Newfound excitement for ETSU basketball program

By SETH BARTEE
STAR Correspondent

   In the fall of 2002 Sports Illustrated ranked the best sport colleges in the nation. East Tennessee State was ranked very low with no mention of the men's basketball program.
   Fate has changed on the campus of East Tennessee State. Coach Ed DeChellis's phone is ringing off the hook with offers from other schools and the men's basketball team is heading to Tampa to dance with number two seed Wake Forest.
   Before the NCAA Selection Show last Sunday some had predicted that ETSU would grab a 13 or 14 seed and face the Florida Gators in the first round.
   The Bucs and their fans viewed the selection show from the Centre at Millenium Park with high expectations Sunday. Fans watched with some anxiousness because of the unknown location of ETSU's first round game.
   The perfect location would have been Nashville, which is only a five-hour drive from the Tri-Cities and would have guaranteed strong fan support. The antithesis or imperfect location was Spokane, Washington, which would mostly only draw team personnel with Buc players' families.
   If the selection show party was an indicator of student following then a somewhat close location could have quite of few Buccaneer students. Millenium Park was jam-packed an hour before the rival and venue announcement on CBS.
   ETSU basketball had not felt this kind of excitement since 1992 when led by Keith "Mister" Jennings had defeated Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But then there is present day guard freshman Tim Smith who displayed "Mister" like shots in the championship game in the Southern Conference final.
   Alumni and those who followed the Bucs in the early 90's were comparing Smith to Jennings in his glory days. Smith's bomb like three pointers were reminiscent to those observed in the mini-dome in the glory days of Buc basketball.
   Fast track to Selection Sunday and it was like the night before Christmas as players and friends waited for the placement in the big dance.
   Hushes and awes came from the crowed at Millenium Park as ETSU was passed up in some likely match-ups and seeds. Florida drew Sam Houston State in its opener instead of the predicted Bucs.
   As CBS dived further into the brackets, one fan said where are the Bucs?
   The Bucs drew a young Wake Forest team, which will start four freshmen in the tournament opener. This may be quite a battle as two young teams battle at the Bay.
   Jubilation immediately filled the Millenium Center as the match up was announced. Fans and family were all smiles at the draw of Wake Forest, since the game was in Florida it made possible for a good fan following.
   The 20-10 Bucs will meet the 24-5 Demon Deacons Friday in first-round action in Tampa, Florida. The game should be fast as both teams run and gun as they battle for a win at the Bay.