Bucs Coach Murry Bartow (Photo by Lee Talbert)
The East Tennessee State basketball teams are coming off seasons they would like to forget. Instead, they’re using last year’s failures as motivation.
After the men posted a 10-22 record and the women went 8-18 last year, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
ETSU men’s coach Murry Bartow and women’s coach Brittney Ezell, along with selected players, met with the media Monday at Beef O’Brady’s in Boone Creek for a preseason get-together. It was a time for optimism since nobody’s missed a shot that counts or lost a game.
“Last season was rough and it left a bad taste in my mouth,” senior forward Hunter Harris said. “I haven’t lost like that ever, so it was pretty tough. We let the fans down. That’s something Coach Bartow and all the other coaches take pride in, giving the fans a good product on the court.
“We worked hard over the summer. We’re looking pretty strong this year.”
The Bucs have a roster with eight players who didn’t suit up last year, two new assistant coaches and a schedule built for success with 17 home games.
“I think there is a lot of excitement,” Bartow said. “I think the returning players have improved their games from a year ago and we’ve got a nice mix of new guys. We have a team that will compete incredibly hard.
“I think we’ll be different. Number one, because of new players. Number two because of new staff.”
Thomas Carr and Bob Bolen have joined Bartow’s staff, and the head coach says the team’s offense is improving thanks to the additions.
“I think you’ll see a much more offensive-minded, up-tempo team than you’ve seen in recent years,” Bartow said.
Harris, who played at Volunteer State for two seasons before joining ETSU last year, averaged 8.1 points and a team-leading 5.4 rebounds for the Bucs.
While he looked capable of big things at times, trying to find consistency was a challenge for the athletic 6-foot-7 forward. He followed a 25-point night against North Florida with a three-point game against USC-Upstate. After scoring 22 and 13 points in the final-two regular-season games, he scored one in the season-ending loss to Stetson in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.
“I never had that problem in basketball, but last year that was a problem for me, consistency,” he said. “I worked hard on every aspect of the game to get better. It’s gonna be better this year. I guarantee it.”
One of the newcomers, Jalen Riley, a junior-college transfer from Racine, Wis., has shown some shooting skills in the preseason. Harris said Riley can “shoot the leather off the ball.”
Riley, a 6-foot, 150-pounder, says he’s enjoyed his first few months at ETSU.
“ETSU, it’s a been a good fit,” he said. “Everybody treats me like family. Ever since I’ve been here, it’s been great. Everybody’s working hard. Hopefully it pays off.”
Hard work has been the theme for the women’s team as well as Ezell begins her first season at the helm.
“It’s gone a lot easier than we thought it would,” junior guard Cara Bowling said about the transition from the departed Karen Kemp. “Coach Ezell came in and laid down the law, put her all guidelines out from the get-go. Everybody’s been buying into it and doing well.
“One of the biggest things she pushes is intensity and work ethic. Every time we step on the court, we have to give everything we have.”
Ezell inherited a team that went 16-40 the last two years and wasn’t doing anything particularly well by the time last season ended.
“I think you’ll see a lot of floor burns, diving after loose balls and a lot of teammates that care for each other this season,” Ezell said. “They seem to enjoy playing hard. I think everybody yearns for discipline. What we’ve tried to instill in them are the people who discipline us are the people who care about us. They know we care about them.”
The first few practices kind of shocked the players, but they now know what to expect and what is expected of them.
“We’re kind of accustomed to it now,” said senior guard Shawn Randall. “She stresses going hard all the time. It’s a process and we’re buying into it. We’re gonna be really good this year.
“We trust in her and we trust that she knows what she’s talking about. It’s gonna be really fun because we’re gonna win.”
The men’s team has exhibition games scheduled against Milligan College (Oct. 29) and Mars Hill (Nov. 2) before opening the season Nov. 8 at Charlotte.
The women have an exhibition against Shepherd University (Nov. 2) before opening Nov. 8 at Memphis.