The East Tennessee State men’s and women’s basketball teams both look a lot different today than they did when last season ended.
For the Bucs, there are four newcomers on board and three players coming off redshirt seasons. No Mike Smith, Micah Williams or Justin Tubbs.
For the Lady Bucs, Tara Davis and Latisha Belcher have graduated after being key parts of championship teams. The roster now features five true freshmen.
The fans get their first look at how the new pieces are coming together tonight at the annual Bluenanza tipoff event in the Dome. The basketball begins at 7 o’clock, after a complimentary buffet dinner for students and BASA members who are season-ticket holders at 6.
The night includes scrimmages by each team, a dunk and 3-point shooting contest and prize giveaways. Admission is free.
“It’s a good opportunity for the fans to get a first look,” said men’s coach Murry Bartow, “and we can have some fun with it, with the dunk competition and all that. The event is well-run and will be a little more streamlined so it moves along. It’s just a good night for the fans.”
n Isiah Brown has gotten used to battling under the boards at perhaps 210 pounds. Complementary muscle has rarely come along for a guy better suited to power forward than center.
This season Brown, a fifth-year senior, says he’s better prepared than ever for the rigors of playing in the paint. He spent a fair amount of time in the offseason getting in shape through mixed martial arts.
“Me and Lukas (Poderis) and Sheldon (Cooley) have been doing some MMA and occasionally some jujitsu,” said Brown. “It has made me really flexible, and I get up the court quicker with a different stride. The jujitsu has made me more physical.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and I think it will pay off when times get tense on the basketball court.”
Assistant coach Scott Wagers, who engineers the team’s defense, has gotten to be an MMA buff, working out several nights a week during the offseason. He hasn’t been sparring with his players, however.
“They wouldn’t let us fight coach Wagers,” said Brown.
n The Bucs have three true freshmen, and they’re all having their moments early in camp, according to Bartow. One, in particular, has caught the coach’s eye.
“If I had to go play a game tonight, Rashawn Rembert would be in our top seven,” he said. “Of the three freshmen, he’s maybe made quicker progress. I think all three have tremendous upsides.”
Rembert is a 6-3, 185-pound shooting guard from Tampa. The two other freshmen are 6-4, 205-pound swingman Lester Wilson of Knoxville and 6-7, 200-pound forward John Walton of Memphis.
Brown, who set a school record for blocked shots last season and should become the team’s career leader, has certainly noticed the youngsters.
“John is real long and really active,” said Brown. “When I first saw what he can do, I said, ‘Dang, I’m not going to have that record for long.’ And Lester is really strong and can do a lot of things to help us.
“This team looks so different. There are so many new faces, and everybody seems to bring something to the game.”
n Women’s head coach Karen Kemp was high on guard Brianna Bogard early in camp, and now another true freshman is growing on her.
“Amy Duke is extremely talented,” said Kemp. “We knew she had a great set of skills at the high school level but didn’t know how quick she could make the transition to college basketball. What we’re seeing is that she really knows how to use her body, and she’s maybe a better passer than our guards.”
Duke, a 6-foot forward from Hendersonville, should get more minutes with the season-ending knee injury to sophomore Ashley Miles.
n ETSU sat at the top of the women’s soccer standings in Atlantic Sun Conference for over three weeks. That ended last Sunday in Ft. Myers, Fla.
The Lady Bucs were beaten decisively by Florida Gulf Coast, 3-0. It was their first conference loss and dropped them into second place at 6-1-0 (11-4-0 overall), while the Lady Eagles improved to 6-0-1 (11-3-2) with just two regular-season matches to play.
Jacksonville is also in the mix, at 6-1-1.
ETSU hosts Kennesaw State at 7 o’clock Friday night and Mercer at 1 o’clock Sunday.
n After a puzzling stretch in league play, the men’s soccer team appeared to get back on track with its 2-1 victory over Florida Gulf Coast at home last Sunday.
The loss was the first in conference for the Eagles since the last game of the 2009 season -- a 12-game span -- dropping them to 3-0-1 and behind unbeaten Jacksonville in the standings.
The Bucs, meanwhile, improved to 2-3-1 (8-4-2 overall). The defending champs had been ranked in the top 25 nationally before losing three of their first four conference matches.
The Bucs trailed 1-0 at the half against Gulf Coast, but came out quickly in the second half. Nick Dykes tied it with a goal at 52:09, and David Geno knocked home the game winner less than five minutes later.
The team plays again Saturday night at Mercer.
n ETSU is a middle-of-the-road volleyball team right now. Their 3-4 conference record leaves the Lady Bucs fifth in the standings.
They’ll try to put a humbling non-conference loss Tuesday night at Presbyterian behind them as they prepare for a pair of home matches this weekend. Mercer visits Brooks Gym on Friday night, followed by Kennesaw State on Saturday.
Kennesaw is fourth in the A-Sun standings, at 4-2.