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Cooley back on board with Bucs

Kelly Hodge • Mar 21, 2012 at 11:20 PM

Sheldon Cooley’s indefinite suspension turned out to be four games and about a month.

East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow says the junior guard has been reinstated to the team and is working out with the other returning players.

“He’s still gotta go through the court system, but I feel good about my conversations with him,” Bartow said Wednesday. “We have met, and he has fulfilled the things he needed to do. I would project he’ll be part of the team next season.”

Cooley, a Tampa, Fla., native was suspended after being charged with filing a false police report in the wake of a strange incident involving players at his on-campus apartment on Feb. 21.

His roommate, J.C. Ward, and Adam Sollazzo were reportedly gagged and bound at gunpoint during a robbery. Ward, a junior forward who was sitting out with a foot injury this season, has since dropped out of school.

Cooley wasn’t present but told police that $1,300 belonging to him had been taken. That was later found to be false. He had a court date scheduled for today.

“Sheldon lied, that’s what he did, and that’s the extent of it,” said Bartow. “Now, he did it in a police investigation, and I don’t want to devalue that; he stayed in jail for a night because of it. But he’s a good kid, a nice kid, and it’s a mistake he can learn from.”

Cooley started 26 games for the Bucs at shooting guard this season and averaged 9.6 points. He tied for the team lead in steals and was second in assists.

The Bucs won the last two games of the regular season without Cooley, and also defeated North Florida in the Atlantic Sun Conference quarterfinals. They were knocked out by Belmont the next night to finish with a 17-14 record.

“I had a decision to make with Sheldon about the tournament,” said Bartow, “and my athletic director and my president put that 100 percent in my hands. I certainly thought his mistake was bad enough to keep him out, even though it hurt our team.”

Bartow was out on the recruiting trail Wednesday, looking for a wide range of talent. He lost more than 37 points and 18 rebounds a game with the graduation of Sollazzo, Isiah Brown and Tommy Hubbard.

The national signing period begins on April 11, and ETSU has three scholarships to offer.

“This is a very important time for us,” Bartow said during a layover at the Atlanta airport. “We’ve s obviously got some scholarships and got some needs. It’s important to bring in some good players.”

Two high school guards from Alabama committed during the fall signing period. They’ll join a roster that’s heavy on shooting guards and light on most everything else.

“We don’t have a true 3-man, and we need some bigs,” said Bartow. “We’re keeping all options open. I think we’re involved with some really good players, so we’ll have to see how things work out.”

Former ETSU guard Courtney Pigram got off to a blazing start in the NBA Development League this season, but the long New England winter has cooled him off.

The shooting guard is averaging 12.1 points and 2.1 assists in 36 games for the Maine Red Claws. He had averaged 20.5 points over his first eight games in December.

The Red Claws are 18-26 and stand sixth in the D-League’s East Division.

Meanwhile, two other former ETSU guards are putting up modest numbers overseas.

Mike Smith has averaged 7.6 points and 2.9 rebounds in 28 games for Bremerhaven of the German League. His team is 13-15.

Micah Williams, Smith’s former roommate, is averaging 3.4 points and 1.0 rebounds for Shimane SM in Japan. He’s playing just 7.4 minutes per game.

The ETSU baseball team has played 19 games so far, compiling an 11-8 record, and all but two have been at Thomas Stadium. There hasn’t been much of a home-field advantage.

The stadium is essentially a construction zone, and fans haven’t been able to get very close to the action - either the bricklaying or the baseball.

“It’s a very quiet stadium right now,” coach Tony Skole said Wednesday. “We’ve had some great crowds, but you can’t hear them in the dugouts because the wind blows out. You can see people cheering out there, but you can’t hear them.

“It’s not an imposing place to play for opponents. I would hope that in April we’ll have some seating ready that’s a little closer to the action.”

Skole’s team flies to Ft. Myers today for a weekend series against Florida Gulf Coast.

The Bucs need to make a good showing after dropping two of three to Belmont in their opening A-Sun series here last weekend. The Eagles are 2-1 (8-12 overall).

“It’s a tough place to go and play because of their tradition down there and the travel distance,” said Skole. “We think we match up pretty well with them offensively, and both teams have good pitching. In the past, we’ve had to outhit teams, but now we have a chance to win games with our pitching. We don’t have to score seven or eight runs every time out.”

The Bucs are coming off a 3-1 victory over North Carolina-Asheville on Tuesday night. Oddly, it was the 13th straight game where they have alternated wins and losses.

They haven’t put together back-to-back wins since sweeping a series over St. Joseph’s on Feb. 26. Their only consecutive losses came in the last two games of the season-opener series against Eastern Kentucky.

“It’s been a goal of ours not to lose two in a row,” said Skole. “Of course, we’d like to win a few in a row.”

The unseasonably warm weather all around the country through the first month of the baseball season has affected the product on the field to one degree or another.

“People are making the routine plays, the games are quicker and the pitching is a little better,” said Skole. “Usually the pitchers are ahead of the hitters early, but it’s a little more exaggerated this year because of the better preparation time teams have had.

“We definitely noticed it with the northern schools that came down early. In talking to their coaches, they had more practice time and played more games than they ever had in the months of February and March.”

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