Buccaneers thrive below public radar

A few years ago, the Tony Rich Project came out with a smash single "Nobody Knows." It ought to be played at East Tennessee State Buccaneer men's basketball games because apparently nobody knows the Bucs are good again.
   ETSU is currently trying to defend a Southern Conference regular season championship. The Bucs definitely have a good shot, but it seems like nobody is really taking notice.
   I've been trying to pinpoint the reason for the animosity towards the Bucs the last couple of weeks, and I think I've found the answer.
   Let's go back to 1996.
   The Bucs were coming off a dismal 7-20 season, and looked to be heading in the wrong direction. Head coach Alan LeForce had recently stepped down, and the search for a new coach had begun.
   After a long and well publicized search, Penn State assistant Ed DeChellis was named head coach.
   But it was the stuff in-between that got all the headlines. There were two names that kept resurfacing, and I want to tell you why despite these well-known names coming up, the Bucs made the right decision hiring somebody that was almost an unknown.
   1. George Pitts-- This name is probably familiar to a lot of area basketball fans. During this time, the Science Hill Hilltoppers were looking for their third straight state title, and Pitts was looking to step up to the next level.
   Pitts lobbied heavily for consideration to be ETSU's next head coach, and some people in the local media actually got behind him. A prominent local talk show host was probably the most vocal supporter of Pitts.
   But Pitts was not considered as a candidate and rightfully so. Athletic director Kenner Frye wanted somebody with college coaching experience, either as an assistant or as a head coach. Pitts didn't fit those requirements.
   Pitts' media cronies were upset, and couldn't believe that the king of high school hoops in Northeast Tennessee was actually passed over. But high school coaches don't usually make good college coaches right off the bat.
   If Pitts wanted to eventually be a college head coach, he should have asked to be a Buccaneer assistant and work his way up. But the Bucs didn't need another Gerry Faust situation.
   Pitts also never had to recruit as a high school coach, something that you have to do as a college coach. And how hard would it be to sell ETSU to a player when you had no experience as a college coach.
   Simply put, the Bucs made the right decision by not hiring Pitts.
   2. Buzz Peterson-- This is the guy I thought would be the perfect choice. Peterson was a former ETSU assistant, and he was a college roommate of Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest athlete of our time.
   Peterson was a finalist, but ended up being passed over for DeChellis. Peterson went on to win a Southern Conference Championship at Appalachian State, then bolted to Tulsa to win an NIT title in 2001.
   Peterson is now at the University of Tennessee, where he is doing his best to bring some discipline to that program.
   Peterson would have been a fine coach for ETSU, but has proven that he wouldn't have stayed too long. DeChellis was a candidate for the Duquene job last year, an Atlantic 10 school, but opted to stay in Johnson City to build on the success he's already had at ETSU.
   DeChellis is committed to building a strong program. I thought it was a mistake for ETSU to pass over Peterson, but even he admitted to me last summer that the Bucs have a good man.
   DeChellis has been able to build a champion despite little support from the local media and from the fans. Right now, Science Hill draws bigger crowds than the Bucs.
   DeChellis has also been able to get his players to make the grades. When DeChellis took over, the team G.P.A. was 1.8. Now, it's a very respectable 2.7.
   DeChellis struggled in his first two years, but he didn't have the talent to win games. Since those first two campaigns, the Bucs have had three consecutive non-losing seasons.
   The talent has finally arrived, and it's just going to get better for the Bucs. ETSU has had two stellar recruiting classes in a row, and the Bucs have one of the nation's top rated players coming next year in Council, Virginia's Brad Nuckles.
   It's time for people to accept DeChellis as one of their own. He has built the Bucs into a Southern Conference power again.
   People also need to accept the fact that neither George Pitts or Buzz Peterson is the coach at ETSU. The Bucs have their man, and he's a darn good basketball coach.