Coach Murry Bartow and first-year assistants Bob Bolen and Thomas Carr have produced a team that’s flirting with a 20-win season as March approaches. The Bucs (17-13) can nail down third place in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a victory Friday night at USC Upstate.
For Bartow, it’s been a bounce-back season after his team slumped to 10-22 a year ago. He gives plenty of credit to Bolen and Carr, who came to ETSU with much different backgrounds but have meshed well with the current group of players.
“They’ve been spectacular,” said Bartow. “I’ve said numerous times that I’ve had good staffs in the past, and I wouldn’t want to compare. But Bob and Thomas and Mark Richmond, our DOBO (director of basketball operations), have really been very upbeat and energetic right from the start. They’re going to continue to pay dividends for us.”
Bolen and Carr came on the scene at a time of flux.
Bartow had lost the two assistants who had been with him for a decade, his whole tenure at ETSU, when Mike Boyd retired and Scott Wagers left to take a job at Lamar. The team’s third assistant, Thomas Johnson, then left for a Division III school just a few weeks before preseason practice began. (That position has never been filled.)
Bolen had spent 19 seasons at Mountain States University, an NAIA program in Beckley, W.Va. All he did there was win a national championship in 2004 and post a 308-42 record from 2003-12, the best winning percentage in the nation by a coach at any level.
And then suddenly the job, and the program, disappeared. Mountain States lost its accreditation and Bolen was left to look for a fresh start. He got that at ETSU.
“It’s my first time as an assistant coach, and it’s been extremely enjoyable for me,” Bolen said Wednesday. “I’ve been able to get a little closer to the players maybe than I would as a head coach. We have such a great group of guys, and the fans are so good here, so loyal. I really appreciate the opportunity coach Bartow has given me.”
He and Carr have been particularly influential in rejuvenating an offense that averaged just 62.3 points per game last season. The Bucs are currently at 76.9 – a close second to Mercer in the conference – and are right at the top in free-throw shooting and 3-point shooting.
Almost all the numbers are up, in fact, except for turnovers, which at 11.7 per game are historically low for the program.
Bartow expected fresh ideas and dramatic improvement when he handed the offensive reins to his new assistants, and he’s gotten it.
“Bob is a wily veteran, and as a head coach has won a national championship and a lot more games than I’ve won,” he said. “He’s a really smart guy, a good bench coach who always has good ideas and suggestions.
“Thomas is a young guy who has been incredible with our players. He has two primary roles, player development and recruiting, and I don’t want him bogged down in much else. I think he’s about to pay incredible dividends from a recruiting standpoint.”
Carr does much of his best work behind the scenes. At 28, he relates well with the players and spends countless hours working on their mechanics and the finer details of the game.
The Toledo, Ohio native was a standout guard at Pfeiffer University and had two assistant’s jobs before spending the 2012-13 season as head coach at George Washington High School in Danville, Va. His only team there went 25-3 and led Virginia in scoring, at 88 points per game.
“I’ve played D2, coached prep school, juco, high school,” he said. “All those stops prepared me for any kind of kid we might have here, and coach Bartow has been tremendous for my development. He lets me do what I’m passionate about, while at the same time teaching and molding me so one day I can sit in his seat somewhere.”
One of the ETSU players who has benefitted greatly from Carr’s tutelage is Rashawn Rembert. The junior guard has already set a school record for 3-pointers in a season, with 88, and could still finish as the A-Sun’s leading scorer.
“I’ve spent countless hours in the gym with coach Carr,” said Rembert, “and it’s not just me. It’s like he’s given our program a facelift, or shot of energy. He does an amazing job.”
Carr sees a lot of himself in the players and takes a fairly simple approach to working with them.
“Each guy has their own skill set, their own strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “It’s all about making sure they’re confident in what they’re good at, and then touch on things we can work on. In spring and summer, we just build on it.”
Rembert, who has nearly doubled his scoring average as a sophomore, is just an example of that.
“Rashawn, to his credit, is as willing a worker as I’ve been around,” said Carr. “He has a purpose and a bigger picture that he’s looking at. He just needed the reps and confidence to carry over to his game.”
The Bucs have gotten scoring from all around this season, with five averaging in double figures and another right on the cusp. The production hasn’t surprised Bolen, who is used to leading high-octane teams.
“I’m not really surprised at all by what we’ve done offensively,” he said. “Petey (McClain) has done a great job of running the offense and getting people shots. Jalen (Riley) is instant offense; he can score in a variety of ways. Rashawn is shooting a high percentage on 3-pointers. Hunter (Harris) is able to score inside when he has a size advantage. Kinard (Gadsden-Gilliard) has shined doing a variety of things on court.
“We have a lot of good pieces.”
Bartow plans to add another good coaching piece in the near future. He doesn’t think working short-handed has greatly hampered this team but wouldn’t want to do it again.
“We’ve been OK. I don’t think it has hindered us,” he said. “But it’s something at the end of the year that we certainly want to address in terms of adding another person to the staff.”