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Lester Wilson was a bright spot through much of a dark season for the East Tennessee State basketball team a year ago.
He finished as the Bucs’ second-leading scorer and rebounder in his first taste of college action. But Wilson struggled the last month or so as his team slumped to 10-22.
The sophomore wing from Knoxville has returned to the gym with specific individual goals in mind this fall. And they go deeper than improving on his averages of 13.0 points and 5.3 rebounds.
“The priority for me is to improve on defense and shoot the ball like I did at the first of the year,” Wilson said Wednesday before practice in the Dome. “At the end, I literally couldn’t see the ball go through the hole, and it started messing with my mind. I started thinking about my shot and overanalyzing.”
Wilson shook his head. “It’s been a long offseason,” he said.
An excellent leaper with a textbook jump shot, Wilson has admittedly been a defensive liability for the Bucs. And he’s working hard to change that.
“Defensively I need better footwork and more flexibility,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and lie … I’m stiff, and that doesn’t help me defensively. I just have to keep working.”
The Bucs are still trying to get a feel for each other early in preseason workouts. They have six new players, and that’s creating healthy competition, says Wilson.
“This group is actually more competitive, and that has a domino effect,” he said. “We’ll be a better team because of the way guys are pushing each other.”
The “Holding Court” event hosted by Jay Bilas at the Carnegie Hotel next Tuesday night is sold out.
ETSU officials were hoping to fill about 160 seats, at $100 a seat, for the fundraiser that features Bilas, the ESPN analyst, and special guests Les Robinson, Sonny Smith and Bobby Cremins talking basketball in the Grand Soldiers Ballroom. Mike Kryzyzewski, John Calipari, Mark Few and Steve Alford are also scheduled to make appearances via video conferencing.
ETSU is making a spirited defense of its volleyball championship early in the conference schedule.
The Bucs have won five straight matches, including their first three in the Atlantic Sun Conference, and all have been on the road. They continue their trek with matches Friday at Northern Kentucky and Saturday at Lipscomb.
“We’ve seen some great success out on the road,” coach Lindsey Devine said Wednesday, “but we look forward to getting back in Brooks Gym and playing some home matches.”
The Bucs (9-6) have played there only once so far, shutting out Furman a month ago. They played 11 matches in tournaments before hitting the conference road.
Their next home date is Oct. 11 against Stetson, the only other unbeaten in the A-Sun, at 4-0.
Devine says the early results, including a win over Tennessee, is giving her team a mental edge. The Bucs haven’t been pushed to five games during their current streak.
“We’re playing with a sense of maturity,” said Devine. “We just have to go through all these opportunities and experiences, and we are using the Tennessee win, and we’re using these road matches to test us. Once we get back home, I feel the team will have a lot of things to draw upon when adversity strikes us.”
Men’s soccer coach Scott Calabrese said a trip to Radford on Sunday produced one of the better scoreless ties he’s been involved with.
The Bucs were without six starters who were nursing with a variety of injuries.
“To be honest, our guys played brilliantly,” said Calabrese. “How hard we defended, how hard we worked … we got inspired performances from quite a few players.
“In terms of discipline and defense, I think it was one of the best performances an ETSU team has ever shown.”
It has been a difficult stretch for the Bucs (2-3-3) since they knocked off No. 8 UAB on Sept. 15. They were blown away at home by Furman 5-1, then lost there to Appalachian State 2-1.
Now they get to open conference play Friday night at North Florida, which currently sports the best record in the A-Sun (4-2-1).
“We have the highest RPI in the conference, with our record and schedule. We’re No. 50,” said Calabrese. “UNF is next, at 75 or 76. The A-Sun definitely hasn’t done us any favors with the schedule in our last season in the league.”
The coach isn’t sure how many of those injured starters will be able to play Friday night, but expects to have at least two or three back in the lineup.