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Talking basketball with ETSU’s Forbes

Joe Avento • Updated Sep 12, 2017 at 8:54 PM

Steve Forbes was doing what he does best over the weekend — talking basketball.

Forbes, the successful East Tennessee State coach, was a guest speaker at the USA Basketball Coach Academy in Memphis.

“It was a great experience,” Forbes said by telephone Tuesday during a drive from Chicago to Milwaukee while on a recruiting trip.

Forbes has a long history with Don Showalter, the coach development director of USA Basketball, the governing body of the sport in the United States and the organization which runs all the international teams that represent the country.

Showalter was the coach at Lone Tree High School in Iowa when Forbes was in fourth grade in the same town.

“Getting an opportunity to be part of USA Basketball is exciting,” Forbes said. “Maybe it will lead to more opportunities to do some things in the future with them.”

Joining a list of speakers that included Tubby Smith and former NBA player and coach Lionel Hollins, Forbes addressed coaches on the high school level as well as youth and middle school coaches.

He also had a chance to catch up with some old friends.

“I saw a lot of coaches I hadn’t seen in a while,” Forbes said. “It was good to reconnect with them, talk about our programs.”

Forbes sure has a lot to talk about these days, with his team coming off a Southern Conference championship and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

All that success, in just Forbes’ second year at ETSU, has helped on the recruiting trail as well.

“I don’t think it hurts,” Forbes said. “The SoCon championship was on ESPN and the NCAA Tournament was on TV. That kind of exposure is great.

“We’re winning, there’s excitement and we have great fans. We have tremendous support and we’ve got two years under our belt. I’m happy with the direction our program is going.”

The Bucs’ schedule was released recently, and the most noticeable contest is a game at Kentucky, set for Nov. 17.

It’s part of the Adolph Rupp Classic, and it allowed Forbes to schedule three home games. ETSU’s first three home games, against Delaware State, Troy and Fort Wayne, are associated with the Kentucky event.

“It’s great to go play in one of the best environments in college basketball and then to get three home games out of it, which are hard to get, was really good too,” Forbes said.

The Kentucky game is the most visible of a solid non-conference schedule that also includes games against Xavier, Northern Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Detroit and Fordham.

The Bucs open the Southern Conference portion of their schedule with three road games in a row. They start on New Year’s Eve at Mercer and continue Jan. 4 at Samford and Jan. 6 at Chattanooga.

“The conference didn’t do us any favors,” Forbes said. “Three road games in a row … and they did it to us twice. I don’t like it. I just don’t understand that, but I guess I’m not smart enough to figure it out.”

The second string of three in a row on the road is Feb. 10 at Virginia Military Institute, Feb. 12 at UNC Greensboro and Feb. 17 at Western Carolina.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Forbes said. “We just have to do what we have to do.”

Forbes’ team is in the process of getting ready for the upcoming season. It’s really a process that never ends, but the coaching staff is allowed two hours a week with the team this time of year, so Forbes and his assistants have broken it down into three 40-minute workouts.

On Oct. 1, they can go full bore.

With seven new players on the roster, Forbes has some work to do to mold his team after winning 51 games in his first two seasons at ETSU.

He doesn’t like to differentiate between the holdovers and newcomers when looking at his roster. He says they’re all part of this year’s team, the one he is trying to mold into another championship outfit.

“We lost some awfully good players, but we have some really good players in our program,” Forbes said. “We have guys who started and have played a lot of minutes.”

Point guard Desonta Bradford and small forward David Burrell are back and should be leaders. Devontavius Payne and Jermaine Long both played key roles last year as well.

“Desonta is an all-league guy so we expect a lot from him,” Forbes said. “David had a lot of production and I’m excited to see what he can do with more minutes. Devontavius made 64 threes in limited playing time and Jermaine turned into one of our best defenders.”

Peter Jurkin, ETSU’s seven-footer, is back after being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.

Among the newcomers, junior-college transfer Jeromy Rodriguez, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward who was the Pandhandle Conference player of the year last season, could have the most impact.

Forbes said his two freshmen, 6-foot-10 Mladen Armus and 6-foot-5 Bo Hodges, have looked solid and could earn some playing time.

A familiar name is back on the roster. Karl Overstreet, a 6-foot-10 center who signed with Murry Bartow and red-shirted the 2014-15 season, is back as a walk-on. He wasn’t part of the program for the past two years.

One player who ETSU fans won’t see on the court until the 2018-19 season is Patrick Good. The former David Crockett High School star transferred to ETSU after playing his freshman year at Appalachian State and is sitting out this season because of NCAA transfer rules.

“I think Patrick is a great addition to our program,” Forbes said. “I think he likes it a lot here. I think he’s going to be a really good player for us too. He’s just a great kid. It will be a good marriage.”

It all starts Nov. 10 when the Bucs play on the road to start a home-and-home series with Northern Kentucky, a team that played in the NCAA Tournament last season. Northern Kentucky comes to Freedom Hall on Dec. 6.

“It’ll test us, but that’s OK,” Forbes said of the opener. “That’s what we need. We’re not backing down from playing anybody.”

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