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Bucs ready to get season started

Joe Avento • Updated Nov 8, 2017 at 5:44 PM

The season is about here for the East Tennessee State basketball team, and coach Steve Forbes says his players are sick and tired of playing against each other.

“I think they’re really ready,” Forbes said Wednesday. “They’re tired of it. They’re tired of me. They’re tired of playing against each other. We’ve got a deep team so practice is very competitive. I think they’re excited to get out and play somebody new.”

The Bucs open the season Friday night at Northern Kentucky, an NCAA tournament team last season.

“I really love our chemistry,” Forbes said. “Our guys are playing really, really hard.”

With 10 new players on the roster, the Bucs will have a different look this season. Forbes released his starting lineup for the opener, and two of the five will be making their first starts for ETSU while two others each started one game last season.

Desonta Bradford is the only known commodity as a starter after he was in the lineup for all 34 games last season. Bradford averaged 10.4 points a game last year and is the team’s leading returning scorer.

Joining Bradford in the lineup will be David Burrell, Jermaine Long, Devontavius Payne and Peter Jurkin, giving the Bucs an all-senior starting five.

Freshman Mladen Armus, who was the team’s leading rebounder through all of October practice, will push Jurkin at the center spot.

“We have great chemistry,” Forbes said. “They share the ball and they play really hard. Those things go a long way.”

The Bucs are replacing most of their scoring and rebounding, including first-team All-Southern Conference selection T.J. Cromer, who averaged 18.8 points per game last season.

“I think we stay in our offense more,” Forbes said. “With T.J. last year, he could break things off and make plays, which I wasn’t complaining about. But this year’s team tends to share it a little bit better, a little bit more, because we have five guys on the floor who can do a lot of things. This year’s team may have one guy get 20 one game a different guy get 20 the next game.”

The big shoes to fill and all the newcomers left plenty of uncertainties. The Southern Conference’s coaches and media picked the Bucs to finish fourth a year after they tied for the regular-season championship and won the conference tournament.

Forbes says he likes being the underdog, but he still admitted to using the preseason pick as fuel for his players.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “We still have to play the games.

“I can understand where we got picked, but one thing I think people maybe misjudge with my team is we lost a lot of really good players, but we’ve got a lot of guys that played a lot last year in big situations. These guys have played in big situations. They’re just ready to play. Now it’s their time to shine.”

Payne has looked like a big-time scorer in closed scrimmages against Austin Peay and UNC-Asheville, both of which the Bucs won handily.

“The scrimmages we had, they were good for us to get to see where our guys are at,” Bradford said. “I feel we’re getting closer. We’re getting better day by day.”

Bradford was a preseason all-conference selection and has made a name for himself as a second-half player during the first three years of his career. He vows to extend his productionto the entire game this season.

“I’m coming out aggressive for the whole 40 minutes,” he said. “No second half, no waiting, none of that. From the tip-off, it’s aggressive, man.”

Injuries

Sophomore point guard Jason Williams won’t play Friday night. He is going through concussion protocol. He’ll make the trip, but won’t be in uniform. …

Jeromy Rodriguez has undergone successful shoulder surgery and will miss the season. The former junior college star was expected to be one of the Bucs’ top players. He’ll have two years of eligibility remaining when he returns next season.

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