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Bucs’ Forbes looks forward to reloading

Joe Avento • Updated Mar 17, 2017 at 5:56 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. — Fourteen hours after his team’s season ended in the NCAA Tournament, East Tennessee State University basketball coach Steve Forbes was already looking ahead to next season.

It’s time to reload, he says, not rebuild.

As anybody who has watched Forbes put his team together knows, the parts with which he’ll reload can come from anywhere. He has more connections than a commuter airline, and those connections will surely come in handy in the coming months.

“Right now, we’re recruiting some really high level high school players, some junior-college players and there will be some transfers out there,” Forbes said Friday morning as the team prepared for the trip home. “We have our eye on the prize. We just have to finish. I like the guys we’re recruiting.”

The Bucs finished this season 27-8 after suffering an 80-65 loss to Florida in the NCAA Tournament. Four starters will be gone from that team, so Forbes will have his work cut out for him.

“We’ve got some really good players in the program, some guys who played a lot of minutes this year and we have a returning all-conference player,” he said. “So we have a great base to start with.”

Desonta Bradford is the Bucs’ returning all-conference player. The 6-foot-4 point guard was a third-team All-Southern Conference selection this season and will be the team’s only returning starter.

Among the returning players, forward David Burrell showed he could slide into a starting role and become a major player. Guards Jermaine Long and Devontavius Payne will see their minutes increase as well. Jason Williams got enough action as a freshman to prove he can play at the Division I level.

Guard Kanayo Obi-Rapu, a transfer from Longwood, also becomes eligible after he sat out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.

“We’re going to keep competing for championships here, so we’re going to go out and sign some guys to help these guys win,” Forbes said.

The Bucs have already signed Bo Hodges, the two-time Class AA Mr. Basketball in Tennessee. The 6-foot-3 guard is leading Maplewood High School in the state tournament this week.

“We’re really excited about him,” Forbes said.

Forbes is also hoping Peter Jurkin will be back for another season. The 7-footer, who transferred from Indiana three years ago, was used sparingly this year in a deep front court. He could help next year on a team losing all of its big men.

ETSU is planning to apply for a waiver that would get Jurkin another year based on his injury history and the fact that he played just 18 minutes in two seasons at Indiana and appeared in only three games as a freshman. ETSU officials are also hoping the NCAA takes into account the strife in Jurkin’s homeland of South Sudan, which is embroiled in a civil war.

If Jurkin is allowed to return, Forbes would have four scholarships to fill.

“We need some size and maybe one more wing, somebody who can help us on the perimeter,” Forbes said.

Forbes just completed his second season at ETSU. His team lost in the SoCon championship in his first year and took another step this season. Making the NCAA Tournament was an exciting accomplishment for everyone involved, but losing, even on the grandest stage against the toughest competition, still gnaws at the coach.

“We got a little closer,” he said. “Now we have to win. That’s always the goal. We said we want to play meaningful games in March and we did that. Now we have to win in the NCAA Tournament.

“These guys got a taste of it. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. It’s going to be very beneficial because now they know and we can build on that. And for the seniors that are leaving, it’s a memory they’ll always have for the rest of their lives.”

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