Basketball season has arrived

ECU tips off the 2013-2014 season Friday night against N.C. Wesleyan. Here's our season preview.

Coming off of arguably the greatest season in program history, East Carolina men's basketball coach Jeff Lebo and his new-look Pirates tip-off the 2013-2014 season against N.C. Wesleyan Friday night.

ECU graduated its leading scorers Miguel Paul (point guard) and Maurice Kemp (forward), along with guards Shamar Bowden and Corvonn Gaines last seaon, but lost about as many players for unexpected reasons.

Both of the Pirates' starting forwards Robert Sampson and Ty Armstrong are among them, as is former starter Erin Straughn, who was forced to settle for a student assistant coaching job due to a lingering leg injury.

That leaves the team with one returning starter in junior Paris Roberts-Campbell, or as he would like to be called this season "PRC."

Meanwhile, Lebo is making sure this year's team is focused on moving forward.

"This is a different team," said Lebo. "My message to this team has been what happened last year, is last year. There are new expectations, new goals and it was fun last year. Our focus now is on what we need to do to get better this season."

Lebo hinted that several freshmen will be in the mix for the Pirates this season. 6-foot-7 guard Caleb White, from Buckingham, Va., is one of them, as is fellow Virginia (Lawrenceville, Va.) native Brandon Stith at forward.

With all of the new faces, Lebo knows it will take leadership to get the team going in the right direction.

Along with Roberts-Campbell, senior shooting guard Akeem Richmond should be one of these leaders. Richmond had anything but a quiet finish to last season. He hit the game-winning shot to clinch the first postseason championship for the Pirates in program history and broke the school record for made three-pointers in a season.

ECU now looks to him to not lonely contribute as the team's sixth man, rather make his teammates collectively better.

"We need him to be a little more vocal and to be consistent," Lebo said about Richmond. "I thought he played his best basketball at the end of the season last year. He's certainly a weapon out there and can flat out get it going for us. Hopefully his presence on the floor will have a calming effect on the group and open up some things for other players."

Coming off of such a big end to a season can leave almost a ‘Superbowl hangover' type effect on players. Richmond has been working hard in the offseason to step up for this team and make sure that doesn't happen. He knows his role is going to change and is ready for his number to be called.

"I know I'm capable of taking that leadership role," said Richmond. "We have a lot of freshman out here who I've been impressed with. Guys like Caleb White and (freshman guard) Greg Alexander and all of the new guys are doing an amazing job. Paris Roberts Campbell, Peter Torlak and myself all have to step up."

Notable games on ECU's non-conference slate include visits to historic Cameron Indoor Stadium (Nov. 18-19), the home of the Duke Blue Devils, for the NIT Tip-Off and PNC Arena against N.C. State (Dec. 21). The Pirates will new its in-state series with UNC-Wilmington when the Seahawks visit Minges Coliseum on Dec. 1.

Conference USA had a face-lift this summer after Memphis, Southern Methodist, UCF and Houston jumped ship to the American Athletic Conference. ECU will join them next July. But in the meantime, the Pirates have to face new opponents during its last season as a member of C-USA.

Tip-off time for N.C. Wesleyan-ECU is set for 8 p.m. Friday at Minges Coliseum.

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