By Tony Castleberry
Friday, December 14, 2012
For the first time since 1953, North Carolina is on East Carolina’s men’s basketball team’s regular season schedule and Pirate coach Jeff Lebo and his team are excited about the prospect of taking on the No. 21 Tar Heels.
“To give (our players) an opportunity on that stage in that atmosphere, I think, is going to be really helpful to our team,” Lebo, a four-year letterwinner at Carolina and 1989 graduate of the Chapel Hill school, said at a news conference on Thursday in Minges Coliseum. “(UNC) coach (Roy Williams) has been unbelievably gracious throughout my whole coaching career. … The only thing would be if I could get him to come (to Greenville). I don’t think that’s going to happen.
“People have asked me about this rivalry. Well, it’s been two games, one they had to make you play (in the 1993 NCAA tournament). I don’t see a rivalry in that, but I’m fortunate that he agreed to play the game and it’s going to be big for our kids and hopefully big for our fans. It’ll be nice to have a game that maybe the people behind the bench don’t heckle me too bad.”
Saturday’s noon tip-off in the Dean E. Smith Center will be the first time UNC and ECU have met for a regular season game at Carolina and the first game for both teams after exam week. The Pirates (6-1) have not played since a 111-59 win over NAIA foe St. Andrews on Dec. 4 and the Heels (7-2) return to the court for the first time since a 78-55 victory over East Tennessee State last Saturday.
East Carolina senior forward Maurice Kemp, the team leader in scoring with a 16.7 points per game average, said exams prevented the Pirates from scouting North Carolina, but admitted he does not need to see tape of the Heels to have an idea of what ECU will face on Saturday.
“We haven’t had the chance to watch film on them yet,” said Kemp, who is averaging 8.1 rebounds per contest. “I’m sure we’ll watch it (Thursday), but we’re familiar with them. We know they’re big. They’re very talented, as we all know. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
The Tar Heels have four players averaging in double-figure scoring, led by 6-foot-9 forward James Michael McAdoo’s 15.4 ppg mark. McAdoo also leads the team in rebounding, pulling down an average of 8.4 boards per outing. Kinston High product Reggie Bullock, a 6-5 guard, is hitting 45.7 percent (21-of-46) of his 3-point attempts and averages 12.0 ppg while Greensboro native P.J. Strickland (6-5) and junior Leslie McDonald (6-5) chip in 10.9 and 10.3 ppg, respectively.
Seven Carolina players have already reached double-digit assists and four — 6-3 senior guard Dexter Strickland, 6-5 freshman Marcus Paige, Raleigh native Luke Davis and Bullock — have at least 20 each. Strickland averages a team-high 4.4 assists per outing, good enough for fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“(Williams) is great at getting those high-level guys to play unselfishly,” said Lebo, who has coached against his alma mater one other time, an 85-59 loss at UNC while Lebo was in his second season as a head coach at Tennessee Tech in 1999. “They move the ball well.”
The only Pirate besides Kemp averaging in double-figure scoring is 6-1 senior point guard Miguel Paul, who was suspended for the first two games of the season but has raised his average to 12.6 ppg. Junior forward Robert Sampson leads the team in rebounding (8.9 rpg) and chips in 9.6 points per contest.
Paul, a preseason first-team All-Conference USA selection, said it is important to maintain a workmanlike approach while embracing the magnitude of taking on the five-time national champions.
“We’re excited, man,” Paul said. “We know how good they are. It’s just a great program and basketball tradition is very high there. We plan on going in there and giving a good showing and this is a big opportunity to get our name on the board too, so we just have to go in there with our hard hats and (be) ready to work.”
Lebo on Holland
Lebo was asked about the upcoming changes for Terry Holland, ECU’s athletic director who recently requested a move into an AD emeritus role once his replacement is hired.
Holland was influential in bringing Lebo to East Carolina in 2010 and it was clear Lebo has great admiration for the longtime college basketball coach turned athletic director.
When asked if Holland stepping down would affect his future with the Pirates, Lebo replied: “I hope it doesn’t.
“Terry is an icon in college athletics, as a coach, as an AD. He’s been on every committee. … (Holland’s decision) certainly takes your breath away a little bit. Every place that he’s been, but in particular here, I think he’s really left his mark and that’s going to be missed.”
Contact Tony Castleberry at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9591 or follow @tcastleberrygdr on Twitter.
via The Daily Reflector.