With four of its top five scorers returning from last season, there is reason to believe the 2000-01 Bucs squad will compete for its first Southern Conference Championship since 1992.
But its not just the returning stars that have the Tri-Cities community excited about ETSU basketball. Head coach Ed DeChellis and his staff have compiled a seven-player freshman class brimming with promise.
This group could immediately impact a program that finished 14-15 last season, 8-8 in the Southern Conference.
"Our freshman class is very deep with talent," DeChellis said. "They are very young and will need help learing the collegiate game."
It will be the upperclassmen's job to acclimate the newcomers. The Bucs are blessed with experienced senior leadership from D.J. McDuffie and Adrian Meeks.
McDuffie and Meeks have played in 84 and 83 games respectively in their ETSU careers. Last season both started 28 of the Bucs' 29 games, missing only Senior Night.
With consistent contributions from the veterans and immediate production from the freshmen, this Buc team could reach its ultimate goal -- a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The seven freshmen aren't the only new faces around ETSU basketball. Coach DeChellis was busy in the off-season replacing former assistant coaches Dave Siepert and Jerry Pelphrey.
Tom Conrad and Scott Wagers join third-year assistant Hilliary Scott on DeChellis' staff.
Conrad comes to Johnson City after four years as head coach at Charleston Southern. He led the Buccaneers to their first ever NCAA bid in 1997.
"Tom brings a wealth of experience and a great knowledge of Southeast recruting to our program," DeChellis said.
Wagers enters his first collegiate job after serving as a high school head coach for the past nine years. He earned Tampa Bay Basketball Coaches' Association Coach-of-the-Year honors in 1997-98.
"Scott brings great recriting ties from the state of Florida," DeChellis said. "He has been a very successful high school coach and will relate to our players immediately."
What the coaching staff must drill into its players from the start is consistency. Last season the Bucs received flashes of brilliance from many players but lacked a constant force, with the exception of departed Leo Murray.
Murray, a two-year starter after transfering from Xavier University, led the team in scoring (11.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.1) last winter. Murray played with heart and talent every game of his ETSU career and Coach DeChellis hopes that dedication has passed onto his veteran crew.
"Our returning players have to be very consistent for us to be successful this season," DeChellis said.
With the graduation of Murray, ETSU will be an even more balanced team than last season. This versatility could benefit the Bucs in the offensive zone.
"Our motion offense and variety of offensive players makes it difficult for a defense to focus on one guy," DeChellis said. "We have many players that can score and that makes our team very difficult to guard."
Last season six playes averaged over 6.0 points per contest. This year the Bucs figure to equal or exceed that mark.
On the other side of the court, ETSU will have to make a concerted effort to establish a defensive presence. At times last season the Bucs didn't perform at the intensity level needed to win.
"I was disappointed with our defensive effort at times last year," DeChellis said. "That is something we will have to concentrate on from the first day of individual workouts."
While improving on defense, the Bucs must continue to dominate on the boards. Last winter, the Bucs outrebounded their opponents by four boards per contest -- best in the Southern Conference.
ETSU did an excellent job on the offensive glass, grabbing 410 carroms to its opponents 306.
A good blend of experience and raw talent will make the Bucs an exciting team this season. If the seniors can lead by example in the beginning and bring along the younger players as the season develops, this team could remind people of the talented ETSU teams of the early 90s.
ETSU returns its starting backcourt from last season. The Bucs will need consistent guard play to engineer an offense that averaged 69.1 points per game last winter.
The incumbent at point guard is junior Cliff Decoster (Miramar, Fla.). Decoster is a solid player that can create from the top of the key.
While running the show, Decoster averaged 6.8 points and 2.5 assists per game. He started all 29 games but had trouble handling the ball at times. The junior had a team-high 86 turnovers.
We need Cliff to score a little more and to create for our other players, DeChellis said. It is crucial that he handle the ball better.
Backing up at the point is freshman Sam Oatman (Neenah, Wis.). The All-State honoree is a consistent floor general with a good shooting touch.
Sam will see considerable playing time because he can run the point and make open shots, DeChellis said.
Junior Dimeco Childress (Columbia, Tenn.) returns as the shooting guard. Despite being hindered by a broken nose, Childress averaged 10.0 points last winter.
Childress is a streaky shooter that can erupt for 20 points on any given night. He led the Bucs with 37 three-pointers last winter..
Dimeco has had some great games for us, DeChellis said. However, we need him to score every night.
Joining Childress at the No. 2 guard is sophomore Ryan Lawson (Rogersville, Tenn.). Lawson played most of last year at the point and will get more shots this year.
We are going to get Ryan some more open shots this year, DeChellis said. He will be more comfortable coming off screens.
Senior guard Jon Perry (Huntington, W. Va.) is an emotional leader for the ETSU squad. Perry earned a spot on the roster as a walkon but missed all of last season with a knee injury.
I have the utmost respect for Jon, DeChellis said. He works extremely hard and is a great contributor both in the lockerroom and in practice.
Freshman Ryan Carson (Charlotte, N.C.) will split time between the two spot and the small forward position. Carson averaged 22 points during his senior season.
Ryan is a very athletic player that can shoot the ball well, DeChellis said.
Senior D.J. McDuffie (Greensboro, N.C.) will man the third guard/small forward spot. McDuffie ranked second on the team in scoring last season (10.8 ppg) and in assists (2.2 apg).
McDuffie has the ability to break down defenders on offense and shut down the opponents top offensive threats.
D.J. is the most versatile player on our team, DeChellis said. He can play all three guard spots and we look for him at both ends of the court. He has worked very hard on his shot all summer.
Freshman Tim Boyd (Crossett, Ark.) is a swing player that can also score inside. Boyd averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game last winter.
Tim is a great athlete who can score from the perimeter and inside, DeChellis said.
The loss of Leo Murray up front leaves the Bucs post uncertain. Senior Adrian Meeks (Lexington, Miss.) is a proven rebounder (6.8/game) that needs to score more.
Meeks underwent knee surgery in the offseason and is progressing well. Meeks ranked seventh in the Southern Conference in field goal percentage (.547). This year, he will have to increase his scoring (8.9/game) to be a force inside.
Adrian will have to be very productive in the paint, DeChellis said. He will have to be strong on the glass.
Another big body inside is senior Renaldo Scooter Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.). Johnson came to ETSU last year after playing at Carl Albert State College.
In his first season, Johnson averaged 4.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 24 games. Johnson was sidelined with a back injury that decreased his minutes last year.
Scooter can give us some quality minutes inside, DeChellis said. He will greatly improve our rebounding effor.t.
The biggest Buccaneer player, freshman Cory Seels (New Port Richey, Fla.), will be counted on immediately. A wide body at 6-9, 265, Seels could become one of the best centers in the Southern Conference. He averaged 16.5 points and 10 rebounds last year at Ridgewood High School.
Cory is a strong kid that will play right away, DeChellis said. A good work ethic combined with his talent could make Cory one of the most dominant centers in our league.
Sophomore Isaac Potter (Richmond, Va.) will contribute inside as well after averaging 1.9 points as a freshman.
Freshmen Jerald Fields (Gainesville, Fla.) and Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) come to Johnson City with high expectations for success.
Fields was a highly-touted senior last year that earned All-State honors. The coaching staff is really impressed with his hands and passing ability.
Wadoods 20.6 points and 10.0 points led Lonoke High School to back-to-back state championships the past two years.
Jerald and Zakee will both bolster our presence inside, DeChellis said. They could contribute immediately.
Freshman Paul Reed (Sneedville, Tenn.) has earned a spot on the roster as a walk on.
Paul is a tall kid that needs to build on this strength, DeChellis said.
The newcomers and veterans will be forced to gel early in the season as the Bucs face intense competition.
After opening the season on November 17 against Lynchburg College in Brooks Gym, the Bucs play at Tennessee and at Vanderbilt in late November. On December 17, the Bucs will travel to Blacksburg, Va. where Virginia Tech will be waiting to avenge last seasons 68-53 defeat.
Following the difficult non-conference slate, ETSU must face the formidable SoCon schedule.
The Bucs open with three of its first four Conference contests on the road. The SoCon season gets underway in Chattanooga on Jan. 2.
The Bucs welcome defending Southern Conference champion Appalachian State on January 15 and College of Charleston on February 5.
If the promise of the freshman class can mold with the proven talent of the returning players, this Buc team could prove to be one of the most successful in program history.