I know…never…ever…like really…never ever would I have expected to write a post on this space about Pirate basketball…let alone during football spring camp…but here it is anyway.
Out of the gate, here, let me say big kudos to Coach Jeff Lebo, his staff, and this electric ball club. Man…they not only peaked at the right time, but have done so with both exciting basketball and class. Couldn’t be happier for those boys and that staff…and for the fans at ECU…nobody deserves it more than the team and the diehards.
In all the hoopla – you know, the Pirates being the only college hoops team in North Carolina still playing ball – and with the CIT Championship on tap Tuesday night out in Ogden, UT – I want to talk about something else this team may be doing for the ECU cause.
During the many times the former Big East left us out…throughout all of the ridicule thrown around by Big East fans and our friends at our system sister schools…there was the sentiment that ECU basketball was the albatross for the Pirates…the big weight around the ankles and good reason why the Pirates should never, ever, never be let in the conference. Further, it was not-so-subtly noted by the departing C7 schools that ECU was not even “potentially” good enough to merit inclusion in any league of their ilk.
Well…you like apples?
It seems that this run by the hoops team could very well be the exposure that really puts the exclamation point on the Pirates departure from CUSA into a conference that will feature the likes of UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Temple on its roster. We all know the boost that hoops will get in the form of national exposure and hence, recruiting, and all the good that comes with making Lebo’s job of making ECU better, easier. But how funny is it that the football team and its path into the NBE may have been given momentum by the hoops program. With the hoops team getting this exclusive exposure (only 6 teams in the country still going at it, right?), the program – the overall athletic profile – at ECU has new perception highs. Nevermind that basketball has been near-dismal till last year. Who cares that baseball is struggling (the rep is safe there)? Nationally, this team is being seen…and the clips being shown show a level of play that should not be hard to use to entice maybe one or even two kids ECU never would dream of getting to come in (and in hopes, that can mean the difference between good and great).
Up here, in the Philly Metro area, casual conversations about hoops and particularly in terms of the NBE going forward are including ECU. Had a guy at the gym react to my ECU sweatshirt with a reference to basketball. In fairness, he started with a, “hey, I wish ECU was playing football this year (in the NBE)…like their program.” But here is the jaw-dropper…then he says, “they have a pretty good basketball program there, too, right?”
At at client, I had a discussion with a Temple alum and the whole conversation was focused on hoops. He wanted to know if ECU could sustain this success…could we hold on to Lebo…have we started to focus on DC, Philly, New York for hoops players yet…and what do they have coming back next year…these are the types of questions that indicate that you are relevant. For ECU basketball to head into the transitional year as we walk toward the NBE as “relevant” is nothing short of amazing…a bit of serendipity that we certainly can enjoy.
Of course, we need a respectable performance – win or lose – on Tuesday night and the way this team is playing…we all should expect it. But, really, the amazing run here and hitting the 20-win plateau with great games against great opponents means the world in hoops persona outside of Greenville and this one season has built up a huge load of hoops capital for the program to use on its way to the NBE, the off-season may generate as much attention as the football team gets when they are not in-season.
It is hard to believe that the hoops performance this year didn’t make Mike Aresco’s job a lot easier in making the all sports inclusion happen for ECU (and don’t doubt for a second that he wasn’t a fan of that from the jump…he wanted to deliver that to Coach Holland…it was the Presidents that were scuttling it).
Indeed, the hoops team – the unlikeliest hero – stood up big for the whole sports program.
Love to hear if anyone else sees this as a big deal in regards to the NBE.
Go Pirates, Beat Weber!