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Offseason turns hectic for Bucs

Joe Avento • Apr 25, 2019 at 6:20 PM

East Tennessee State basketball coach Steve Forbes was expecting to have a relatively quiet offseason.

With only one senior on his roster, recruiting for the coming season figured to be quick. Then spots started opening up.

Five players, including two starters, have decided not to come back for next season, leaving Forbes and his staff plenty of work to do. Suddenly, they’re working to fill six roster spots.

A closer look at the players who are leaving shows that only one can be considered a complete surprise.

JEROMY RODRIGUEZ

Rodriguez worked hard at ETSU and was one of the country’s top rebounders. Once it became apparent that he was on track to graduate next month, his thoughts turned toward making money for his family in the Dominican Republic.

Rodriguez’s skill set should give him an opportunity to play overseas, where the pay isn’t nearly as good as in the NBA, but it will be more than had he stayed in college.

He had nothing to gain by staying at ETSU for one more year. His unique skill — knowing exactly where to be for each rebound — won’t be tough for the Bucs to replace, it will be impossible.

MLADEN ARMUS

Of all the transfers, this was the one that caught most everybody by surprise.

Armus, who put his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal earlier this week, didn’t dominate the Southern Conference despite his 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame and nice shooting touch.

If he has illusions of playing at a higher level and turning into a star, perhaps he should call Wyatt Walker. You remember the former Samford center who dominated the Bucs from time to time? He played his final season at N.C. State and averaged less than five points a game.

Making matters even more interesting is the four-game European tour ETSU put together for this August. It includes a game in Belgrade, Serbia. That’s Armus’ hometown and he was the reason that game was scheduled.

Don’t be surprised if the itinerary gets tweaked a bit in the coming months.

D’ANDRE BERNARD

The athletic 6-foot-8 forward could never break into the rotation with the Bucs. He’ll be graduating in May and really wanted to play more, so he decided to transfer in search of playing time.

He wound up at Louisiana-Monroe, where he will be eligible immediately to play his final season.

Who knows? Had Bernard stayed around, with Rodriguez and Armus leaving, maybe he would have gotten more of a look.

KEVON TUCKER

Tucker saved his best for last, scoring 17 points in his final game in an ETSU uniform.

The shooting guard began last season looking like he might turn into a dependable 3-point threat. Then he went cold. Only his final outing — he went 5 for 7 on 3-pointers in the season-ending CIT loss to Green Bay — nudged his long range shooting north of 30 percent.

Tucker was a supporting actor on a team that was still looking for its leading man at the end of the season, and with all the guards who played ahead of him coming back, Tucker knew playing time would be tough to earn next year.

CARLOS CURTIS

Curtis came to ETSU as a highly touted recruit from Milwaukee. The 6-foot-2 guard scored 34 points in the Wisconsin-Michigan all-star game.

Curtis never managed to fit in with the Bucs and his playing time was almost non-existent. He sat out the final portion of the season with an illness.

He has “reopened” his recruitment and will likely wind up somewhere closer to home.

THE FORBES FACTOR

Forbes has won 100 games in his first four seasons at ETSU and is mentioned as a candidate for about every higher-level coaching position that opens.

Arkansas officials flew to Iowa to visit with Forbes when they were trying to replace coach Mike Anderson, who was fired after the NIT.

The Razorbacks eventually hired Nevada’s Eric Musselman and he got a five-year, $12.5 million contract that also includes all kinds of reachable bonuses. With that kind of deal, it’s no wonder Forbes listened to what Arkansas had to say.

Bucs fans will have to worry every time a job becomes open, but so far ETSU has managed to keep Forbes in the fold thanks to a contract that pays him at least $600,000 a year. Even in a profession where coaches get millions, that’s not chump change.

DON’T FORGET

Even with their starting big men leaving, the Bucs’ cupboard isn’t bare.

The team will still have two 7-footers on the roster. Lucas N’Guessan, the Oklahoma State transfer, would have broken the school record for field goal percentage had he gotten enough shots to qualify. He’s agile, can score and knows how to use his height.

If N’Guessan can become a little more consistent, he could be a dominant player in the SoCon.

In addition, 7-foot Octavion Corley red-shirted last season and has two years left. According to his teammates, Corley has shown vast improvement during a season of practicing and not playing.

Throw in a healthier Patrick Good — he played last season basically on one leg — to go along with potential superstar Bo Hodges, Daivien Williamson, Isaiah Tisdale and Tray Boyd III, and the Bucs’ backcourt is in good hands.

HELP ON THE HORIZON

The Bucs’ most exciting recruit is 6-foot-6 shooting guard Damari Monsanto, who committed after narrowing his final two schools to Illinois and ETSU. At one point, he was being recruited by UConn, Tulane, Buffalo and Western Kentucky.

Monsanto was the Broward County player of the year at Western High School in Davie, Florida. As a senior he averaged 28.4 points and 11.2 rebounds a game.

Joe Hugley, a transfer from Central Connecticut State, has already signed to play for ETSU. Hugley is a 6-foot-7 forward who shot almost 40 percent from 3-point range and, more importantly for this ETSU team, made 86 percent of his free throws. He averaged 9.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

He’s a former junior college All-American at Baltimore City Community College. He’s a graduate transfer and will be eligible for the coming season.

ERVIN ON THE RADAR

Former Gate City star Zac Ervin has listed ETSU as one of the finalists for his services. The 6-foot-5 shooter originally signed with Wofford, but was let out of his commitment when coach Mike Young left for the Virginia Tech job.

Ervin is also considering Appalachian State, Elon and Furman.

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