Time will tell if the East Tennessee State basketball team has gotten better in the offseason. It certainly has gotten thicker.
The six-man recruiting class completed Monday includes a couple of stout junior-college forwards in Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard (6-5, 250) and Hunter Harris (6-7, 220), a power forward with Big East Conference experience in Ron Giplaye (6-6, 230), and a broad-shouldered swingman in Yunio Barrueta (6-4, 213).
Even the two high school guards from Alabama who signed early, Mario Stramaglia and Petey McClain, look like they’ve spent a fair amount of time in the weight room.
“When we really analyzed what we’ve lost over the last couple of years, we lost a ton of thickness and toughness,” coach Murry Bartow said Tuesday. “That was a real priority in recruiting. The guys we’ve signed, even the perimeter players, are broad-shouldered and strong.
“We think they can all come in and compete right away. They don’t have to get stronger to do that.”
Giplaye, who transferred in from Providence College, won’t be in the mix this season. He has to sit out for a year, then will have two years of eligibility left. Bartow expects him to become a valuable defender.
The Lowell, Mass., native averaged just 1.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 26 games as a sophomore for the Friars.
“He didn’t have great numbers at Providence,” said Bartow, “but you put him in our program, in the Atlantic Sun, and I think he’ll be very productive. He’s out of the same AAU program as Tommy Hubbard, and we saw him a lot out of high school. He’s a really good rebounder and post defender, which is so critical for us.”
Giplaye and Barrueta were the last two signees, and they’re both intriguing. Barrueta was born in Cuba and moved to Miami when he was five. He played his high school ball at Hialeah Gardens, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds as a senior as his team won the Florida Class 8A state championship.
Bartow thinks he has a huge upside.
“Yunio reminds us a lot of a young Mike Smith — thick and powerful,” said Bartow, referring to the A-Sun player of the year two seasons ago. “He’s only 6-4 but he’s really put together, very strong, and we may be able to play him all over the floor like we did Mike.
“We call him Junior, and he’s really an interesting kid. His mom and dad don’t speak any English. He’s a hardworking, hungry type kid who comes from a really good high school program with a really good coach.”
Bartow and his staff haven’t seen much of the newcomers on the floor yet. They just arrived on campus for the second session of summer classes last week.
Some are already starting to make their marks in the weight room.
“I was just talking to Jason Fields, who helps us with strength and conditioning, and asked him who were the bright spots — all 12 guys, who are some who rate the highest?” said Bartow. “His top four may have been new guys, which is encouraging to hear.”
On the floor, Gadsden-Gilliard is one who has caught the coach’s eye in short workouts that are allowable this time of year. He’s a Georgetown, S.C., native who played at Roane State Community College in Harriman.
“Our contact has been very limited so far,” said Bartow, “but Kinard has gotten my attention. He’s a real unusual player. He’s 6-5 and every bit of 250 pounds, but he played some point guard in junior college. He’s very big and very skilled, kind of like Jerald Fields was. He doesn’t have that same bounce, but there’s a similar skill set. He can really handle the ball.”
Bartow hopes the juco transfers are able to get in the mix early this season. There’s certainly playing time to be had, after losing starters Adam Sollazzo, Isiah Brown and Hubbard to graduation.
“It’s pretty obvious, as I’ve said many times, you don’t sign junior-college players to be your seventh or eighth man,” said Bartow. “Guys like Hunter and Kinard, you expect immediate returns. They’ve already played 60 college games.
“With the three freshmen, time will tell. Usually those guys need time to develop physically, but there’s no waiting curve with these three. They all feel like they’re ready to come in and compete for playing time right now.”