“When I missed a lot of shots, they didn’t give me a standing O here.”
ECU coach Jeff Lebo
Making light of Saturday’s welcome
By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, December 16, 2012
CHAPEL HILL — Prior to the start of Saturday’s East Carolina-North Carolina men’s basketball game, the Tar Heel fans welcomed ECU coach Jeff Lebo back to his alma mater with an extended standing ovation.
Lebo waved to the Dean E. Smith Center crowd and admitted the gesture meant a lot to him, while making light of it as well.
“When I missed a lot of shots, they didn’t give me a standing O here,” said Lebo, who played for Hall of Fame UNC coach Dean Smith in the late 1980s. “This is a special place for me, having played (for the Heels) and that was awfully nice of the people here to do it. … (Coach Roy) Williams, I think he does it for all the former players, but that meant a lot to me and to my family.”
Lebo’s parents were in the crowd of 19,147 that watched the Pirates nearly erase an 18-point second half deficit before losing 93-87 to Carolina, ranked 21st in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.
After playing the Heels tough in the teams’ first-ever meeting in Chapel Hill and for only the third time ever, Lebo was asked if he would be interested in a return trip Carolina.
“It would be nice,” Lebo said. “(It’s an) easy trip home after the game.”
Williams spoke at length in the postgame news conference about how odd it felt to coach against Lebo since Williams helped recruit Lebo after the ECU coach’s stellar prep career in Carlisle, Pa.
The two are still close and Lebo said earlier in the week how grateful he was to Williams for giving the Pirates a chance to play in the Dean Dome against a perennial national power. Once the game started though, Williams said he avoided eye contact with Lebo.
“It was an unusual game,” said Williams, who led the Tar Heels to their third win in three meetings with the Pirates. “It’s hard for me. I tried to never look at Jeff and it’s because that’s somebody on the other end that I really care for. I helped recruit him. I helped coach him.”
Williams also recognized just how long it has been since Lebo’s playing days at UNC.
“He’s such a good…I used to call him a kid. I’m not going to call him a kid anymore,” Williams said. “I don’t know what color his hair would be because he won’t let it grow out, but it’s different. I’ll just put it to you that way.”
ECU junior guard Akeem Richmond was a major factor in the Pirates’ late comeback attempt that fell just short.
Of all the East Carolina players, it was fitting that Richmond was able to leave his mark on the game. A Sanford native and Southern Lee High School graduate, Richmond was a ball boy at North Carolina home games from the fourth through the sixth grade.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Richmond, who hit five 3-pointers and led the Pirates with 17 points. “We were a little nervous when we first got out there, but (in) the second half we came out and played more aggressive. … We thought to ourselves, ‘Hey, we can beat these guys.’
“This is an amazing test for us.”
Contact Tony Castleberry at tcastleberry@reflector, 252-329-9591 or follow @tcastleberrygdr on Twitter.
via The Daily Reflector.