Buccaneers seek to prove forecasters wrong

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   JOHNSON CITY -- A lot of the so-called experts aren't giving the East Tennessee State Buccaneers a chance to repeat as Southern Conference regular season champions. But that may be as premature as a town having its Christmas parade before Thanksgiving.
   The Bucs return three starters from a team that went 18-10 overall, and won its first SoCon regular season title in nine years.
   Despite the return of Dimeco Childress, Ryan Lawson and Cliff Decoster, and the fact the Bucs have a slew of young talent, ETSU was picked third in the Southern Conference's North Division by the media and the coaches at the SoCon Rouser last month.
   The Bucs have the talent to go a long ways, but with ETSU losing Renaldo Johnson, Adrian Meeks and D.J McDuffie from last year's team, the prediction didn't surprise ETSU head basketball coach Ed DeChellis.
   "I'm not surprised at all," DeChellis said. "I thought we might of been picked fourth or fifth. Preseason rankings to me really aren't all that impressive. I think the preseason conference polls are nice to have, but in reality I'm not sure how much it does for you."
   However, DeChellis does have confidence in this group.
   "I don't see any reason why we can't win the SoCon and get to the tournament," DeChellis said. "It will depend on a lot of different things. It will depend on chemistry, it will depend on team morale, team character, team attitude and how they practice. I think we're talented enough. We need to stay away from injures. That will be key for us."
   The team's success will depend a lot on a highly-touted freshmen class. 6-7 guard Tiras Wade, guard Keeton Brooks, and point guard James Anthony head up the class.
   All three players played very well in a recent exhibition contest, and should help the Bucs not to miss a beat when the starters are out of the game.
   None of the freshmen have cracked the starting lineup yet, but they will be counted on by DeChellis this season.
   "We know what our older guys can do," DeChellis said. "Now I'm trying to get some of the younger kids to mature and grow up and to help us. And we're going to need their help right away."
   Anthony should see plenty of time at point, but the starter is senior Cliff Decoster, who averaged 9.3 points per-game last season.
   Decoster came out of nowhere last year to become an integral part of ETSU's championship run.
   "I just try to be a leader," Decoster said. At the point guard position, you're supposed to know what everybody is doing and where everybody is supposed to be at. I'm just trying to play my game as good as I can play, and get everybody involved at the same time.
   Joining Decoster in the starting backcourt will be Childress (13.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Lawson (7.6 ppg).
   Childress is the team's leading returning scorer from last season. Just like Decoster, the senior wants to be a leader this year.
   "I've got to be a leader," Childress said. "The seniors have to be leaders for all these young guys. We have to show them what's right and what's wrong. We want to help them progress and come along this year."
   Lawson, a former Cherokee High School standout, was hot and cold last year. The junior hopes this season to contribute even on nights he's not shooting his best.
   "I want to contribute to this team any way I can," Lawson said. "I think my strong points on this team are to play defense and give energy to us. If I'm on some nights, good shoot the ball. But other nights when I'm not shooting so well, I'll get other people involved in the offense and let things come.
   Lawson knows that with all the young guards DeChellis has recruited, it is crucial that he steps up his game.
   "Every year you've got guys coming in trying to take your spot," Lawson said. "That's what we're expecting. There's going to be a push for every spot on the floor this year."
   The frontcourt will be manned by sophomores 6-6 Jerald Fields (6.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg.) and 6-9 Cory Seels.
   Both players will be seeing more action down low this season. Fields believes he is up to the challenge.
   "I have a real increased role," Fields said. "I've got to bring more scoring to the table. I think I might be up for the task this year."
   Seels has the least experience of the starters, but improved his fitness over the summer and should be a force to be reckoned with.
   Forwards Issac Potter and Shannon Huffstetler should also see a lot of action. Potter has been injury plagued throughout his career, while Huffstetler is a junior college transfer.
   Zakee Wadood should also see more action this season in his sophomore campaign. Wadood saw limited action as a freshman.
   Rounding out the ETSU roster are walk-ons Josh Wallace and Jon Perry, who is a senior.
   Vermont transfer Michael Toliver may be on the team, but chances are he will be ruled ineligible.
   Sophomore guard Sam Oatman figured to be a key contributor this season, but he is out for the year with an ACL injury.
   In addition to the always tough Southern Conference schedule, the Bucs have road games at Virginia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
   The Bucs have a lot to play for this season. ETSU did have a great regular season in 2000-2001, but saw things fall apart in the Southern Conference Tournament. The Bucs lost to Georgia Southern in the opening round.
   The loss is still on Childress' mind, and he believes they can take things a step further this campaign.
   "I think we've got a chance if we can grow and come together," Childress said. "We can be better than we were last year. Hopefully, when we get to the tournament we can win the thing this year."