East Carolina basketball opens its season Friday, November 13, in Minges Coliseum against Grambling State. Last season the Pirates finished 14-19 and 6-12 in American Athletic Conference play. Just before the season opener, ECU found out that they are without one of its key contributors.
Two weeks before the season opener, 6-foot-11 forward Marshall Guilmette announced that he is retiring from basketball. The redshirt junior’s career was cut short due to a series of injuries throughout his time playing basketball. Missing 11 games last season, Guilmette finished the season with just over six points per game and over three rebounds. Guilmette was slated to be a big contributor, not only for this season, but also the next.
“It was a tough blow for Marshall,” said Lebo. “He’s been working really, really hard to get himself ready to play, but just not able to do it medically. So that’s sad for him. And it’s been really tough for our team. It was a tremendous blow to our team. He was really a guy that we were counting on not only this year, but next year. And he’s 6’10 in our league. At the end of the year last year he was a guy that was averaging over 10 points a year for us and was one of our best scorers. So it was a tremendous blow to us as a team but not nearly as much of a blow as it is for Marshall.”
Now with a 6-foot-11 presence gone for the season, the Pirates will have to look at other options in the front court. Junior Michael Nzege and senior Michael Zangari will now have some added pressure this season to fill the void of losing the team’s tallest player. Nzege stands at 6-foot-8 and started 32 of 33 games last season gathering an average of 4.7 rebounds per game. The Winston-Salem State University transfer played 18.4 minutes per game and brought in a team-high 154 total rebounds. Zangari led the team in blocks last season and totaled 3.3 rebounds per game. The tallest player currently on the roster is the 6-foot-10 freshman, Deng Riak.
“I wish I had an easy answer,” said Lebo. “You’re going to have to have some guys that are going to have to step up and fill his role. We’ve got some guys there and we have some young guys who haven’t proven it yet that we think are going to be good down the road, but they’re not there yet. But injuries are a part of it. This is something that we weren’t kind of expecting. We have to pivot a little bit with our thinking as coaches."
The backcourt for the Pirates will be led by sophomore BJ Tyson and junior Caleb White. Tyson is coming off a successful freshman year campaign that was capped off by becoming a unanimous selection to the American All-Freshman Team. During the season he was awarded American Rookie-of-the-Week four times. As a freshman, Tyson led the team in points (413), field goals made (143), free throws made (108), and free throws attempted (150).
“Looking back at my freshman season I’ve noticed that teams really knew nothing about me,” said Tyson. “Coming into this year and knowing they found out a lot now that they are prepared. So I’m going to have to still play my game but just learn how to just to get a lot more involved in the game now.”
White will be joining Tyson in the backcourt this season. The 6-foot-7 guard started 32 games last season and had the highest 3-point field goal percentage on the team, shooting .409 beyond the arc. He also was accurate at the foul line hitting 79.2 percent of his free throw shots, a team high. White played his best during non-conference play last season, posting a team high 13.5 points per game.
ECU was picked to finish eighth in the American preseason coaches’ poll. On the same poll, Southern Methodist was picked as the preseason favorites and are trailed by Connecticut and then Cincinnati. No Pirates were selected to the first or second preseason All-Conference Teams.