It’s been a whirlwind three months for the East Tennessee State basketball program. The Bucs have gone from a 30-win team and a coach that won 130 games in a five-year span to a program that will look vastly different in 2020-21.
Over the past month, the Bucs have lost head coach Steve Forbes, key players Bo Hodges and Daivien Williamson, and incoming graduate Jalen Johnson to transfer.
Hodges is bound for Butler, while Williamson and Johnson will join Forbes at Wake Forest.
Following a historic season in which the Bucs recorded the most wins in school history (30) and claimed the Southern Conference Tournament title for the second time in five years, COVID-19 pulled the rug out from the program’s promising March. Weeks later, Forbes took the Wake Forest job.
Top assistant Jason Shay was hired six days after Forbes’ departure, and a new era is underway in Johnson City. The Bucs courted the likes of New Mexico State’s Chris Jans and Kentucky assistant Joel Justus before deciding the offer the job to Shay.
Hodges and Williamson averaged a combined 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 and were expected to be the nucleus of next year’s team. The Bucs also have to replace five graduating seniors, including all-conference forward Jeromy Rodriguez, leading scorer Tray Boyd III, and defensive stalwart Isaiah Tisdale.
All told, its a total of 69.4 of the 76.3 points per game lost to graduation or transfer from 2019-20. The lone significant returnee to the backcourt is Patrick Good, who is a hometown product.
The Bucs also welcome the return of Vonnie Patterson and redshirt freshman Damari Monsanto. Kansas State transfer David Sloan and Northern Kentucky transfer Silas Adheke are talented transfers, with Adheke eligible immediately and Sloan awaiting a waiver.
Six-foot-five LeDarrius Brewer adds his 13.5 PPG average to the fold after two seasons at Southeast Missouri State. Others that could contribute are Truth Harris and three-star point guard Marcus Niblack, as both will add much needed immediate help to the backcourt.
With the losses of Williamson, Tisdale and Johnson, Niblack will be the odds-on favorite to assume the point guard role. Niblack originally signed with Ole Miss before switching to ETSU.
Expect the Bucs to rally even further, pick up some transfers during the summer months, and put together another talented roster by the time October practices start. It’s what they do in Johnson City.
What do we know about Shay?
The new head coach of the Bucs brings a hard-nosed mentality and a great defensive mind. It’s no wonder the Bucs have been among the best defensive mid-majors in the nation over the past five seasons.
Shay has worked his way up the hard way to his current position. His meticulous scouting breakdowns of opponents are impressive, and the track record he has helped Forbes put together over the past five seasons allowed his former boss and other key staff members to enter the big-time of Power 5 basketball.
Shay has got a tall task ahead of him heading into his first head coaching gig. Can the rabid ETSU fan base temper its expectations for 2020-21? Shay will have a slight grace period, however, not for long, as winning has become standard at ETSU.