Forbes trying to put together another winner

Joe Avento • Oct 2, 2018 at 7:58 PM

Steve Forbes has begun to weave his magic as the East Tennessee State basketball team prepares for the coming season.

With a roster having only three players with extensive Division I experience, the ETSU coach is trying to put together a team to compete for another Southern Conference championship. Forbes has made the tournament championship games all three years he’s been at ETSU, winning the championship in 2017.

“That’s probably my biggest strengths as a coach,” Forbes said Tuesday. “Getting guys to play together and believe in each other, share the ball, put the team above themselves.”

With nine newcomers joining a team that won 25 games, Forbes knows he and his staff have their work cut out for them.

“The way we practice, I think makes it work because I create chaos in practice mentally and physically,” Forbes said. “I think they have to band together, kind of against the coach. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s OK. The only way that works though is if they know I truly care about them. You have to work hard on those relationships off the court as well as on the court.

“I’ve been pleased with that so far. They’ve done a good job.”

The Bucs open Nov. 6 at Georgia State, so Forbes has a little more than a month to figure things out. He says he’s not worried about the offense with several of the newcomers — Tray Boyd, Kevon Tucker, Daivien Williamson and Patrick Good — looking like serious outside threats.

The three players who have seen significant Division I experience are sophomores. Bo Hodges and Mladen Armus both played a lot for the Bucs last year as freshmen. Hodges was the Southern Conference’s freshman of the year, and Armus was a member of the league’s all-freshman team.

Good sat out last year after playing his freshman year at Appalachian State.

Jeromy Rodriguez, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward from the Dominican Republic, is a holdover from last year, but he didn’t play a minute after suffering a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. He’s back in action, and Forbes expects big things from the former junior college All-American.

“Jeromy looks great,” Forbes said. “He can do so many things besides score. He’s going to score some, but he’s a stat stuffer. He can really handle the ball for a guy his size. He’s not a good passer, he’s a great passer. He rebounds, plays tough and physical. He’s a great guy to have out on the court.”

The rest of the roster consists of newcomers, and the injury bug has taken its toll on the team in recent weeks.

“The biggest thing is from July 22nd to now, we’ve never had our whole team on the court,” Forbes said.

Hodges is out right now with an injury, and Good is working through one. Forbes said only two players, Rodriguez and Williamson, haven’t missed practice time.

“We’ve had some setbacks,” Forbes said. “But what I like is I think our team can really score the ball. We can score inside and out. Jeromy and Mladen are really good players inside. I think the offense will come a lot easier.”

The defense? That’s another matter.

“Defensively we’re behind,” Forbes said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on that, but we have to get better defensively. I like our chemistry. They work hard and share the ball, but we have to make strides defensively over the next three or four weeks.”

Fans will be able to get their first glance at the new-look Bucs on Saturday when the team holds an open practice at 11:30 a.m. at the Basler Center for Physical Activity gym right next to the football stadium. It’s part of ETSU’s homecoming festivities.

The football team takes on Gardner-Webb at 3:30 p.m. at Greene Stadium. The basketball practice is scheduled to end in time for fans to participate in the Buc Walk, scheduled for 1:15 p.m.

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