Bartow takes reins of ETSU men's basketball program

By Matt Hill

   JOHNSON CITY--Inheriting a squad that was a three-point shot away from making the second round of the NCAA Tournament last month may be a difficult challenge for any coach to follow up on, but Murray Bartow thinks he is up to the task.
   Bartow was named East Tennessee State's new head basketball coach on Tuesday afternoon at a press conference in the Culp Center.
   He was the head coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham from 1996-2002. During that time, his teams won 103 games and made the NCAA Tournament in 1999.
   Bartow got the nod for the position over finalists Mark Slonaker of Mercer and Georgia Tech assistant Dean Keener.
   "We are very pleased that Murry has decided to become our new men's basketball coach," ETSU President Dr. Paul Stanton said. "While we interviewed three very talented and capable coaches, it is my belief that the search committee made the right choice. We were very pleased with our team's Southern Conference Championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament last season, and we know Coach Bartow will do all he can to take our program to an even higher level."
   Taking the program to a higher level will be expected. The Bucs will return all five starters from a team that gave ACC Champion Wake Forest all it wanted in the NCAA Tournament.
   Bartow knows he will be expected to win right away, but is confident the Bucs will do just that.
   "I think we all as coaches put pressure on ourselves to win," said Bartow, who is the son of former UCLA head coach Gene Bartow. "I'm not a real cocky coach, but I'm pretty confident. I think I know how to win. I've lost my share, don't get me wrong, but I think we've been able to beat some people.
   "I would much rather be in that situation than coming into a program that's really down and really struggling. We've got a great base of players, and I plan to build on that."
   With the ETSU basketball team looking on Tuesday, Bartow likes the fact he will be coaching senior posts like Zakee Wadood and Jerald Fields, as well as point guard Tim Smith.
   "Obviously, it's all about the players," Bartow said. "It's not necessarily about the coach. The coach has some input and obviously he's got to hire a great staff, which we will do. But it's all about the players. The players win games, so obviously we'll go out and try to recruit the best quality student athletes.
   "As I look at the team, we have two great senior leaders on next year's team in Jerald Fields and Zakee Wadood. There's no substitute for great senior leadership, so I'm going to rely on them very heavily to help me lead this basketball team and I'm sure they will."
   The cupboard is full at ETSU, but a couple of problems will have to be addressed by Bartow in the coming days.
   One issue will be who to hire on his staff. With Hillary Scott now gone to join Ed DeChellis at Penn State, Tom Conrad and Scott Wagers remain.
   Wagers will be hired. Conrad's position at ETSU is still up in the air.
   "You better have a good staff," Bartow said. "You better have a loyal staff. You better have a staff that understands recruiting. We can all go out and see a great player, but can you see the guy that's 17 and he's not ready to go to Duke. Do you know who that player is? That's critical. Can you develop a player? Once you get them, can you make the player better? All those issues are very critical."
   Probably the biggest issue Bartow will have to face is trying to keep early-signee A.J. Jackson from going somewhere else.
   Jackson signed early with the Bucs, but has reconsidered since DeChellis left.
   Bartow says every effort will be made to keep Jackson on board.
   "We'll visit with him," Bartow said. "Within the next 48 hours I'll be in his home and we'll visit. I would hope he would follow through with where he signed. If it doesn't happen, I'll consult with (ETSU Director of Intercollegiate athletics Dave Mullins) and see how he wants to handle it."
   The ETSU players seem to be in Bartow's corner, including Buccaneer point guard Sam Oatman.
   "He seems like a great guy," Oatman said. "I think the thing that I like best about him is that he didn't come in here and tell us how great we are. He knows we have room to improve, and he wants to make us better and take us to the next level next year."
   While Bartow's work is now beginning in Johnson City, he will have Mullins' full support.
   "I'm convinced we have found the very best person capable of leading our team at this time," Mullins said.