Forbes has used a combination of transfers and younger recruits to build a winner. It’s the transfers — graduates and the junior college variety — that get the most attention when people talk about his team.
“However you choose to do it the right way, I don’t really care,” Forbes said Sunday night after ETSU’s 63-52 victory over Furman in the Southern Conference tournament semifinals. “I care about how we do it and nobody seems to be complaining in Johnson City.”
Forbes’ tactics rub some people outside of Johnson City the wrong way. In fact, Wofford coach Mike Young seemed to take exception to his approach in a recent column by Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press about UTC’s first-year coach Lamont Paris.
"Lamont could have come in here and found four graduate transfers and three junior college transfers and probably had a lot better record,” Young said. “But he chose to rebuild his program with nice kids who represent the university with class. He's doing it the right way, and they're going to be good again really soon.”
On the eve of his third appearance in the Southern Conference championship game in his three years at ETSU, Forbes didn’t care what anybody was saying. His team has won two games in two nights with two freshmen in the starting lineup.
“The fun thing about coaching is there’s so many different ways to skin a cat,” Forbes said. “There’s no right or wrong way. How you build your program is how you build your program.”
Forbes says he believes in three things — graduating his players, winning games and filling his team’s building with fans. And he’s done all of the above.
The Bucs will play for their second consecutive Southern Conference tournament championship tonight against UNC Greensboro.
“We’ll continue to do it our way and we’ll continue to work,” Forbes said.
BUCS’ BIG MAN
They’re were celebrating in Serbia after the game, even though they couldn’t watch it.
Mladen Armus said his family and friends follow his games via live stats on the internet because they do not get ESPN3. What they kept up with Sunday night was Armus scoring 10 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
“I talk with them after the game and try to explain to them about the game,” he said.
The Bucs’ 6-foot-10 freshman center was making his second start of the tournament.
“For me, this is the best part of the season,” Armus said. “We have a great crowd and great support. They give us energy and power and we are playing for them too.
“I worked hard with the guys all summer to be here and to have an opportunity to do something special in my career and for this college. I came here to be part of a championship team.”
After ETSU beat UNC Greensboro in last year’s SoCon tournament championship game, UNCG star Francis Alonso tweeted congratulations to the Bucs and wished them luck in the NCAA tournament.
“I wanted to show my respect,” he said.
The relationship has continued in a humorous way. The more the ETSU student section gets on Alonso, the more he likes them.
“My two first years of college basketball, any time we were doing to ETSU, they had some funny posters,” Alonso said. “I like that. It’s original. I never saw that before. I’m the type of guy who’s always looking for funny stuff. I’m kind of goofy.
“I know some guys take it as a bad thing, take it seriously. In my opinion, I can’t do that. Since I started playing college basketball, I’ve loved the fans. I’ve loved the passion they bring.”
Alonso, the Spartans’ all-conference junior guard from Spain, enjoys being the center of the ETSU fans’ attention so much he reached out to them during the season on Twitter.
“They complimented me on my basketball and all that,” he said. “I told them the next time we play them it would be an honor to meet them. Usually I don’t have family since I’m from overseas, so I told them if they needed some help, I could get them some tickets. ‘Whatever you guys need, just let me know.’ ”
The fans took him up on it and even gave him some of the signs. That was the night Francis and his team ended ETSU’s 16-game winning streak.
“It’s become a good relationship,” he said. “You have to love the passion, the intensity of those fans, not only from our team, but other teams too.
“We’re just having fun here.”
Joe Avento is the Sports Director for the Johnson City Press and Kingsport Times News. Contact him at [email protected]