Courtney Pigram gets an A for his work so far in the D League.
The former East Tennessee State star is averaging 22.5 points in his first six games with the Maine Red Claws. That ranks seventh in the NBA Development League.
“I’m shooting a high percentage and taking what the defense gives me,” Pigram said Thursday from Portland, Maine. “I’ve been playing both the point and shooting guard and have been comfortable at both. I’m just trying to take what I learned at ETSU and overseas and put it all together.”
Pigram has played in Spain and China since scoring over 2,000 points at ETSU. Of his experience in the latter, he says, “rice and noodles every day, along with basketball. And they’re a whole day ahead of everybody else.”
The Memphis native now finds himself in another strange part of the world. Winter in New England has a particular bite to it.
“I’m surviving, but it’s totally different than what I’m used to,” said Pigram. “I can tell you, it’s real cold in Maine. But the fans are great here. They have one of the best crowds in the D League.”
The league includes 16 teams and is the official minor-league organization of the NBA. The Red Claws are affiliated with the Celtics, Bobcats and 76ers.
Pigram wouldn’t mind trying on any of those uniforms for size down the road. In the meanwhile, he wants to make the most of his situation.
“Let everybody know that I’m having fun,” he said, “and eventually I’ll be on a higher level. This is a great opportunity, and I just have to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Pigram hasn’t just been scoring for the Red Claws, who played Thursday night in Canton, Ohio. He’s been doing it efficiently, making 54 percent of his shots (47 percent from 3-point range) and 92 percent of his free throws.
ETSU coach Murry Bartow has been watching Pigram’s progress from afar.
“I texted back and forth with him the other day, telling him how proud we all are of him,” said Bartow. “I’m not surprised by what he’s doing. Courtney just has that ability to score the ball, and he’s one of the top competitors I’ve ever coached.
“He’s kind of a high-volume shooter, so obviously the more efficient he can be, the better.”
n The Bucs are back at work after their Christmas break. They resumed practice on Wednesday and were on the floor twice Thursday.
“We had a good four days off to recharge,” said Bartow. “The kids were able to go home and spend time with their families, which is important. The coaches were able to spend time with their families and kind of reflect on our first 11 games.
“There’s certainly no panic with our team. We were 4-7 this time last year and won 24 games. The year before we were under .500 and won 20. I don’t like being 0-2 in the league; we have to clean that up pretty quick.”
The Bucs are 5-6 overall as they prepare for a New Year’s Day game at Clemson.
Everyone has had plenty of time to stew over their last outing, a 66-63 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 23. The Bucs led most of the way before a late rally by the Vols.
“We honestly did a lot of great things,” said Bartow. “We competed hard. We outrebounded them, which surprised me. We had low turnovers. We’re up eight with 5 ½ minutes to go, but we couldn’t finish. They beat us 15-4 in those last five minutes.”
n The game was a mixed bag for point guard Adam Sollazzo. The senior led the Bucs with 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds — UT coach Cuonzo Martin said he was very impressed afterward — but he also committed three crucial turnovers down the stretch.
“Overall he played a phenomenal game,” said Bartow, “but those turnovers hurt. They turned into layups at the other end.”
Sollazzo is now the team’s leading scorer on the season, at 13.6 ppg. He also has 54 of its 124 assists and is averaging 6.3 rebounds.
At 6-foot-6 and with a long wingspan, Sollazzo is a matchup nightmare for most opponents. Especially when he’s sure of what he’s doing.
“Adam has never lacked confidence, but he’s very confident right now,” said Bartow. “He’s our leading scorer, and a lot of these games he’s closing in on triple-doubles. He just has to cut down on the turnovers; three or four a game is way too many.”
n The quick scouting report on Clemson is tough defensively, limited offensively.
The Tigers just returned from a tournament in Hawaii, where they lost to UTEP and Hawaii and beat Southern Illinois in overtime. They sport a 7-6 record heading into Sunday’s 4 o’clock game in Littlejohn Coliseum.
“If I had to rank the teams we’ve prepared for so far, I’d say Clemson is probably the best defensive team,” said Bartow. “We’re not the most high-flying offensive team, so how we’re going to score against them is a concern. On the other hand, they struggle to score, too. But they don’t struggle to guard you.”
The Tigers are allowing just 57.5 points per game, while scoring 63.6. Senior guard Andre Young is their leading scorer, at 12.9.
Clemson has won all seven previous games in the series, including a 64-57 victory in a first-round NIT matchup in 2007.
n Bartow said reserve forward J.C. Ward won’t play at Clemson, and he’s not sure when the junior will be fit to return.
“His ankles are hurting him; it could be a chronic thing all year,” said Bartow. “We value J.C. for what he brings to the team, and we really miss him in the rotation.”
Ward watched the end of practice Thursday from the sidelines. He’s played in nine games this season, but has only 10 points and nine rebounds to show for it.