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ETSU basketball camp a homecoming of sorts

By Joe Avento • Jun 24, 2019 at 8:12 PM

JOHNSON CITY — There were some familiar faces on the courts at East Tennessee State’s basketball camp Monday morning.

Several former players — ones from the Bucs’ last championship team — were at the Mini-Dome, joining the coaching staff and current players in teaching about 100 youngsters the fundamentals of the game.

The day had the feeling of a homecoming, the former Bucs smiling and carrying on while telling stories about their not-too-distant past.

“To me, that’s what camp is all about: having these young kids around our players and former players,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “I think it says a lot about our program that so many of our former players want to come back and spend the week here.

“It says a lot about how they feel about this institution and the way our program is. They want to come back and still be a part of it.”

T.J. Cromer was the Southern Conference tournament’s MVP in 2017 when the Bucs won the league championship and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. He said carrying that title of champion still means the world to him even as he enters his third year of professional basketball.

“It’s always a great feeling to come back,” Cromer said. “This is like a second home for me. It’s great to come back and as a champion. We’re always greeted with open arms.”

Cromer has played two years overseas. He was the rookie of the year in Ukraine and led the Bosnian league in scoring and assists last year. He’s hoping to play in Italy next season.

“I feel like Coach Forbes prepared us well for the professional life, for a professional career,” Cromer said.

A.J. Merriweather was in Johnson City in March when the Harlem Globetrotters paid a visit to Freedom Hall. This time, he’s getting to spend some time with his former teammates and coach.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Merriweather, who knows a thing or two about making basketball fun thanks to his time with the Globetrotters. “Everybody has some off time. We just come back, pay homage to our alma mater, get together, fraternize with the young kids and chill with each other. The first hour and a half of camp, that’s all we talked about was the memories. Those memories are going to be there for a lifetime. It’s always fun to get together with my boys.

“Forbes was cracking up, telling us all the stuff that we hated then, but it’s funny now. You know we’d do anything for him.”

Isaac Banks played in England and the Republic of Georgia his first two years out of college. He is talking to several teams about playing next season but still took a detour from wherever he is headed to return to ETSU.

“It’s good to see your old teammates and see coach,” Banks said. “I love coming back. It feels like home. It’s always good to see Coach Forbes. He’s still the same — funny. He acts the same way he’s been acting since he got here. He’s a great guy, a respectable guy. I got a lot of love for him.”

In addition to the current ETSU players, the program’s newcomers are in town working the camp and working out. More former players are expected to arrive as the week goes on.

“They work camp, hang out and tell stories,” Forbes said. “It means a lot to me that they want to come back.”

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