Scouting the ASUN: ETSU

Hunter Harris
Hunter Harris
Hunter Harrris, 6’7″ 220 lb 2nd team juco All-American
Picture courtesy ETSUBUCS.COM

It must be said that last season was a disappointment for ETSU fans.  Middle of the pack ASun (17-14 overall, 10-8 in conference) is just not an acceptable finish.   On the plus side, Bucs fielded a ferocious defense led by the much improved Sheldon Cooley.  They were second in the nation in steals with 10.2 and 12th in the nation in turnover margin with a 3.65 ratio, both also tops in the ASun.  But the offense struggled (8th in the ASun with a 67.2 average, 6th in field goal percentage with .441) and 3 point shooting withered with a dead last in the ASun .311.  The senior nucleus of Adam Sollazzo, Isiah Brown and Tommy Hubbard, was good, but did not rise to the heights that many had hoped for.  JUCO scoring whiz Marcus Dubose had flashes of greatness early, and a strong end of the season, but a shaky middle.  Three promising freshmen (Rembert, Walton and Wilson) proved unready to contribute much in their first year on the D1 stage.  Worst of all, the Bucs “do it the right way” image was tarnished by a chaotic season’s end with several team members victimized by a confusing robbery, the suspension of Sheldon Cooley, and the withdrawal from school of J.C. Ward.

ETSU loses those 3 seniors, including their 3 best rebounders and 3 of the 4 top scorers from a team that already had trouble scoring.   But the Bucs will be relying on promising but unproven players like John Walton, Lester Wilson and on freshman Petey McClain to play key roles, and on a couple of highly touted JUCO transfers.   Unless Murry coaches better than many of us think he can, this may be a difficult year for fans.   The biggest needs are (1) inside rebounding and defense to replace Isiah and Tommy, (2) more efficient scoring, especially from 3,  and (3) solid D1 playmaking with the departure of Adam Sollazzo.  Those are pretty big question marks, but there are some possible answers.

Some answers could come from returning players.  Inside, that means 6’8” Lukas Poderis and 6’7” John Walton.  We don’t need these guys to be big scorers.  We do need them to be focused, hard charging defenders and rebounders for 40 minutes a game.  They are both fairly long and athletic – but they need to channel Greg Hamlin and improve as Greg did as a senior after a very limited first year .   Walton especially has the stuff to be another Hamlin – a guy who plays bigger than he is due to energy, enthusiasm and athleticism.  He often looked lost last year, and didn’t get enough PT to put up any stats. But he gave us a few promising turns on the court late in the season.   Most of the fault lies with Murry who used him far too little.  But Murry also failed to use Tommy Hubbard and Greg Hamlin their first year.  Tommy showed so little as a freshman that I thought he would go the way of Aaron Scott.  But despite the very limited experience, both Tommy and Greg kicked in big second years, sending the Bucs to the NCAA’s to battle Pittsburgh.  Poderis has length, muscle, decent athleticism, and experience.  But he’s got to play with focus and intensity for the entire game, night in and night out.   JUCO transfer Hunter Harris at 6’7” 220 Hunter Harris:  (Volunteer St CC; 18.1 ppg; 40%, 13%-3pt 1-8; 73% FT, 11.6 rpg, 1.3 stl, 1.2 apg .9 to; 2.4 blk; in 19 games) was a 2nd team JUCO All-American with those 18 points and 11 rebounds, and is described as a bouncy, high energy player.  He’s likely stronger than Walton and more athletic than Poderis.  However he played no high school ball, and many new players have looked pretty lost in the Bucs tricky combination of zone defenses.

We need redshirt freshman 6’4”205 Lester Wilson to be a longer, more athletic Tommy Hubbard:  not easily done, but he’s got all the physical tools.    He’s got  speed and jumping ability that Tommy could only dream about, and there were little hints of what could be, like the Rocky Top League performance, where he demonstrated an ability to score as much as 49 points in a game and shoot with some range.  One caveat:  it took Tommy until his junior year to fully develop his offensive game, and Tommy had better early coaching.  A  JUCO addition in the swingman category is the unique Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard (Roane State CC .6 stl; 14.2 ppg; 57%; 17-46 37%-3pt; 72% ft; 7 rpg; 2.4 apg, 2.8 to; .6 blk; in 25 games) 6’5” 250, who has a remarkable set of skills, a fine handle, range from 3 and a tricky combination of stepbacks, fall-aways and power moves inside the arc.   With his range of offensive skills, 14.2 points and 7 rebounds, he beat out Hunter Harris for conference POY.    Another player with fascinating potential in the swingman category is 6’4” 215 freshman Yunio Barrueta of Dade County.  He’s got muscle, athleticism and a range of skills

At guard, we need seniors Dubose and Cooley to be stars.  Dubose has to be a consistent leader night in and night out, improving his game the way that fellow JUCO’s Kevin Tiggs, Greg Hamlin and Eryk Thomas did between their first and second years.  He needs to average 15 points or more on efficient shooting, with about 3.75 rebounds, 1.5 or so steals – in other words, pretty much the level he was performing on for the last 8 games of the season (13.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 1.3 steals)… or even a little better.  This is certainly not out of reach for Marcus, who started the season with blistering 26 and 27 point performances at Charlotte and against Troy, but slumped in the middle before rebounding with a strong last 8 games.   Sheldon needs to continue to be a defensive mad man, bringing in about 3 steals, 3.75 rebounds and  12 to 15 points per game on the high efficiency shooting that he showed the last half of the season.  Again this is about what he was doing the last 15 games of the year (although he only scored 11.3 ppg during that stretch).  We probably need Cooley and Petey McClain to split time at point.   We will be counting on Petey to step right in and give us 25 minutes or so of solid D1 point guard play – the kind of freshman point guard minutes that we haven’t seen since Dequan Twilley.

Our best hope for a second shooting guard is redshirt senior Jarvis Jones, who stepped up his defense in a big way this year, and started the season as a very efficient “catch and shoot” 3 point shooter.  He needs to use his fine athleticism to get a 3 point shot off the dribble more often, and to penetrate more.  He should have the quickness and vertical leap either to get to the rim or hit pull up jumpers.   Missing the early season with academic eligibility problems does not help.   But his absence creates opportunity for others.  In particular, I think that freshman Mario Stramaglia has the mental toughness and physical skills to be a fine 3 point shooter on this level: he’s got an excellent vertical (sometimes jumping center at 6’1”), good strength for his size and could penetrate and finish with a dunk as a high school junior.  He could be an Andrew Goudelock or a Rotnei Clarke – or he could be a Bruce Grimm.  Only time will tell.  Rashawn Rembert barely got his feet wet last year.  Although he showed promise as a big (a tall 6’3”), athletic guard, he needs to improve his outside shot, and be more confident and aggressive on the floor.

Bottom line there are lots of promising pieces here, including more muscle, if not height, than we’ve had in a while – but they must be assembled into a team.   I expect a rough and ragged beginning.   But if we get the sort of star production and leadership that we could out of Cooley and Dubose;  solid defense and rebounding (not necessarily big scoring) in the middle from Poderis, Walton or Harris, some scoring punch and rebounding from swingmen Wilson, KGG or Barrueta; solid point guard minutes from McClain; and some bench scoring from Jarvis Jones, Rembert or Stramaglia… then we’ll be battling for the ASun title.  If not, then we’ll be looking up at Mercer, USCU, FGCU and UNF and battling Jacksonville for fifth.

One thought on “Scouting the ASUN: ETSU

  1. Correction: stats quoted above for Hunter Harris (18.1 points and 11.6 rebounds) are freshman year. Second year was even better with 21.8 points and 12.8 rebounds in 15 games. http://www.njcaa.org/colleges_college_stats.cfm?sid=4&divid=0&slid=2&seasonselect=556&collegeid=1351&report_id=3760&requesttimeout=15

    Good as that was, the skillful KGG beat him out for conference POY.

    With all the new guys, and with some inexperienced older guys moving into key roles, it may be important for coaches to cultivate an attitude that accepts that there will be some weaknesses in a player’s game, but that nonetheless encourages players to play with confidence. You can’t be playing in fear of making a mistake – you’ve got to be willing to let it go and play with some abandon.

    These guys won’t be perfect – but there should be enough skill to encourage them to cut loose and play ball.

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