The East Tennessee State basketball program has apparently opened a new recruiting front on old, familiar ground.
Coach Murry Bartow announced Wednesday the signing of two high school guards from Alabama. Mario Stramaglia of Birmingham and Lorenzo “Petey” McClain of Mobile made their commitments official on the first day of the early signing period.
Stramaglia, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard, averaged 18 points and five rebounds as a junior at Mountain Brook High School, and he was a 41 percent shooter from 3-point range. He was an all-state selection in Class 6A.
McClain, a 6-foot point guard at Faith Academy, was honorable mention all-state in Class 5A after averaging 22 points, six assists and three rebounds as a junior.
Both players have already scored over 1,000 career points and were selected to play in the Alabama all-star game after their junior seasons.
“They’re two very different types of players,” said Bartow. “Mario is a very strong, physical 2-guard who can really shoot. He’s got a quick release and deep range.
“Petey McClain is a point guard with a tremendous motor. He has great speed and is thick; he looks like a fullback. We really like the way he can run a team.”
The signings reflect the growing presence of the ETSU coaching staff in Alabama, where the Bartow name still rings familiar, and in particular the influence of assistant Thomas Johnson. He was a high school coach for 17 years in the Birmingham suburb of Alabaster who went on to work at UAB and Samford before reuniting with Bartow last season.
“Over my eight years here we have not done much in Alabama, but it’s obviously right there and very close,” said Bartow. “I think with my ties there, and Thomas — his home is Montgomery and he coached in Birmingham forever — we’ll probably try to do more. He knows that entire state and is so well-liked. He did a great job for us on these two kids.”
The Bucs also got some added visibility in the state last season when Justin Tubbs was featured twice on ESPN for his acrobatic dunks and later competed in the dunk contest over the Final Four weekend. Tubbs is a native of Trussville, Ala., who had transferred in from the University of Alabama.
The Bucs still have two scholarships to offer for next season and will look to bolster their frontcourt. Forwards Isiah Brown and Tommy Hubbard are seniors, along with point guard Adam Sollazzo.
“We obviously need two bigger bodies, and we have a need for a wing as well,” said Bartow. “John Walton may develop into more of a 3, but we really don’t have a true 3-man in the entire program.”
The coach doesn’t expect to bring any more players into the fold during the early signing period.
n On the women’s side, coach Karen Kemp also has four scholarships available this fall. She was expecting to get three early signees – two post players and a point guard – but had yet to receive the paperwork late Wednesday afternoon.
Kemp was more focused on getting her team ready to open its season Friday night at home against Tennessee Tech. It’s a first-round game in the Preseason WNIT, and a victory likely sends the Lady Bucs west to face UCLA.
Seniors Tarita Gordon (ankle) and Gwen Washington (shoulder) have been slowed by injuries but are probable for the opener.
“Injuries have been a big concern the last couple of weeks,” said Kemp. “We only had eight the other night against King. The goal has been to get most everybody back for the first game, and the trainers tell me it looks good for that.”
The Lady Bucs have lost two sophomore forwards. Ashley Miles suffered an Achilles injury and is out for the season, while Jasmine McIntosh was dismissed from the team a couple of weeks ago for unspecified reasons.
Freshman Cara Bowling of Elizabethton has been nursing a quad injury and didn’t play in either exhibition game.
n The Bucs, meanwhile, are also trying to get to full strength for their season opener Saturday at Virginia Tech.
Sollazzo (ankle), shooting guard Marcus Dubose (rib) and forward Lukas Poderis (concussion) have all been sitting out but could be back on the practice floor today. The team took Wednesday off.
Bartow knows he needs all the weapons he can muster to take to Blacksburg.
“The number one thing for us is to see who’s healthy, centering on Adam and Marcus, how effective they can be,” he said. “If we’re healthy enough, we can go up there with a chance to compete. They’ve had some injury issues themselves.”
The latest is starting point guard Erick Green, who reportedly strained an Achilles tendon during a shooting drill last Friday and could miss as many as three games. Green is the Hokies’ best player in the minds of many.
Forward JT Thompson is out for the second straight year with an ACL injury, and freshman guard Marquis Rankin, an excellent defender, won’t suit up for a couple of weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
n Virginia Tech hasn’t exactly encouraged ETSU fans to come on up.
Less than a hundred tickets, just enough to cover the pass list, were sent down for the 2 o’clock game in Cassell Coliseum. There are no advance sales, so anyone wanting to make the trip to Blacksburg will have to buy tickets at the door or get them on StubHub from season-ticket holders.
The arena seats about 10,000 and no one is predicting a sellout. At least football won’t be a conflict for the home fans. The Hokies play tonight at Georgia Tech.