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Bucs turn attention to next year

March 22nd, 2014 7:02 pm by Joe Avento

Bucs turn attention to next year

These are the toughest days for a college basketball coach, the ones directly after the season ends.

No practice today. No game tomorrow. It throws them off their regimented schedule.

“It’s always tough when you lose,” East Tennessee State coach Murry Bartow said. “Ever since Sept. 1, this is 24/7. No days off. As a college basketball coach, when you lose and it’s done, it’s very strange. For two, three days, it’s a really strange feeling. That’s all we’ve done every day for six months.”

ETSU’s season came to an end Friday night with an 83-77 loss to Towson in the second round of the Tournament. It closed the book on a 19-16 season, one that was filled with enough positives for Bartow to look back with a smile.

Soon, his entire attention will turn toward next year. And next year should be a good one for the Bucs, who will be back in the Southern Conference after nine years in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

“Heading into next year, we’ve got a lot of good players back, a lot of the core is back,” Bartow said. “Plus, it’s very well known, we’ve got a very good player sitting out.”

That player is Maurice O’Field of Cleveland, an All-Ohio pick who signed with ETSU last year but had to sit out the season because of academics.

The electrifying O’Field, a 6-foot-4 wing, has impressed everybody who has seen him on the court. He hasn’t been able to practice with the team, but he’s played pickup games with the players and has spent a lot of time on the court by himself working on his skills.

“We think he’s gonna be one of the best players in our program,” Bartow said.

The Bucs have plenty of firepower back, mostly from the guard positions. They’ll need to get some size to replace the departing seniors. Hunter Harris, Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard and Lukas Poderis really provided all the size ETSU had, and they will all be gone next season. Ron Giplaye, who underwent open-heart surgery this season and played very limited minutes, will be a senior.

“Next year we’ve got the makings, if we recruit well, to be better than we were this year so we’re hopeful of that,” Bartow said.

ETSU has already signed one player to next year’s class, 6-foot-10 Karl Overstreet and is in on at least one more big man.

“We’re on to some good recruits right now, so we just have to put it all together,” Bartow said.

Rashawn Rembert leads the Bucs into the Southern Conference, coming in as the A-Sun scoring champion.

The Bucs also have Jalen Riley, A.J.Merriweather, Lester Wilson and Petey McClain back. In addition, a couple of freshmen from this year’s class, Isaac Banks and Devin Harris, are expected to break into the rotation.

ETSU was 10-22 last season, so to finish this year in any kind of postseason was a big step in the right direction.

“That’s a major turnaround,” Rembert said. “The season we had last year started as a snowball and it turned into an avalanche. To be able to turn it around this season was big, and to have it end in postseason play with my brothers, our seniors, that’s big.

“It was a bumpy start. When we started out 0-4 I could see when we came to the game, the crowd wasn’t really there. But coach, he told us we could weather the storm. That’s pretty much what we did. It showed a lot that we were able to bounce back out of it.”

Along the way was a victory over Stephen F. Austin, one that that really didn’t appear that special at the time seeing how the Lumberjacks left Johnson City with a 3-2 record. But they haven’t lost since and now they’re 32-2 after their thrilling victory over VCU in the NCAA tournament on Friday night.

“I knew it was a good win at the time,” Bartow said. “We’ve had some really good wins. Maybe the thing I’m most proud of is the fight within this team. We’ve been down a lot and seemed to have the wherewithal to come back.

“We’re disappointed it’s over, but I’m proud of our guys. When we were sitting there 0 and 4, I’m not sure anybody would have thought we’d win 19 games. You always as a coach wish you could have won a few more games. A lot of teams would have loved to win 19.”

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