Although the men’s team replaces all five starters from last year’s squad that went 25-9, three members of the Bucs were named preseason All-Southern Conference, including 2017-18 Freshman of the Year Bo Hodges and junior college transfers Tray Boyd III and Jeromy Rodriguez.
With the changes, ETSU coach Steve Forbes believes this year’s squad could be even better in some areas than the ’17-18 team — which finished second in the Southern Conference after going on the nation’s second-longest winning streak at 16 games.
The starting lineup handed out listed Boyd, Hodges and Isaiah Tisdale as guards and Rodriguez and Mladen Armus at posts. The Bucs open the season with an exhibition against Southern Wesleyan on Friday, Nov. 2 at Freedom Hall.
“I think we’re probably better inside right now than last season,” Forbes said Thursday at a media luncheon at Wild Wings Cafe. “I’ve been harping on, ‘I want the ball to touch the post.’ It starts with Mladen, who has raised the level of his game and has led us in scoring in a lot of scrimmages. He’s a great passer and Jeromy is the same way. They’re good facilitators and the guards are learning if they throw it in there and there’s not a good shot, they’re going to get it back. I think this team can score from the 3-point line to the basket.”
Two of the players who should improve the Bucs’ 3-point shooting are Boyd and Patrick Good, the former David Crockett High School star who sat out last season after transferring from Appalachian State. Good is anxious to get back in game-time competition after being on the practice squad last season.
“It’s been a long journey having to sit out and watch, but it was a learning experience,” Good said. “It was incredible to be around that team, the coaching staff and the whole environment in Johnson City. I knew with the scout team, the job that I carried on, preparing for other teams in practice. I’m ready to get going and start playing basketball.”
Boyd has been compared to defending Southern Conference Player of the Year Desonta Bradford as a left-hander who played a lot in the Memphis area. However, Forbes sees Boyd more like another recent Bucs player, TJ Cromer, with his shooting touch.
The 6-foot-4 junior guard has the competitive fire of both former players and is raring to go, having heard about the good guard play in the Southern Conference.
“I’m competitive. I can’t wait to see the guards from the other schools,” Boyd said. “I’m going to be playing with a chip on my shoulder every night.”
NUMBER ONE WOMEN
The ETSU women were picked No. 1, along with defending champion Mercer, in Wednesday’s preseason coaches’ poll, led by sophomore guard Erica Haynes-Overton on the All-Southern Conference team.
Both the Bucs and Bears ended with 44 points as ETSU coach Brittney Ezell talked about the honor of being chosen as co-favorite. The Bucs have an open practice scheduled for Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. before opening the season on Friday, Nov. 9 at Cincinnati.
“It’s different being the preseason favorite. I’ve coached preseason favorites at different places, but never here,” Ezell said. “Truthfully, you want to be No. 2 or 3 and have something to shoot for, but right now, we’re targeted. However, it’s good the coaches recognize not only what we did last year, but what we’re doing with the program. That credit belongs to the players.”
The Bucs, who finished 20-13 last season, lost one of the program’s all-time top players, Tianna Tarter, to graduation. While Haynes-Overton, the defending Defensive Player of the Year, remains, the shift is more from being so guard-oriented to an inside-out game. It puts more of a responsibility on players like 6-foot-1 senior Raven Dean, who averaged 6.7 points and five rebounds last season.
“We still have some guards who will hold us up, but we’re going to be deep in the post,” Dean said. “It will be more of a well-balanced team. I see it as a great opportunity for me since I can play multiple positions. I think it will be more balanced and not so much on one person’s shoulders.”
Brittney Snowden, another 6-foot-1 senior and one of three returning starters from last season, added: “We’re going to miss T (Tarter), but we still look forward to pushing the ball and doing the same thing. We also have a deeper roster and we can go harder this year. I think we will play more inside-out and that’s what the coaches have been harping on lately, although I think our guard play will still be really good.”