Voting shows lack of respect for Buccaneers

    CHARLESTON S.C. -- The East Tennessee State Buccaneer basketball team has gone back to being the underdog, but the boys from Johnson City are out to prove they're still one of the big dogs.
   Despite returning three starters from a team that went 18-10 overall and won the Southern Conference North Division by posting the best league record in any division at 13-3, the Bucs were picked third in the North by the Southern Conference coaches and media at Monday's Southern Conference Basketball Rouser.
   The Bucs did garner two first-place votes from the media, showing that some experts still believe they're dangerous.
   One reason for the poor showing may be because some teams have everybody back. Southern Conference Tournament champion UNC-Greensboro was picked first in the North, while Davidson is expected by most experts to finish second. Both teams have all five starters back.
   Georgia Southern, who upset ETSU in the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament last season, was picked first in the South Division in both polls. The Eagles also have all five starters returning.
   With the Bucs losing starters Renaldo Johnson (8.8. ppg, 6.4 rpg), Adrian Meeks (7.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg,), and part-time starter and key reserve D.J. McDuffie (8.7 ppg), ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis wasn't surprised that his team didn't get picked very high in the rouser polls.
   "I think when you lose three seniors who basically were starters, I think coaches look at it like you've got two guys returning," DeChellis said. "I think we've got a lot of question marks.
   "We're very young. Besides the two seniors that are going to play, we're young at almost every other spot. Our people coming the bench are young."
   DeChellis still doesn't want to get caught up in the preseason polls. He just wants to get practice going, which starts Saturday.
   "Being preseason picked has no bearing on us whatsoever," DeChellis said. "I think you can use it as motivation when you're picked towards the bottom. When you're picked towards the top, you've got some added pressure on you. We're just going to go play, practice hard and try to get ready for the season."
   The Bucs may be a young team, but they might just have the most talented squad in the Southern Conference. DeChellis, who had very little to work with his first few years in Johnson City, has produced back-to-back standout recruiting classes.
   This should be the year where last season's class emerges. Center Cory Seels and forward Jerald Fields saw limited playing time last year, but will be counted on for production on the front line. Forward Zakee Wadood should also see his minutes increase.
   As for the freshmen, the class that includes guard James Anthony, guard Keeton Brooks, 6-7 guard Tirus Wade, and guard Michael Toliver could be one of the best in school history, but Tolliver may end up being ineligible.
   But DeChellis may not throw all these players into the fire just yet.
   "How much they play and how quickly they play will depend on how quickly they grasp or defensive schemes, DeChellis said. "Because that's the first emphasis we put on them. We need to guard people, and be a very good defensive team. We were last year and we need to be this year. So as quickly as they can grasp our defensive concepts, the more opportunities they'll
   Junior college transfer Shannon Huffstetler is also part of the prized recruiting class.
   The three returning starters are guard Dimeco Childress (13.2 ppg), guard Cliff DeCoster (9.3 ppg) and guard Ryan Lawson (7.6 ppg). Both Childress and Decoster are seniors, meaning they along with reserve Jon Perry will be looked upon for leadership.
   "I've talked to the guys a great deal about how they have to be leaders," DeChellis said. "These guys are following suit. Cliff, Dimeco and Jon and Ryan try to do a good job and let the young players know how hard things are, and how hard practice is."
   Even though DeChellis has turned the program around, it's hard to say that the Buccaneer basketball team is getting enough respect.
   ETSU's fan support has been very low since DeChellis took over, and even last year, when the Bucs were winning. But he believes the fans are close to coming back.
   "I think that's part of growing," DeChellis said. "The program had struggled, so I think it takes time to get people back in the stands. Hopefully, they'll come back this year and we will average more this year than we did last year. I think we've got a great group of hard core fans, now we have to add to it."
   With a young team that has a lot of potential, people may finally forget about the past and tap into the future of ETSU basketball.
   Senior guard Dimeco Childress was the only ETSU player to make the All-SoCon preseason team. Childress averaged over 13 points per game last season. College of Charleston guard Jeff Bolton headlines the team, as he was selected the preseason Player-of-the-Year.
   East Tennessee State was picked seventh by the media in the women's preseason Southern Conference poll. This definitely has the attention of ETSU head coach Karen Kemp.
   "I kind of hoped they would pick us low because we've got something for them," Kemp said.
   The most intriguing story for the Lady Bucs will be the return of guard Leslie Burleson. She has yet to come back from a knee injury sustained two seasons ago in the Southern Conference Tournament.
   "Leslie has worked extremely hard the last two years to get her knee back to where hopefully she can contribute to the team," Kemp said. "It's going to be difficult for Leslie. She still runs with a limp, and she's not as quick as she was. She's lost a step, but Saturday I'll be able to get a better feel on what Leslie can bring to the team. Leslie will definitely be part of team no matter what."