At 6-foot-6 and a muscular 230 pounds, Ron Giplaye is a hard guy to miss walking through the hallways at East Tennessee State. He looks pretty good on the basketball court, too.
Unfortunately for Giplaye, not many people around here have seen him play yet. He transferred in from Providence College and has had to sit out this season.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been tough,” Giplaye said Tuesday. “It’s especially hard not being able to travel. When the team is on the road, I’m pretty much here by myself.”
Giplaye is a Lowell, Mass., native who was recruited by the Bucs out of nationally ranked Notre Dame Prep. He ended up going to Providence, a Big East Conference school, and started a dozen games as a sophomore there.
When coach Keno Davis was fired in 2011, Giplaye got antsy but stayed another year under new coach Ed Cooley.
“I stuck around that extra year, but decided I wanted to try something different,” he said. “My AAU program was the same one that (former Buc) Tommy Hubbard played for, and my coach told me this would be a good fit.”
The Bucs would love to have Giplaye on the floor this season, especially with Lukas Poderis redshirting with an injury. Coach Murry Bartow thinks he’ll bring some Big East toughness to the team when he becomes eligible.
“We obviously think he’s going to help us,” said Bartow. “He’s a player we liked out of high school; we recruited him but couldn’t get him at the time.
“He’s a big guy, he’s got some thickness and great hands. Offensively he still needs a lot of work, but he has a knack for scoring around the basket. Defensively he can rebound and block shots.”
Giplaye has reportedly been a load in practices, and for good reason.
“For the most part, I practice like it’s game day,” he said.
It’s been 12 weeks now since Poderis had Achilles tendon surgery, and he’s starting to see some light at the end of the rehab tunnel.
“I feel way better than I did,” Poderis said Tuesday. “I’ve been doing some stretching and exercises.”
The senior forward suffered the injury to his left leg during a preseason scrimmage against Furman in late October. Surgery soon followed and Poderis has since gone from hard cast, to soft cast, to walking boot, to a different boot, to soft shoe.
He spent about six weeks on crutches.
What has been the hardest part about this redshirt season?
“Just sitting, watching practice, watching games,” said Poderis. “It’s my senior year and I can’t help. I’m supposed to be out there.”
How close is the competition in the Atlantic Sun Conference basketball race? Very.
At the halfway point of the league schedule, five teams are tied for first place with 6-3 records. The group includes Florida Gulf Coast, Mercer, South Carolina Upstate, Jacksonville and Stetson.
ETSU is now two games back after losing 88-71 Monday night at Upstate. The Bucs have beaten only one of the top teams, Florida Gulf Coast.
ETSU has boosted its scoring average about six points a game, to 62.3, by hitting at least 70 in six of the last seven games. That still leaves them eighth in the conference.
The Bucs are near the bottom in most categories -- dead last in rebound margin and assists.
Individually, Lester Wilson ranks as the No. 5 scorer, at 15.5 ppg. The redshirt freshman has scored in double figures in 19 of 22 games and has led the Bucs in 12 of those.
Wilson has been an iron man, averaging 34.7 minutes per game. That is third-highest in the A-Sun.
ETSU has no one among the top 15 in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, assists or steals.
The league’s leading scorer is Markeith Cummings of Kennesaw State, but he reportedly left the floundering Owls, who are 2-19, last weekend. The senior forward has 1,921 points and ranks among the top 10 all-time in the A-Sun in five career offensive categories.
Kennesaw State had just eight men in uniform Saturday night at Northern Kentucky.
On the women’s side, the parity doesn’t extend far from the top.
Defending champion Florida Gulf Coast is undefeated again, having handed Stetson its only loss, 74-55, last weekend in Ft. Myers. Mercer is two games back at the halfway point.
ETSU, meanwhile, is 3-6 and tied for seventh with Jacksonville, the team it defeated Monday night in the Dome.
The Lady Bucs’ biggest problem is they can’t seem stop anybody. Their average of 74.7 points allowed is more than three points higher than anybody else in the league. (They’re being outscored by almost 13 points a game.)
Curiously, they lead the A-Sun in rebound margin and blocked shots, and are second in steals.
Junior forward Destiny Mitchell continues to stuff the stat sheet. She ranks sixth in scoring (12.6), second in rebounding (9.0), third in field-goal percentage (.503) and fourth in steals (2.3).
Precious Bridges of Mercer is the league’s leading scorer, at 18.4, while Sametria Gideon of Kennesaw State is the top rebounder (10.5).