Jeff Lebo led the Pirates to a 23-12 record and the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament championship in his third season at ECU. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)
“The way that it happened was just amazing.”
on the CIT championship game
By Tony Castleberry
Monday, April 22, 2013
Having recently completed his third season in charge at East Carolina and upon embarking on his 25th season as a college men’s basketball coach, Jeff Lebo said in an interview at his office on Friday that he usually is able to get over wins and losses pretty quickly.
However, the Pirate skipper admitted to letting the joy of ECU’s CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament championship at Weber State earlier this month linger longer than other victories.
“That one felt good for about a week,” Lebo said. “We played really well, then (Weber) kind of rallied at the end and then to be able to get our wits about us to finish it out. … The way that it happened was just amazing.”
Lebo reflected on what certainly qualifies as an amazing season for the Pirates, who won the CIT title — their first postseason championship of any kind — 77-74 after junior Akeem Richmond nailed a game-winning 3-pointer just before the final buzzer on April 2.
Getting a trophy and cutting down a net in April were not the only superlatives for East Carolina during the 2012-13 campaign, the best season in school history. The Pirates finished 23-12, equalling the most wins in a season since ECU fielded its first team in 1931 and setting a new mark for single-season victories as a Division I squad. It also was the Pirates’ first 20-win season in D-I; the only other ECU club to reach 20 wins was the 1953-54 team that finished 23-2 in NAIA.
Senior forward Maurice Kemp became the first Pirate to make the All-Conference USA first team and the Pirates finished above .500 in C-USA play (9-7) for the first time ever.
Lebo said the season-ending CIT run — four consecutive home victories in Minges Coliseum prior to the trip to Ogden, Utah, for the title game — might not have happened if ECU had been required to play all those games on the road.
“We don’t have that chance if we don’t play at home,” he said. “We don’t have a chance if our administrative people don’t know the strength of the Pirate Nation, that they would come out and support our team. Playing at home, for us, was big. … I don’t know if we could (have done) it if we had to play three on the road.”
East Carolina’s success during Lebo’s tenure is remarkable, especially considering the prolonged futility the Pirates had endured prior to his arrival in 2010. ECU finished 18-16 during the 2010-11 season, the Pirates’ first winning campaign since 1996-97.
With his reputation as a coach who can turn around downtrodden programs intact, Lebo has, and likely will continue to, draw interest from other schools hoping he can rejuvenate their team or make an already good squad better. Lebo, whose contract with East Carolina runs through 2019, said it is flattering when other programs come calling, but he is comfortable at ECU.
“I love it here,” Lebo said. “Certainly you like to have people interested in you. That means you did well, but I enjoy it here. I love Greenville. I hope (the fans) are happy here too so that I can stay a long time.”
While Lebo, his team and Pirate fans earned the right to bask in the glow of such a great season, the coach, his staff and ECU’s players are turning their attention toward the future.
East Carolina loses Kemp, who turned in one of the best seasons ever for a Pirate, and senior point guard Miguel Paul, whose 236 assists during ECU’s championship season are a single-season school record. Senior guards Shamarr Bowden and Corvonn Gaines also are leaving, but with several key contributors returning and a promising recruiting class coming in, East Carolina should be good again next season.
Richmond, starting forwards Robert Sampson (6-foot-8) and Ty Armstrong (6-8), starting guards Paris Roberts-Campbell (6-3) and Erin Straughn (6-6) — who will be a fifth-year senior — should all be back and Prince Williams (6-4), Marshall Guilmette (6-10) and Michael Zangari (6-9) all got playing time as true freshmen. Lebo noted that Louisburg College’s Antonio Robinson (6-4) and high school signees Brandan Stith (6-7), Greg Alexander (6-4) and Caleb White (6-7) all had successful seasons, highlighted by Stith leading Brunswick High to its third consecutive Division 3 state title in Virginia.
With the success the Pirates have had under Lebo’s direction, the expectation levels also have been raised, something Lebo said is good for ECU hoops. Fresh off a remarkable season and with a new $15-million practice facility nearing completion, the coach embraces having lofty goals.
“Most of the programs that we’re going to compete with already have (practice facilities). Some of them are already on No. 2,” Lebo said. “We’re excited about that. … It’s vital for our growth.
“We’ve got a lot of change happening. We’re going to be in Conference USA with a lot of different teams next year, then going into (a new conference) a year after that. … I’m a big believer in momentum and we’ve got to be able to, hopefully, seize the momentum we have here.”
Contact Tony Castleberry at email@example.com, 252-329-9591 or follow @tcastleberrygdr on Twitter.
via The Daily Reflector.