Miles 3-UNF

J.J. Miles shoots an outside shot for East Carolina during a 73-67 victory over North Florida last season.

Joe Dooley hopes the biggest difference between this year’s East Carolina basketball team and last year’s is evident in the blink of an eye.

That’s because he wants this edition of the Pirates to be noticeably faster. Dooley’s ECU team tips of its 90th season when it hosts South Carolina State at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Minges Coliseum.

The head coach hopes the numerous additions to his roster and a summer spent with the team playing together will pay dividends beginning Tuesday night.

“We’d like to play a lot faster, and that’s something that we’ve been wanting to do,” said Dooley, now in his eighth season at ECU and coming off an 8-11 campaign and 2-10 finish in American Athletic Conference play. “I think we’ve played faster in scrimmages, and if you play faster and get some defensive stops, then you can get out and play in transition. The guys have done a good job and pushed the ball better.”

ECU lost leading scorer Jayden Gardner, who opted to transfer to Virginia at the end of last season. That puts at least some of the scoring pressure on returning senior J.J. Miles, who averaged 9.8 points per game in 16 games during a COVID-19-altered campaign last year. Also back in the mix and expected to increase their scoring are Brandon Suggs (9.6), Tristen Newton (8.7) and Tremont Robinson-White (8.1).

COVID forced ECU to pause all team activities twice last season, and the Pirates ultimately saw six AAC games wiped away because of the pandemic. The season still produced a defining moment when ECU upended top-5 Houston in Minges Coliseum.

Senior center Ludgy Debaut played in all 19 ECU games last season, and he has been witness to the offseason improvements following a difficult 2020-21 season.

“Everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s got the same mindset,” said Debaut, adding that in terms of the many newcomers, he has been impressed in the preseason by freshman point guard Javon Small (South Bend, Ind./Compass Prep, Ariz.), freshman guard RJ Felton (Aiken, S.C./Aiken) and junior college transfer forward Brandon Johnson (Brunswick Community College).

“Last year was a weird deal with COVID, obviously,” the 7-foot Debaut said. “We started our first game and there was nobody in the stands. This year, especially (Tuesday), it sounds like we’re going to have a good crowd, and that’s going to be exciting for us.”

In all, Dooley added nine new players to the roster during the offseason, including a trio of potentially key transfers: Alanzo Frink (South Carolina), Vance Jackson (Arkansas) and Wynston Tabbs (Boston College).

East Carolina holds a 63-26 record in season openers dating back to a 23-17 victory over the Greenville All-Stars in its first-ever contest in 1931.

Women in Murfreesboro

Head coach Kim McNeill and the ECU women open the season on the road at Middle Tennessee at 8:30 on Tuesday night.

A drastically revamped ECU roster will be on display for the first time against the defending Conference USA champion Blue Raiders. Only seven players return from last year’s team that finished 8-14, 6-10 in the AAC

Among those seven, junior Taniyah Thompson (12.0 points per game, 675 points in two seasons), along with senior Tiara Chambers (4.2 rebounds per game, 20 blocked shots) will shoulder a big load this season.

Tuesday could be the first game for graduate student Raven Johnson since November 2019. Johnson has played just four games over the past two seasons due to injuries, but she was the second-leading scorer (12.5 ppg.) and leading rebounder (6.2 rpg.) during the 2018-19 campaign.

The team also features four transfers from Power 5 programs: graduate student Tylar Bennett and junior Danae McNeal (Clemson), grad Da’Ja Green (Virginia Tech) and junior Plymouth native Brittany Franklin (Kansas).