A scrimmage against Furman last weekend showed East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow there is plenty of work to be done before the season tips off. It also showed him how far forward John Walton has come.
The 6-7 sophomore from Memphis with the 84-inch wingspan was at times a disruptive force inside with his quickness and length. Bartow says that should translate into more playing time for Walton, who seldom got off the bench as a freshman.
“It’s too early to tell, but his stock is really rising,” Bartow said Friday. “He obviously didn’t play a lot a year ago; I didn’t see the improvement I wanted to see from him. The last two or three weeks, though, the light has really come on.
“When we did the Furman scrimmage, he was probably our best player on that day.”
Walton will likely be in the starting lineup today when the Bucs host Carson-Newman in the second game of an exhibition double-header. They tip off at 4 o’clock, following the women’s game at 1:30.
Walton was barely a blip on the ETSU radar last season. The Mitchell High School product played in just 12 games, collecting 15 rebounds and eight points.
While his coach has seen the light come on recently, Walton says it has been flickering for several months now.
“I had a chance to really work on my game during the summer,” he said. “I have a lot more confidence and I’m more comfortable with my teammates. I just need some time to show what I can do.”
Walton will start on the front line today with junior-college transfers Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard and Hunter Harris. Senior guards Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose will open in the backcourt.
Walton figures to get more minutes now that senior forward Lukas Poderis is out for the season with an Achilles tendon injury. Whether those come as a starter or in relief doesn’t matter much to him.
“I’m pretty much a cleanup guy,” he said. “With Luke going out, I’ll be at the 5 more. Coach Bartow said he just wants me to do what I do best and let the game come to me. It doesn’t really matter if I’m starting or coming off the bench. When I get in, I’m ready to work and produce.”
Bartow hopes to see a good bit of everybody today against a Carson-Newman team that was picked fourth in the South Atlantic Conference preseason poll. Juniors Ishmael Sanders and Antoine Davis were both named first-team all-conference.
Davis, a 6-5 forward, scored 20 points last season against the Bucs in an 87-59 exhibition loss.
“Chuck Benson (the Eagles’ coach) is a friend of ours, and he’s got two or three Division I caliber guys,” said Bartow. “They’re better than last year, so it could be a real test for us. And that wouldn’t necessarily be bad.”
Bartow has plenty of questions about this ETSU team. There are six newcomers on the roster, and two of the four seniors – Poderis and Jarvis Jones – won’t be in uniform today.
Jones is academically ineligible until second semester.
“It’s going to be fun to watch Kinard, fun to watch Hunter, to see how those guys play in their first game at this level,” said Bartow. “It’s going to be fun seeing these freshmen out there in their first game.
“We have 10 guys who are going to play a lot of minutes, and six of them are either high school or junior-college guys. Two of the others, John and Rashawn (Rembert), didn’t play much last season, and Lester Wilson sat out. This team is exciting but worrisome.”
Notes: Bartow expects Petey McClain to get a fair share of minutes at point guard today. The freshman from Mobile, Ala., has been through only a handful of practices since suffering a concussion early in the preseason.
“Petey is going to be really good,” said Bartow. “He’s got a burst and can really run a team. He’s the only true point guard in our program, but he’s a true freshman, so me and my staff are going to have to be very patient with him.” …
Workers were busy installing the new digital scorer’s tables along the court Friday. It’s been a fairly tedious process that required boosting the electrical capacity in the Dome, but the colorful boards are sure to command plenty of attention on game days. …
Electrical prep is also ongoing for the new lighting grid that will be installed over the court next month. The lights are expected to be shining for the Virginia Commonwealth game on Jan. 2.
The two-week installation will necessitate moving the Charleston Southern game on Dec. 18 over to Brooks Gym. …
The Bucs open their season a week from today at Virginia Tech. They also got started in Blacksburg last year, losing 64-53.