East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow doesn’t put much stock in things that happen on the court in early August, but he knows there are small lessons to be learned.
Wednesday might have been one of those occasions.
Bartow watched a blue-clad team of his current players build a 3-0 lead over former ETSU players in gold, only to watch the old guys battle back to win four straight games and win the best-of-seven series. Tim Smith buried a rainbow 3-pointer from the dead corner for the clincher, sending the boys in blue to the baseline for suicide sprints.
“Pretty ragged, but there are lessons in games like that that can carry over into the season,” Bartow said with a wry smile that told you he enjoyed the competition. “You lose a 3-0 lead and you hear about it afterward … it’s something you shouldn’t forget.”
Bartow shuttled players in and out against a team that included Smith, Kenyona Swader, Adam Sollazzo and DeShaud Johnson. The intensity grew as time went along.
The workout was part of the limited team activities allowed by the NCAA this time of year.
“It’s helpful because you do see glimpses – things that concern you and things that excite you,” said Bartow. “It’s really too early to tell much, but it’s obvious that we miss the three guys we lost. That being said, I was encouraged.”
One of the newcomers who has encouraged Bartow this summer is freshman swingman Yunio Barrueta of Miami.
In fact, the coach said, “If you asked me right now who’s the best teammate, he’s at the top of my list. You saw today, if he’s not in the game he’s still standing up and into what’s going on. He’s vocal.”
Nicknamed “Junior,” Barrueta has been compared to a young Mike Smith. He was a leader for the Class 8A state champion in Florida last season at Hialeah Gardens, but as something of a tweener at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he wasn’t hotly recruited by Division I schools.
He had signed an NAIA scholarship, with Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, Fla., a week or so before ETSU came calling.
“I was recruited by some Division II and NAIA schools, but my dream was to go Division I,” said Barrueta. “It’s something I never would have expected, being up here to play basketball and go to school. I wanted to experience something different in my life, and this is a great opportunity for me.”
Barrueta comes from an interesting background.
His high school has about 4,000 students. Hialeah Gardens won the state’s first-ever 8A championship in its fourth year of existence, and it did so with an all-Hispanic lineup. (One of Barrueta’s teammates, guard Ray Rodriguez, has signed with North Florida.)
Barrueta was born in Cuba and moved to Florida when he was five. His parents speak no English.
“He’s a very neat kid,” said Bartow. “He still has weaknesses in his game, but he’s versatile and has strength and toughness. He’ll knock your head off.”
Bartow is still waiting to see if junior-college signee Hunter Harris of Nashville becomes academically eligible. The 6-7, 230-pound forward is winding up summer classes at Volunteer State Community College.
“Bottom line, he has to graduate from Volunteer State, and he’s on course to do that,” said Bartow. “The semester is over at the end of next week, so we’ll see. We’re hopeful.
“The thing about Hunter is he has a big motor and gives us something we don’t currently have.”
The ETSU athletic department will host a dinner next week celebrating the career of Dave Walker, the track and field icon who retired this spring after 50 years as coach at the university.
The festivities are set for Aug. 10 at the Millennium Center, beginning at 6 o’clock, and tickets are still available to the public. The cost is $50 per person.
To RSVP, or for more information, contact associate athletic director for development Jo Anne Paty at 439-4738 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walker was just enshrined into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in May, and is also a member of the ETSU Hall of Fame (1996) and the U.S. Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2003). He led the Bucs to 22 cross country conference championships and 11 track and field titles, grooming Olympians Eddy Leddy, Neil Cusack and Ray Flynn along the way.
Walker’s cross country teams made 14 consecutive NCAA national appearances from 1970-83.
The women’s soccer team has returned to campus, intent on building on what it accomplished a year ago.
The Lady Bucs won their first-ever Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season championship in Adam Sayers’ debut as head coach. They were upset by Mercer, 1-0 in overtime, in the tournament semifinals but still tied a school record for wins with their 12-5-1 record.
“It was a great experience for all of us last year,” Sayers said Wednesday. “It was the highest ETSU has ever finished, the most successful season, and I’m sure the returning players will bring that experience back with them.”
The Lady Bucs, with seven newcomers on a roster of 24, began the preseason with fitness workouts on Wednesday morning and later met two other times during the day. Sayers expects the preparations to go smoothly as the team approaches its first scrimmage next Tuesday at VMI.
“I’m very comfortable with everything we have in place,” he said. “Myself and my staff have spent the summer preparing. We’re a year into the job, and obviously I’m much more familiar with everything, the surroundings and operation. That should be very beneficial.”