It’s tough to imagine that when East Carolina head coach Jeff Lebo and his Pirates journey to Chapel Hill Saturday, there won’t be any type of emotion when coaching against his almer mater, North Carolina.
“It will be exciting,” said Lebo. “It’s a game our kids are looking forward to.”
He was a McDonalds All-American at Carlisle High School, playing under his father, Dave, in his native Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Then as a member of the Tarheels, he was a four year starter from 1986-1990, serving as legendary head coach Dean Smith’s point guard.
Lebo was a four-year letterman and the Tarheels posted a 116-25 record. He never played for a team that didn’t advance to at least the Sweet 16. After graduating, he spent one season in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs before deciding to pursue a career in coaching.
Three head coaching stints later (Auburn, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee Tech), Lebo now leads East Carolina into Chapel Hill with a 6-1 record. Saturday’s game marks only the third time the two schools have played, with North Carolina winning both contests.
The last time the Pirates took the floor; they played a complete game against an inferior opponent, Saint Andrews, and won 111-59. More importantly, the team got out of its three-point shooting slump with a school-record 18 treys against the Knights.
Lebo stressed the importance of academics and said that final exams was the team’s primary focus with the 11 day gap between last Tuesday’s game and Saturday’s game inside the Dean Smith Center. The game will played at noon and broadcast on ESPNU, which raises a challenge trying to keep the team ready for the time being.
“It’s hard, but everyone has to go through it,” said Lebo. “We’ll try to keep them in as good shape as possible around the academic schedule and the calendar.”
Win or lose, it is clear that Lebo has the program moving in the right direction, playing a national program that is synonymous with basketball excellence. East Carolina may not quite be on that level yet, but for one afternoon, the two sides will share the floor for 60 minutes and Lebo will have an opportunity to continue his success in the city that made him famous.
` “It will be a fun game,” said Lebo. “We’ll see what happens.”