Dukes Hire New Assistant Coach

Ron Everhart has replaced Greg Gary, who left for a job under Matt Painter at Purdue, with Senegalese born Amadou Koundoul. Koundoul has had a long a twisting career as both a player and a coach. As a player he played two seasons of Junior College ball before moving on to Cleveland State where he played two seasons and graduated with a degree in communications. Similarly, his coaching career has sent him a number of places in the collegiate and prep ranks, most notably being an assistant under Greg Gary in his one season as Head Coach at Centenary before they moved to Division III. Coach Everhart has said of the hire,

“Pape has experience as an assistant and head coach at a number of different levels ranging from prep school to college,” said Everhart. “That experience, combined with his skill in player development and his ability to motivate young men, will make him a real asset to our staff. I’m excited to have him contribute to Duquesne’s basketball success.”

This is the critical point for me. It seems as if Koundoul’s forte is player development, which is something currently missing on the bluff. Former NFL Head Coach Bill Parcells, as the head man for the New England Patriots famously said, “They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” While he was voicing his displeasure in the lack of say in personnel decisions he unknowingly pointed out the two parts that make up collegiate coaching. So far, during Everhart’s tenure, the coaching staff has done a good job of bringing in talent missed or disregarded by bigger schools with the likes of Damian Saunders, TJ McConnell and Sean Johnson among others, but there is problem when your focus is simply on buying groceries, meals can come under-cooked.

Such has been the case for big men under Ron Everhart. Duquesne has not been able to develop a player over 6’7″ since Everhart has been on the bluff. Big Mike Williams and Oliver Lewison did not pan out, and part of the problem for that is the inability to mold such players. Big men don’ t grow on trees. While it is possible to find hidden gems that are guards or swing men, it is much harder to find post players simply because there are less of them on the planet. This fact points to a truth often missed by Dukes fans, because of the lack of 6’8″ and over talent, small programs like Duquesne end up with the dregs of the abnormally large human basket. So, what we get are unpolished projects that need to be developed through their time on campus. As of now, all the coaches who have manned the sidelines for Everhart have not had this ability. Perhaps now Everhart now has his center whisperer.

I am completely speculating whether or not Koundoul has any felicity in molding big men, but it seems that this hire has the right thinking behind it. Koundoul had to learn how to become a player himself while he was an undergraduate and his professional career has been focused on developing skills as opposed to finding talent. This should have given the skill set needed to help develop the likes of Derrick Martin and Martins Abele. Also, it would be welcomed if he had a ten step method to make all free throws. So as for now, good hire, whether or not he can cook is yet to be seen.

Ron Everhart Should Not and Will Not (I Think) Take the PSU Job

Penn State Head Basketball Coach Ed DeChellis has resigned to take the same job at the United States Naval Academy. DeChellis was coming off the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in ten seasons. This adds to the surprise of a coach leaving a program this late in the recruiting period. It is suspected by David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News that DeChellis felt shortchanged at Penn State.

DeChellis, now 52, is not interested in coaching more than another 8-10 years. He felt a lack of respect and commitment from the Penn State administration. He was unable to get an extension or raise on a contract lasting three more seasons. His daughters have completed college and are out of the house. His wife Kim, I’ve been told, loved the idea of living in a beautiful area bordering the major metro of Washington/Baltimore.

And, most of all, he was wanted.

Salary, according to a dependable source at the Naval Academy, will be a mere $450,000 per year over five seasons. DeChellis was making $650,000 annually at PSU. But not only was he under jeopardy of not being renewed after his contract ran out in 2014 but he clearly believed a sub-par season in 2011-12 would result in his firing. He  apparently decided job security was worth a dip in salary.

With DeChellis leaving, that creates an opening at a BCS program. That should open the eyes of several aspirants, however there are several reasons why it would be foolish to take this job right now. For one thing, last year’s team featured Point Guard Talor Battle who averaged over twenty points on a club that averaged only 63 points per game. As Battle went, so did PSU. He will be gone this year leaving the team in shambles. Furthermore, prized transfer point guard Juwan Staten from Dayton will probably defect along with his coach according to Jones.

Secondly, as DeChellis’ departure demonstrates, the basketball program is a second class citizen in Happy Valley. DeChellis managed to win the NIT and make the NCAA’s in consecutive years and the administration at Penn State scoffed at the notion of a raise or long term contract extension. Such is not representative of a friendly working environment. Why would anyone jump at that job?

It is still a BCS school, but the constraints limit the types of candidates that would be interested. The first group would be coaches looking to parlay the PSU job into a better job. The Second group includes coaches who fell from grace at major programs that are unemployed or working as assistants. The third group are those coaches that were in the second group but are now at mid-major programs working their way back up the ladder.

Ron Everhart falls into the first group of candidates. According to Andy Katz, “Everhart would also listen seriously to Penn State, according to a source.” He certainly would have to listen, but I suspect his better judgment will prevail if he does get offered the job. Its a major conference program! Except that it isn’t. Could he parlay that job into a better job? Probably not. With DeChellis’ unceremonious exit his name is on a list with the likes of Dick Harter, Bruce Parkhill and Jerry Dunn; all of which were PSU’s head man and were not heard from again. PSU is not a stepping stone because of the little attention given to it.

The lack of care taken by PSU will not attract the big time prospects. Thus, I fully suspect that Everhart, were he to take the gig, would have a team that looked like the one he has had on the bluff. He, also, would have to play in one of the toughest leagues in the nation unfortunately. Such does not spell success. I suspect he would be gone within four seasons.

If Everhart waits it out, he is likely to get a better job. Seth Greenberg seems as if he is perpetually on the hot seat as he cannot seem to get Virginia Tech to the dance. They are always on the wrong side of the bubble. One bad season at Blacksburg would likely see his demise. If that happens, Everhart, a former Hokie, would have to be near the top of Tech’s list. Even if that job doesn’t open up, were Everhart to get Duquesne of all programs to the dance, he would be a very wanted man. Bigger and Better opportunities would emerge rather than second class jobs like Penn State.

So, Everhart has an interview with PSU. Big deal. He would be incredible dumb to make such a move. The Penn State job does not open doors and furthermore, his style of play would not gel with what PSU expects. Everhart does not play Big Ten basketball and the administration should know this. For this reason, I suspect they will not offer Everhart the job anyway. So, they won’t offer and Everhart would say no. I think?

Preseason Rankings & Dukes Featured in USA Today

As has been well discussed around the bluff, two national media outlets were in town last week to profile  the Dukes. The first of these profiles appeared in today’s USA Today. The article is based around the team’s lack of preseason respect and its surprise performance thus far.

The list is a predicted order of finish from a preseason college basketball magazine in which the Duquesne men were picked 13th, behind all but Fordham.

“Bad choice,” freshman point guard T.J. McConnell says with a smile. “We scratch off each team as we beat them.”

This brings up something that drives me crazy every year when I look at the preseason rankings. Rarely, do these prognosticators factor in enough context. I assume the process works something like this. This is Team X’s record. Now, this is the percentage of minutes coming back. Those are the players leaving and with them their scoring. Put this information under a microscope and come out with a winning percentage. Duquesne, while it never should have been expected to finish in the top four of the Atlantic 10, should have been ranked either fifth or sixth most likely.

A number of factors were missed at the beginning of the season and I cannot fully blame the clairvoyants for missing major pieces of information. The Dukes unperformed last season. They were much better than there .500 record indicated. They did fade down the stretch however. The club lost six overtime games that easily could have gone the other way getting the Dukes to 20 wins.

One of the major flaws of the team last season was a lack of a quality point guard. With all due respect to Eric Evans, who I like as a player, he is simply not a point guard and that manifested itself quite clearly throughout the 2009-10 campaign. His handle and quickness are simply average and his court awareness is hindered by his height. It seemed that often he couldn’t find the open man because he couldn’t see him. Not possessing an above average tool set creates many problems for psuedo-point guards like Evans.

Ask any wise guy sports better. He will tell you that point guards matter. When a coach trusts the guy running the offense he does not need to manage as much allowing for fewer timeouts and more cohesion when the team is on the opposite side of the floor. The college game in many cases is a point guard’s game. Even the best talent and coaches cannot make up for a good point man sometimes. This is what TJ McConnell and Mike Talley have been able to provide. The touts easily could have missed this considering that McConnell, the front runner for rookie of the year, did not even make the All Freshmen team. This team has a point guard, two actually, while last year’s did not.

Last year the Dukes were overrated because there was only one major position player lost. Unfortunately for the Dukes and the projections that player was Aaron Jackson, who did everything the previous season including running the offense. So, somehow the touts underestimated the effect of both AJ leaving and TJ coming. Such is life when you are are lowly Duquesne. I embrace this position however, its always good to fly below the radar.

Dukes Getting National Hype (I’m Concerned)

All one needs to know of the Duquesne program is one number: .421. That number represents the winning percentage for the Dukes since the golden years of the program under coach Red Manning. Eight men strolled the sideline at the Civic Arena and Palumbo, of which only two have had a winning record. The last trip to the Tournament occurred under Mike Rice, one of those winning coaches, in 1977 under arguably the best player in the program’s history Norm Nixon. Over the past several decades the Dukes have been chasing ghosts of past success. This road paving the way has been dark contructed with losses. Now, it appears as if the Dukes are emerging from the shadows, or so we are being told.

Winning nine games in a row brings attention, but it is the kind of attention the Dukes are getting which is disconcerting to this particular fan. The primary focus of the hype is the narrative suitable for some mediocre Disney sports film. Obviously Ron Everhart’s first season was marked by five players getting shot, but that is not what I remember. Everhart, in that transitional year instituted his 1040 system. 10 men – 40 minutes. Everhart took a squad that won three games the previous season and won five conference games in a row. The community was buzzing culminating in a sell out against Rhode Island at Palumbo. That afternoon, the efficient Rams torched the Dukes breaking the press at will and drilling open three point attempts. The Dukes lost the rest of their games that season.

This season’s club is much better than that transitional group resemblant of the island of misfit toys. But the streak reminds me previous heartbreak, so when I read a guy I trust in John Gasaway (subscription only) make the tournament case for the Dukes I cringe a little bit. I only wish these strories would come after ten consecutive wins instead of nine. Dayton has struggled but they still might be the second most talented team in the Atlantic 10 and with how their fans travel there is concern that Sunday’s game will seem more like a contest at U.S. Bank Arena than the Consol Energy Center. Much more needs to be done before the Dukes punch a ticket to the dance for the first time in 24 years. This season could still go awry and familiar visions flood my subconscious. Let’s win a few more before we start to get too excited about March fantasies. My biggest suggestion to fans who want to see Duquesne’s name called on Selection Sunday is to buy tickets to the Atlantic 10 tournament because that is the most likely invitation to the ball.

Dukes Receive AP Poll Vote

For many programs, seeing its name in the “Others receiving votes” category is a cause for concern, however for a struggling program like Duquesne its cause for celebration. The news story on the Duquesne athletic site even mentions, “Research could not determine the last time a Dukes men’s team has been among those receiving votes in the poll.” That is indicative of the depths that the Duquesne Men’s basketball program have gone too over the past four decades. Consistently, the Dukes have been bottom feeders in the Eastern Eight/Atlantic 10 and only recently have had some success culminating in the first postseason appearances in years. As of now the program is on the rise, but it cannot be forgotten how long it took to get to this point.

Personally, I am a product of Duquesne University. My parents met there and because of that I exist. This profound connection is not apparent to the young child whose Uncle took him to games starting at a young age. I am forever grateful to him for introducing me the game of college basketball even if it was a to a team that routinely would rank in the 300s in the RPI ratings. There is something so elegantly simple about the game of basketball. The parquet design of the floor and audible squeaking of the players effort provides an excellent example for children of the ways of life.

Learning how to deal with loss is one of the most difficult aspects of life and to those immersed in sports at a young age, that lesson is learned early.  There is a certain glory of losing however, not everyone can win, and with the inspiration of my family it provides a strong connection to the downtrodden. Becoming a Dukes fan at an early age largely due to my Uncle and becoming a Pirates fan simultaneously because of my Mom’s love for baseball introduced me to the hard luck lives of many in a small controlled basis. To this day these clubs remain the teams that I have the strongest connection to.

I would be lying if I didn’t consider losing to be a big part of my loyalty. I have learned to embrace losing so that, maybe someday, there will be winning. Even the losers need to win sometimes and that is why seeing Duquesne written out in a national poll, even if in small letters, warms my heart. All the pain and suffering of the fans can be worth it. Earlier in the season after heart breaking losses against Penn State, West Virginia and George Mason the common refrain was, “here we go again,” the team just will never get over that hump.

Now the Dukes are making that ascent during this eight game winning streak. They appear as if they are a force in the conference, a tough out for any club. There remains doubt, myself included, that this run will be sustainable. A bad loss to Fordham or any other school may just be on the horizon, but that’s the future. As of right now, the Dukes are nationally ranked making all the sorrow worth it. Maybe, the Rubicon has been crossed. It is now time to burn that bridge connecting us to those losing ways. Let’s go Dukes.

Building Up a Fan Base

I became a fan of the Dukes the hard way. Simply by going to games at a very early age I became hooked on the red and blue. Both of my parents are Duquesne graduates but it is my Uncle, also an alumnus, who I have to thank in regards to my love of the Dukes. It was in those early years that I was hooked on DU. Being an avid follower of sports for as long as I can remember going to real live games offered great opportunities to me. Going through the gates and the turnstiles, making my way to the wooden benches on the East side of Palumbo, hearing the band and watching large men play their hearts out on a parquet surface was more than enough to make the synapses in my head fire relaying the sentence that this is my team. Back then the Dukes were bad, really bad. The futility has always been admirable to me as my mom has roped me into being a Pirates fan in a similar fashion. She taught me how to embrace losing, and so I have for many years.

The program was stagnant for several years but the nature of college basketball is that one guy can turn it all around. There is a reason that coaches are the ones that make the ship go. Coaches bring in the players, develop talent and make other several key decisions that directly translate to wins and losses. In the hiring of Ron Everhart, we got lucky. Everhart has been able to turn the program around almost immediately leading the Dukes to winning campaign in only his second season.  We even have been fortunate that the Dukes have not had too much success too soon or it is quite likely that the phone would begin to ring for Everhart with someone on the other end making an offer too good to turn down. With no natural successor in place that would have been a critical blow to the basketball program. Had the Dukes pulled out a win in the 2008 Atlantic 10 Tournament things could be different and likely for the worse.

I am not of the opinion that Ron Everhart is an amazing coach or irreplaceable. He does everything a college coach should do well without being particularly exceptional at any one aspect. Despite this, he is about as good a front man Duquesne could have. With him in place things have gotten better. The Dukes started winning more games and more people have begun to care about the program.

I often joke that as a hardcore Duquesne basketball fan, that there are thirty of us. While I may be selling ourselves short a little, the fact remains that there are simply not that many people who care deeply about the team. The ranks are growing however and that’s a good thing. A good way to tell if someone at Palumbo is a true fan is if they care about where their ticket says they are sitting as opposed to simply taking an available bench spot like we pros do. That might be the most annoying aspect of going to games now. Thankfully, all the seats will be chair-backs so that should no longer be an issue.

Simply because that annoyance exists is a good thing. That means more people care on regular enough basis that they come to games sporadically. It seems as if step one of building a fan base is well on its way. The First step is obviously the improvement of the program. The program has gone from A-10 bottom feeder with 300 something RPI to the top half of the league in four years. If the team makes the next step to becoming an annual contender the ranks will grow even more.

The next step is creating an atmosphere in which people will be drawn in. Games should be loud and fun. Palumbo is designed nicely to fulfill this purpose. It is big enough to create a tough road environment and and small enough that with continued success it can be filled at capacity regularly. There are many students and grads that are connected to the school but most don’t care, but they would if given the opportunity. Look at Pitt for example. Fitzgerald Field House was almost as dead as Palumbo in the ’90s. As the program has progressed there are many people who care now. The same thing can happen to us.

Another key factor i see in building a program is getting the team on television regularly. The Athletic Director Greg Amodio has done a solid job in procuring television spots for Duquesne games. The Dukes have been on TV (national or  regional) multiple times the last few seasons but that should not be the end of it. Ideally, the Dukes will be able to broadcast most of their games locally like Pitt does. Unfortunately for the Dukes, the Atlantic 10 does not have as a big of a deal with CBS Sports as the Big East has with ESPN. Much of the work has to be done by the school itself. However, A-10 schools like Xavier, Dayton and Rhode Island regularly broadcast their games, thus it can be done. Duquesne is probably not quite at that level yet though. The more the Dukes can be on TV, the more eyeballs can be put on the team and as such more fans can be awakened from their slumber.

The Field of Dreams truism holds, “build it and they will come”. As the program has and continues to improve more fans will come out of the woodwork. Everhart is the major key to the success, so we don’t want to lose him too soon and return back to the doldrums. The program must continue to make the atmosphere at Palumbo as fun as possible so that I never have to yell over another Dayton fan again. The Dukes need to make a concerted effort to get on TV or else languish in the dark like so many other mid major programs do. I do not think that Duquesne could accrue a comparable amount of fans as Pitt but we can get to the Dayton range. Lets hope for the team to continue to get better and when the Dukes are competing for an A-10 title the fans will be there.

Dukes Release Schedule

On Tuesday, the Dukes released their schedule for the 2010-11 season. It possesses many familiar opponents but stands out in regard to the overall strength of opponent. Duquesne has faced a relatively poor schedule the last few seasons in a effort to bolster the team’s confidence going into conference play. This would seem to be a sign of confidence by head coach Ron Everhart and his staff that the Dukes are ready to take the next step towards becoming a perennial Atlantic 10 contender.

Familiar conference opponents include Pitt and West Virginia, two Big East powers that should compete for their league’s title again.  Similarly, the Dukes will face cross town rival Robert Morris, coming off a tough loss in NCAA Tournament to the 2 seed Villanova. Also, the second legs of home-and-home series will be concluded in Pitsburgh with quality mid major programs IUPUI and George Mason. Added to that list are Green Bay and Bowling Green, members of higher level mid major conferences. Softer competition includes UMBC, Northwestern State and Norfolk State and Houston Baptist.

As far as the Atlantic 10 schedule goes, it is more favorable than it otherwise could have been. The Dukes will face off twice against Dayton, Saint Louis and Saint Bonaventure. Duquesne traditionally plays well against Dayton, but many prognosticators are touting them to win the league after their NIT championship run (note: I’m not among them). Saint Louis is a tough opponent for the Dukes with their slow pace and fantastic coach. Saint Bonaventure is similarly a difficult matchup due to Sophmore big man Andrew Nicholson, who gave the Dukes fits due to the lack of quality size in the front court.

Duquesne does catch a few breaks in getting to play top league opponents, Temple, Xavier, Rhode Island and Charlotte at home. The remaining A-10 games will be on the road with a date at Richmond appearing  as the most difficult contest. Overall, the quality of opponent for the 2010-11 season should be stronger and this season will demonstrate much about the program going forward. If the team is successful (20 wins or so) it should mark the shift to a full time A-10 contender. If not, it might mean more bottom feeders on the schedule and limited potential in regards to post season appearances.