UNC alum Jeff Lebo bringing ECU to Chapel Hill

Jeff Lebo is bringing his East Carolina program to the same

court where he starred for North Carolina under Dean Smith and Roy

Williams.

Lebo’s Pirates (6-1) are making their first trip to Chapel Hill

on Saturday to play the No. 21 Tar Heels, while Lebo is facing his

alma mater for the second time in 15 seasons as a head coach.

”It’s exciting to go back and it’s exciting for our players to

give them an opportunity to play on that stage in that

atmosphere,” Lebo said Thursday afternoon. ”I think it’s going to

be really helpful to our team and to our players. I think it’s

something they’ll remember and they’re really looking forward to

this game.”

Lebo, in his third season leading the Pirates, played at UNC

(7-2) from 1985-89 under Smith. Williams was an assistant to Smith

during Lebo’s first three seasons before taking over at Kansas.

Despite being about 100 miles apart, the instate programs have

met only twice before due to Smith’s policy of not scheduling

instate opponents. The only meeting during Smith’s 36-year tenure

came in the first round of the 1993 NCAA tournament.

Williams, now in his 10th season as UNC’s coach, said Lebo first

called asking if the Tar Heels would play the Pirates in ECU’s

Minges Coliseum.

”My deal is, we’ll play, but I’m not going to go play on your

court because we can’t do that for everybody (instate),” Williams

said. ”If you’re opening up a building or something like that,

we’ll try to help you. … But they decided they wanted to come

here and play, and it was pretty easy, a 15-minute

conversation.”

The game will also be the first meeting between Lebo and

Williams, though they had tried at least twice before to set up a

game.

Williams’ move to UNC in 2003 nixed a deal for Kansas to play at

Chattanooga while Lebo was coach there. Williams later agreed to

bring UNC to play Lebo at Auburn as the school opened a new arena –

a plan that fell through once Lebo was fired in 2010.

Lebo’s first game against UNC was an 85-59 loss in Chapel Hill

while he was at Tennessee Tech during the 1999-2000 season.

”You’ve got to remember now: Coach is going to do anything for

a lot of the former players that he can,” Lebo said. ”There’s so

many of us now that are coaching in the state that he can return

every game. It’s impossible for him to do that. He tries to play as

many and helps as many people. He’s been unbelievably gracious to

me, in tough times, too.

”He’s had a lot of former guys come back and play there. Not a

lot of us have won back there. He doesn’t treat you too good once

the game starts.”

As a player, Lebo helped the Tar Heels go 116-25 with two

Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles and one tournament

championship. Lebo’s teams reached at least the NCAA round of 16

every year and twice made a regional final.

Lebo also played in the Smith Center’s first game – a Duke-UNC

rivalry matchup – as a freshman in January 1986. He ranks 24th in

career scoring (1,567 points), second in career 3-point shooting

percentage (42.8) and fourth in career free-throw shooting

percentage (83.9) in program history.

East Carolina point guard Miguel Paul said he hadn’t seen any

extra excitement from Lebo or change in his coach’s demeanor

leading up to this one. Paul also didn’t sound intimidated by the

prospect of playing in the tradition-rich Tar Heels on their home

court.

”We’re excited, man,” Paul said. ”We know how good they are

and they’re just a great program and the basketball tradition is

very high there. So we’re just planning on going in there and

giving a good show and this is a big opportunity to get our name on

the board, too.”