Lebo, ECU Deserve Respect

Jeff Lebo's ECU program appears to be on the rise - Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

In Cameron, ECU showed immense heart and courage.

The next time a documentary about the 1980 U.S. Olympic team is on, see if there's not a view of a Soviet player leaning on his stick as the Americans begin to celebrate. He looks wry, impressed, almost happy for the kids who just took out his powerhouse squad. It's a really interesting study in human emotion.

That's the way it feels at times for a basketball fan of a so-called power team when a lightly regarded team pushes yours to the edge: you don't want to see your team lose, but part of you, undeniably, is impressed with the upstarts and you kind of want to see if they can close the deal.

That's how we felt watching ECU Tuesday night anyway.

For years, ECU basketball has been a joke to the ACC. The Pirates have exactly one win over an ACC team, and that one was over one of Sidney Lowe's mediocrities at State.

That wasn't the case Tuesday night in Cameron. There's always a very coherent team on the floor there, well-coached, fundamentally sound and ready to play at the highest level.

In many respects Tuesday, that team was ECU. The Pirates were the more cohesive team, the one which worked better as a unit. Certainly it was the team which made the least mistakes in the second half.

Duke won, ultimately, because of Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Hood shot 8-10 and 12-12 from the line and Parker, while erratic at times offensively, was masterful in winning time. He blocked shots, he defended, and he had a  end-to-end one man fast break that was breathtaking.

Yet despite his heroics, despite Hood's phenomenal shooting night, Jeff Lebo's Pirates were right there until the end, when Duke locked the game up on free throws.

To be clear, we'll never pull against Duke. A loss would've been painful.

But how can you not respect a team with the heart that ECU has? Those guys know how to play the game the right way (by the way, we can't recall a single emotional reaction from an ECU player. Not one. That is a very disciplined team).

Much of the credit of course goes to Jeff Lebo. He flamed out at Auburn before taking the ECU job, but who wouldn't? That's a terrible place to coach basketball. Nobody thrives there.

Of course, everyone has said that about ECU as well.

Lebo grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, son of a highly successful high school coach, and then did finishing work at UNC under Dean Smith. He knew more at 22 than most coaches learn in a lifetime.

Like David Cutcliffe and Duke football perhaps, it's a case of the right guy for the right job.

However you want to look at it, consider this: ECU now stands on the cusp of joining some lower-level teams in the Carolinas which have had some real success in the sport: Davidson, Charleston, Asheville, UNC-W, Gardner-Webb and Barton among them.

Now the trick will be to keep him. And if he keeps things rolling in Greenville, that could be harder than winning at Cameron.

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