Jeff Lebo: "It's been a busy off-season for us. We played late in the season into April. It's the first time in my coaching career that I had practice plans prepared in April. We had a lot of things happen here with our basketball program with the championship season and then also, the new practice facility that has happened, a lot of new faces in our program. Actually, the off-season has probably been as busy an off-season as I've had as a coach. But it's been a lot of fun and we're really excited for the start of the year."
JG: Due to new NCAA rules, you were able to begin preseason practice earlier on Sep. 30. Do you think the extra time has helped this squad?
Lebo: I think, in particular, this year's team it has because we've had so many new faces. You're able to start a little earlier, probably about 12 days earlier than you've had in the past. You're able to maybe slow things down a little bit for them. I don't know if I'd like it with an experienced group, I may have a different strategy to how I attack the preseason.
"But this year's group I thought it was beneficial to us. And also, I like the ability to have some flexibility with your practices. Before … there was really no practice flexibility. You had to go every day (and) you had one day off. Now you have some flexibility to move some things around, I do like that and the coaches I've talked like that also."
JG: How difficult is it going to be replacing eight players – including four starters – from last year's team?
Lebo: "It's going to be big. We're starting over here, there's no doubt about it. We're going to have new faces, a new starting group. We're going to play freshmen (and) sophomores who had never played before. It's a complete overhaul, really, other than Paris (Roberts-Campbell) and Akeem (Richmond). We don't have anyone else who has played minutes for us. We've got a lot of question marks, we got a lot of unknowns, but the kids are working hard, I like them a lot, they are hungry, excited and they bring it every day. Their attitude has been great.
"As a coach, when you have that youth, when you have that inexperience, it will rear its ugly head at different times during the season and you just don't know how guys are going to respond to it. We'll find out early, we'll find out in our scrimmages, we'll find out early in our season what we're going to be made of.
"My whole goal this year is that we've got to be better each and every day and be the best in the end. I don't know what that will mean in terms of wins and losses. We really never talk about that much here. We just want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year and really, the last three years we've been able to do that."
JG: How much are you going to be relying on Richmond and Roberts-Campbell to emerge as leaders this year?
Lebo: "The leadership thing is a big question for us right now. We lost two good leaders last year (Miguel Paul and Maurice Kemp). We need them to be more vocal, we need them to take a little bit more ownership in the team. They are not those type of guys, that's not their personality, but we're trying to get them out of their comfort zone a little bit and take two steps forward to being a little more responsible for the overall attitude and performance of our team.
"When things aren't going well, we need somebody to step up, besides the coach, to be that strong voice in the locker room and in huddles. We hope that they will do that. They are trying to transition into that, they don't really know how to do that yet, but that's going to be a concern for us. Hopefully, we will have one or two guys emerge there."
JG: Erin Straughn missed all of last season due to injury and will not be able to return as a player, but you kept him on as a student assistant coach. What made you bring him in back in that capacity?
Lebo: "He's a wonderful kid and I feel badly for Erin. He's done everything we've asked him to do as far as his rehab and he's just not been able to go and not be cleared by the doctors. We wanted him to be a part of our basketball team, he's great for our team (and) he's been in our program. We're not going to abandon him because he got hurt and he's not able to play.
"He's on scholarship right now, we want him to be a part of our program, he's there every day in practice, and he may, in the end, want to be a coach at some level. It's a great way to transition into that or he may watch it every day and say ‘this is not what I want to do on a daily basis' and go in another direction. But he's a great kid, he's going to get his degree, he's going to finish up all of his responsibilities and it's nice to have him around every day."
JG: You mentioned that your team will feature some new faces this season. Who are some of these newcomers Pirate fans should begin to get familiar with?
Lebo: "I think you'll see Brandon Stith be in the rotation early for us. I think you'll see Caleb White. Two freshmen that I think will play and maybe play together at the same time on the floor. Our inside guys, (Michael) Zangari … and (Marshall) Guilmette, those two guys have gotten better and they are going to have to anchor down inside. They are different big guys than we've had. They are going to have to be consistent outside shooters, which they're capable of.
"We've got to be better rebounding. We lost Ty (Armstrong), who I thought was one the best back-to-the-basket players in the league, so they've got to be a threat for us in there. They both can pass a little bit, they both can step out away from the basket, but rebounding, toughness physicality of the game, and I think they understand it now a little bit better. We'll see what happens when they turn the lights on."