The East Tennessee State basketball team is almost three weeks into the preseason now, and some newcomers have worked their way into the mix.
Coach Murry Bartow says starting jobs are up for grabs all around 10 days before the Bucs’ first exhibition game against Milligan College. He likes the competition.
“I have no clue on starters yet,” Bartow said Thursday. “We’re making progress but still have a long way to go. I can say right now that the attitude is great, and the cohesiveness and chemistry with this group is good. That’s true with a lot of teams at this time of year, but I think we’ve got a good blend this year.”
Three freshmen and three junior college players have joined the team. Newcomers like Isaac Banks, A.J. Merriweather and Jalen Riley are making early impressions.
“We scrimmaged with officials at Freedom Hall the other day, and Banks was our leading rebounder by far,” said Bartow of the 6-7, 215-pound freshman from New Orleans. “He’s doing a lot of good things, and so are some other new guys.
“A.J. Merriweather is off to a very fast start. If we played a game tonight, he’d be in the rotation. Jalen Riley would be in the rotation; he’s a guy who can score the ball. Leonard Smith has missed some practice time due to an ankle injury, but he’s very competitive.”
The Bucs certainly need more scoring, after averaging just 62.3 points last season, and they’re hoping Riley will help open up some things. He’s just 6-foot and 150 pounds but has impressed everyone with his shooting.
The Wisconsin native averaged 19.3 points a game and shot 40 percent from the 3-point arc last season at Sauk Valley Community College in Illinois. He can play the point but is more comfortable at shooting guard.
“I’m probably more 2 than 1,” he said. “I’ve been in a shooter’s role since I started playing, and hopefully I can bring that to this team.
“We’ve been getting along good off the court, and that’s translating on the court. It seems like the pieces are coming together.”
How a freshman like Merriweather fits in remains to be seen. The 6-2, 185-pound swingman was a Mr. Basketball finalist last season at Jackson South Side, and is regarded as a versatile player with length and athleticism.
Asked what his role has been early in camp, Merriweather laughed.
“I’m the motivator, the dog of the team,” he said. “As far as my game, I’m a slasher and a developing shooter. I’m everywhere.”
Merriweather is an engineering major who reportedly carried the highest grade-point average on his high school team. He seems to be adjusting well to college basketball.
“What has surprised me is the speed of the game isn’t as fast as I thought it would be,” he said. “What has surprised me is the level of competition. Everybody is very competitive out here.”
ETSU tips off the season Nov. 8 at Charlotte.
Notes: The Bucs have already had one player appear on the police blotter this fall.
Junior guard Rashawn Rembert was reportedly charged by Johnson City police with disorderly conduct on Sept. 8. Details of the incident were not readily available, but Bartow said Thursday that it had long since been resolved.
“It was fairly minor in scope and was dealt with internally,” he said. “Any situation with your guys is important, and Rashawn knows that. He’s a good kid.”
The Bucs had two players, senior guards Marcus Dubose and Sheldon Cooley, dismissed early last season after being arrested on drug charges.