Basketball Report: Front-court

The basketball season is fast approaching and with a lack of experience among forwards, it's hard to tell how East Carolina's front court is shaping up.

The biggest question marks surrounding East Carolina's basketball team are concentrated in the front court. Experience is lacking among the forwards, which could prove to be a problem when the season starts.

Michael Zangari and Marshall Guilmette are the only returning players from last year's squad and both men are only sophomores. ECU's front court is, more or less, starting from scratch.

"To have this many young guys and new faces, I think it's a little frustrating for a coach," said head coach Jeff Lebo. "It's a little frustrating for the older guys, too, because we have to go back and drill some of the same things over and over again. This is a different team and it's going to be a work in progress."

Lebo has lots of expectations for his two returning forwards. Regardless of their age, they'll play a key role in helping the newcomers succeed on the court.

"[Marshall] is going to have a lot more responsibility on his plate," said Lebo. "And Mike. They have to be solid for us right from the beginning. They're guys that didn't play a lot for us last year…It'll be a work in progress for those guys. They're going to see a lot of different things and they'll have to be able to, under fire, respond. It's a great opportunity for them.

Guilmette averaged over 13 minutes a game last season. Even though he only has a year with the team under his belt, he's expected to play more minutes and step up as a leader up front.

"Having that year of experience under my belt is really going to help," said Guilmette. "It's really going to come down to playing hard every night and everybody being ready to go."

Pressure will be on Zangari to step up, too. The difference is that Zangari only played double-digit minutes in three games last season, so he hasn't seen as much game time as Guilmette. A lot of his focus is on making sure he's ready for that spike in playing time.

"I've just been conditioning better," said Zangari. "I make sure I get in the gym more and get more shots up and just being mentally ready. I am a little inexperienced, but I did have those couple games. I do know I can play at this level so I'm just making sure I'm ready."

In addition to Zangari and Guilmette, three new faces make up the front court. Junior Keith Armstrong and sophomore Michel-Ofik Nzege are both transfers and Brandan Stith is the group's lone freshman.

"We're real excited about Brandan," said Lebo. "Brandan's a guy who can really rebound the ball. He's done a good job of picking up one position for us, which is the power forward position…He's got a pretty good basketball IQ and a great motor. I think he's just on the first step of becoming a good basketball player. His ceiling is very high."

Stith has the tools to make an impact for the Pirates, but it's all about how they translate once he takes the court for a game. That's why he's concentrating on adapting his game to his new team.

One of Stith's biggest areas of focus has been on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, he labels defense as one of the biggest areas of improvement for the front court.

"I would say that we need to work on our defense around the perimeter," said Stith. "Defending the ball, screen and rolls, back screens and whatnot."

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