Last season was one of those East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow would just as soon forget.
That’s pretty much the tact he’s taking as the revamped Bucs begin preparations for a new adventure.
“I think we just forget about it,” Bartow said Friday before his team’s first practice of the fall. “There’s no reason to belabor it or harp on it. Those of us who went through the season won’t forget it, but we have a lot of new guys and we’re moving forward.”
Indeed, there is little left to remind Bartow of that woeful 10-22 campaign in his 10th season at ETSU.
There are six new players on the roster now. Three of them are junior-college transfers and three are true freshmen.
Bartow also has two new assistant coaches, Bob Bolen and Thomas Carr. He has a third spot open on his staff that likely won’t be filled this season, and he’s also looking for a new director of basketball operations to handle many of the administrative duties.
Against that backdrop, Bartow appeared upbeat heading into the preseason, which entails 30 practices over 42 days. He’s comfortable with Bolen and Carr, and he likes what he’s seen in offseason workouts.
“It’s a good group, and I think everybody is excited to get started,” said Bartow. “The attitude has been great.”
The returning players are certainly eager to put last season — the school record for losses, arrests and suspensions and injuries — behind them and make a fresh start. But it’s not easy.
“You can’t forget something like that,” said junior guard Rashawn Rembert. “It was humbling.”
The Bucs began preseason workouts relatively healthy. One of the lingering concerns is fifth-year senior Lukas Poderis, who tore an Achilles tendon in a scrimmage last October and had to redshirt.
The 6-8, 250-pound forward recovered from that injury, but strained a knee in workouts this summer and basically saw little action for the next six weeks.
Poderis said Friday that he’s “about 80 percent” healthy. “I’m going to try to play through it,” he said.
Bartow expects Poderis’s health to be an ongoing thing.
“We considered surgery but decided against it,” he said. “It’s something we work with every day. It will probably be an issue all year.”
Poderis is one of the few big bodies on the team. Another one that was expected to play a significant role was Ron Giplaye, a transfer from Providence who also sat out last season, but he underwent open-heart surgery last month and his basketball future is uncertain.
Giplaye has been going through cardiac rehab, Bartow said, and is scheduled to see the Virginia surgeon who operated on him again on Oct. 30.
“He’s down because he can’t practice,” said Bartow, “but the fact that the surgery is behind him is a good thing. We’re taking one small step at a time. Ron’s a basketball player and wants to play. Hopefully at some point, we’ll be able to make a basketball decision with him.”
However this team comes together, it has to find a way to score a lot more points than last season, when it averaged just 62.3 per game and was near the bottom of the national stats in several offensive categories. That’s the worst output for an ETSU team in 16 years.
Bartow hopes the addition of Bolen, a veteran NAIA head coach in West Virginia, and Carr, who was a high school coach in Virginia last year, can energize the offense in a big way.
“I’m going to do most of the defense. That’s really my background; I’ve been more of a defensive-minded coach,” he said. “Thomas is a very offensive-minded guy, and if you look at Bob’s teams at Mountain State, they were one of the best offensive teams in the country at the NAIA level.
“I think we can be a lot better offensively with those guys changing some things and incorporating some things. There’s a chance we’ll be much more free-flowing. We’d better be a lot better, because we just scored 62 a game last year.”
Bartow has had a month or so to ponder whether to hire a third assistant since Thomas Johnson left for a Division III job. He says that’s now unlikely at this late date.
“We have enough firepower and knowledge to coach the team,” he said. “It’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s not that big of a deal either.”
Among the new players, Bartow said jucos Jalen Riley and Leonard Smith Jr., look like they’ll bring much-needed ingredients to the mix.
Riley, a 6-foot, 150-pound guard from Racine, Wis., “isn’t big, but he’s a good shooter and has the ability to get baskets,” he said. Smith, a 6-5, 240-pound forward from Hickman, Ky., “is a very competitive, tough kid, kind of like Tommy Hubbard. That’s something we’ve really missed.”
Some of the returning players have also caught his eye with their improvement in the offseason.
Sophomore point guard Petey McClain, Bartow said, “has really become the leader of the team. He was hurt last season and he’s a much different player now.”
As for Kinard Gadsden-Gillard, the senior forward: “His weight is down and his work ethic is up,” said Bartow. “He’s playing so much more confidently.”
The Bucs tip off their season Nov. 8 at Charlotte.