promising redshirt junior forward, was forced to end his basketball career after a series of ongoing injuries.
“Losing Marshall this year was quite a blow to our season,” Lebo said. “We’re going to have to have some other guys step up and play a lot of minutes.”
With Roberts-Campbell and Guilmette gone, the Pirates will lean on swingmen Caleb White and B.J. Tyson. The two combined to average 24.7 points per game last season, the second-most of any returning tandem in the conference.
White, a 6-foot-7 junior guard, started 32 games last season and was third on the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game, while Tyson, a 6-3 sophomore, was a unanimous all-conference freshman selection who led the Pirates with 12.5 points a night.
That duo, along with sophomore forward Greg Bryant, junior transfer guard Charles Foster and freshman guard/forward Kentrell Barkley, a Northern Durham product who was named first-team all-state by the N.C. Basketball Coaches Association, give ECU a versatile corps of swingmen.
“We got some people at the (shooting guard and small forward) position like B.J. Tyson and Caleb White that have some experience,” Lebo said. “Then there’s Kentrell Barkley, who I think can also bring something to the table.”
At point guard, Lebo will look to the combination of senior Prince Williams and sophomore Lance Tejeda to lead the team. Williams, who is 6-5, played only 23 games as a junior and had 22 assists. As a sophomore, he saw action in 34 contests with 121 assists.
Tejada averaged 13.9 minutes a game in 2014-15 and tallied 4.1 points and 1.7 assists a night.
“I do like our depth at the point guard position,” Lebo said. “We haven’t had a lot of separation there. Prince Williams has played very well at times, and Lance Tejada is another guy who has been good at times.”
East Carolina returns only two usual starters from last season’s team in White and 6-8 junior forward Michel-Ofik Nzege, who averaged 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds a game. As the Pirates surged toward their Nov. 13 opener against Grambling State, all starting spots were up for grabs.
One thing is for sure: The Pirates need to rebound better. ECU finished last season 10th of 11 teams in the American Athletic Conference in rebounding margin (-3.2), something that must improve if the Pirates want to have a winning season.
“We have to rebound the ball better,” Lebo said. “We have to be able to find an inside scoring threat, and we have to be able to shoot the basketball.”