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PBC Pro-Am: A first look at the 2014-15 Duquesne Dukes

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt on .

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Duquesne was at the center of a controversial buzzer-beating finish at Montour High School Monday in the third night of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club’s Pro-Am summer league.

Desmond Ridenour, UPMC’s point guard, brought the ball up-court trailing by one point and with just a handful of seconds left on the clock. Ridenour cut into the lane and lofted a short floater. The ball rolled around the rim and then off. Dominique McKoy’s first put-back attempt came plenty early, but it bounced back to him. This time, most definitely in the final second, McKoy gathered again and laid the ball in.

Had the horn sounded?

The referee bolted across the baseline and, while wearing a half smirk, emphatically signaled the basket good. McKoy whooped and hollered; Jeremiah Jones and his PGT teammates objected; the referees quickly grabbed their bags and scurried toward the exit.

Such is life in the PBC Pro-Am, a summer basketball wonderland where scores are sky-high, where defense is optional, and where it really doesn’t matter if McKoy’s layup beat the buzzer.

It was good,” McKoy said afterward, grinning. “The ref said it was good, at least, so that means it's good.”

It’s difficult to say how much can truly be gleaned from watching summer-league action. Some players look decent, others look great, and none of it really means all that much until they’re back in uniform this fall. Still, even if it’s no surefire way to gauge players’ growth from one year to the next, it’s certainly a valuable look at their progression and their off-season priorities. Plus, it’s a first look at the five Dukes newcomers.

All 12 Duquesne scholarship players are involved in the league and already have a few games under their belts. I’ll be at as many Pro-Am nights as possible but won’t be doing game-by-game updates. If you’re looking for those, our friends at We Wear the Ring have you covered.

Instead, here are a few scattered thoughts on what I’ve seen and heard about each of the Dukes. I’ve watched just about a full game of each player so far, minus TySean Powell, who missed the first night with an ankle injury.


AP

DERRICK COLTER

At halftime of the CRONS-Bakery Square matchup Monday, our intern Hayes Gardner, a bench-warming staple of the Grinnell College men's basketball team, pointed toward CRONS No. 31 and asked, “Who’s that? He’s been easily the best player on the court.” Indeed, Colter looked great. That’s no huge surprise, really; we know he’ll bring the speed and can flash a scorer’s touch. What too often landed him on the bench last season was his affinity for turnovers and his inability to slow scorers on the other end of the court. He rarely showed the ability to create his own shots, which led to some lopsided shooting performances. In the first game this summer, he shot 5-of-17 from the floor for 15 points. This Monday he was 9-of-21 for 23 points. He had a chance to tie the ballgame at the buzzer but his 3-point floater, a la St. Bonaventure, didn't fall.

Colter’s 3-pointer seems to be progressing, too. He shot 31.4 percent as a freshman and 34.5 percent as a sophomore. I saw him pull up and swish three long jumpers Monday and look very comfortable doing so. If he can be counted on as a reliable deep threat — not necessary on Micah Mason level, but somewhat reliable — it would help spread the floor. Colter also showed increased willingness to drive to the basket despite giving up a foot on the bigs.

Watching these games, you’ll notice immediately that when Duquesne guards, particularly Colter and Ridenour, are handling the ball, games run at an absolute breakneck pace. Not sure how the Pitt/West Virginia/Robert Morris teammates love playing the up-tempo transition game, but Jim Ferry, looking on from the third row of bleachers, certainly likes to see things hum. In his third season as starter on the Bluff, I’d expect Colter to be fully ready to push the pace and keep a handle on the transition game. So far, so good.


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DESMOND RIDENOUR

We saw some early signs of it last season, but boy is this kid explosive. The coaching staff has lauded Ridenour’s athleticism and scorer’s mentality before, but it’s pretty clear he’ll be a serious contributor this fall. Ridenour averaged 4.8 points per game last season, spelling Colter at point guard. With a year to get up to speed, he’ll be a good option at either the 1 or 2 this season, now that JUCO transfer Jordan Stevens is in the fold and can sub in at either position.

Ridenour, always a smooth operator, got the crowd buzzing Monday with a pair of windmill slams in transition. He later got to the rim with a slick spin around a defender and scooped the ball in off the glass. He finished with 14 points after just a 6-point showing the first night.

Ridenour’s defense may have been overlooked last season, but it was a big reason he got nearly 16 minutes per game off the bench. He’s an active defender with good lateral quickness. For Duquesne, a team that allowed 73.7 points per game last season, good for 266th nationally, a defensive presence will again be worth its weight in gold.


 

JORDAN STEVENS

Stevens is paired with freshman TySean Powell on Bakery Square, and they are both certainly more than capable on the offense end. At one point Monday, Stevens got oohs and ahhs when he led a break, pulled off a left-hand-to-left-hand between-the-legs dribble and sped to the basket for an easy layup. A minute later he curled around a screen and sank a pretty 15-foot jumper. He averaged 19.2 points per game at Southeastern C.C. last season and was named a junior-college All-American.

Fair or not, Stevens will face the inevitable comparison to Tra’Vaughn White, who came to Duquesne last summer as the nation's top JUCO scorer in 2012-13 and ultimately factored very little into the Dukes’ plans. White had a cup of coffee in the starting lineup before it became abundantly clear that Mason needed to start at the 2. White averaged 7.4 points per game and just 3.4 in Atlantic 10 play. He was never really cut out for league play, it seemed, due in large part to his diminutive 5-foot-10 (on a good day) frame. You can’t score your way through the Atlantic 10, and defense was far from his strong suit, so he decided in early April to transfer away.

What that means for Stevens, really, is that we won’t know a whole lot until we see him in real action in the fall. His defense, in the few moments I’ve been able to focus on it, looks relatively lax. He allowed himself to fall deep into the lane with his man at the perimeter, but that could just be me catching him at the wrong moments. Either way, his defense more than his offense will guarantee this newcomer playing time. The early signs are that his game, more than White’s, is well-suited for the Atlantic 10. If he can defend with the big boys, he’ll be a big add for Duquesne.


RENE CASTRO

Not going to spend a ton of time on this one. Castro won’t be playing this season, since NCAA restrictions mandate he’ll sit out the year after transferring from Butler. Still, he looks like a great option for the future. Castro, paired with Eric James on the Shale Attorney squad, had 12 points the first night and 15 points the next while shooting close to 50 percent from the floor so far. The staff is happy to have him after missing out in the original recruitment, but we’ll still have a while to wait before seeing him in a Dukes jersey.


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MICAH MASON

There’s not a ton to say on this guy, either. We know Mason’s game, and we know he’s one of the very best in college basketball at it. Mason was nearly ruled ineligible last season after transferring from Drake, but he received an NCAA waiver and caught fire despite missing a month due to a broken thumb. He turned in a top-10 all-time 3-point shooting season by hitting 56.0 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Nobody else in the NCAA was close to that mark.

Monday, he pulled up for an NBA three and drilled it. James, his young teammate, tried to answer from the same distance on the other end but watched it clank off the iron and away. It’s not for everyone, kid.

Overlooked, too, is Mason’s defense. Ferry pointed it out often last season, saying defense is what really secured Mason’s spot in the starting lineup. If you take your eye off the ball for a few possessions to watch Mason on defense you’ll understand. The hip problems that have haunted him since early in high school don’t seem to affect his mobility. He sticks to his man well and is fundamentally sound, doing the little things right, like denying the pass on cuts through the lane.

Like Nik Stauskas, the Michigan sharp-shooter I followed the past two years before he was drafted No. 8 overall last week by the Sacramento Kings, Mason will deservedly hear the phrase, “not just a shooter,” way, way too many times over the next two seasons.



AP

JEREMIAH JONES

I have to start off by complimenting Jones’s shoe game. His kicks Monday were a colorful display — white soles, a highlighter pink zigzag cutting from heel to toe and purple shoe-tops. Bravo.

As a number of fans have complained to me over the past year, you know exactly what you’re going to get with Jones. And, yes, he’s typically rather unremarkable. But he is, above all, steady. Jones may not be a go-to playmaker, but he is a great defender. That counts for something with coaches.

Now, if he’s going to keep his starting spot at the 3, where he had very little competition last year, I’m certain Jones will have to become a bigger factor on offense. He’ll tell you the same thing. A two-year starter, he’s now got talented freshman James challenging at the wing, and — though the coaches haven’t mentioned it — I wouldn’t be surprised to see TySean Powell or, more likely, L.G. Gill spend some time at the wing this season. More on that below.

Jones scored only 8 points the first night out, though his PGT rolled to a 110-87 win. He bounced back with 19 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting Monday. With Ovie Soko gone this year, Duquesne’s game won’t be so married to the post game. I expect it’ll ebb back toward incorporating wing players like Jones more into the offensive mix, and if he can provide some range it’ll do wonders for his production.


ERIC JAMES

Ferry’s staff landed a real stud in James. The Westerville, Ohio, native has great length at 6-foot-5, two inches taller than his wing counterpart Jones, and he’s as active a player as you’ll see on the offensive end. He has shown off a nice jumper and good vision for Shale Attorney. James is handling the ball much more than he likely will early on at Duquesne and has shown a little sloppiness. He has also taken a ton of shots — 14 points on 6-of-22 shooting the first night and 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting Monday.

James was lauded as a shooter in high school, and his length and quickness portend a player that will develop into a fearsome slasher and first or second scoring option in the years to come.

As with most freshmen coming straight to the college game, you question endurance and whether his defense will be up to snuff. Year one will likely be a transitional year, with plenty of frustrating moments, especially at the speed of Duquesne's games, but I would expect to see plenty of James this fall and loads of highlights from him down the road.


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DOMINIQUE McKOY

I caught up with McKoy for a few minutes after his tip-in winner Monday, so I’ll sprinkle that conversation in here. First item of discussion, obviously, was his beard. It’s unreal right now. He had beard last season but kept it pretty orderly. Now … to pull a photo from his Instagram, here ya go:

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 1.51.24 PM

McKoy started growing the beard shortly after the season ended. He went to the barber shop, got it lined up and let that baby grow.

"It's the longest I've ever done it,” he said. “In high school I'd let it get a little longer but then my mom would be like, 'Oh, you need to cut that!' She'd talk me into cutting it. But I'm going to keep it this time."

It won’t stay forever, though.

“I'm going to have to cut it eventually, because it's going to get out of hand,” he said. “But right now I'm going to keep it."

Ferry joked last week that he told McKoy he’d done it all backward — you need a big ol’ hobo beard in the winter and a fresh cut in the summer. McKoy conceded that point with a grin.

Now, the second point is that McKoy was the only player out there now wearing regular gym shorts Monday. Instead, he had gray Nike sweat shorts (Is that the term? They were the consistency of sweat pants but cut at the knee).

“I just feel like they're real comfortable to me,” he said. So, you’re a trendsetter? “Yeah, I'm a trendsetter." And off the court? "I'm my own unique person. I try to do what I do. I don't see somebody doing something and try to go do that. Whatever I think is nice, I'm gonna do. Regardless of whether other people like it or not."

That’s all well and good. Now let’s talk basketball. McKoy had 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting the first night and 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting Monday. You’ll remember that for much of last season McKoy had among the best shooting percentages in the country. He’s proud of that, of course, but his focus is on expanding his game to include some mid-range jumpers.

"That's what I've been working on this whole summer, my perimeter game,” he said. “When you see me out here I try not to post up or only guard post players so it'll allow me to work on my wing skills so when the season comes I'll be ready."

Come fall, he said, the coaches will likely have him at the 4. McKoy played the 5 last season with Soko at the 4. Now, with big man Jordan Robinson in place and the coaches very high on him, expect him to start out at the 5.

They'll probably move me to the 5 sometimes just because I know the position,” McKoy said. “But it's not really a big deal for me. It doesn’t matter."


AP

L.G. GILL

Here’s the one you’ve all been waiting for. Gill looks like a completely new man. The 6-foot-7 wing averaged 3.6 points in 12.2 minutes per game as a true freshman last season, filling in when Soko took his rare seat on the bench. Gill broke loose for 19 points on 5-of-6 3-point shooting against Rhode Island in mid-February and then ended the season with 16- and 10-point performances against George Mason and Richmond. So, safe to say he ended strong.

And then he “Little Gill” attacked the offseason. He said he didn’t do anything too differently; the weight program stayed the same but his body finally took to it. Not that he was too doughy last year, but Gill’s new look was the first thing each of the coaches I spoke with mentioned. He looks sculpted, and on the court he looks like he’s got new confidence about his game.

What we saw last year was Gill being forced out of his natural wing position he played at Benedictine Prep and forced to bump down low as the backup 4.

“It was a huge adjustment, especially strength-wise,” Gill said at the time.

When he did step outside, he struggled mightily shooting for the first half of the year before finding his groove in the Rhode Island game and beyond. Gill has always looked very smooth, very fluid with the ball. He’s athletic and has a good 3-point stroke. It just hadn’t all come together yet.

Gill had 12 points the first game of the summer (2-of-2 from 3-point range) and then had 20 points and 7 rebounds on 9-of-15 shooting Monday. He looked great. He and Mason linked up for a huge alley-oop slam — they missed it the first time, made it count the second — and then Gill had a show-stopping put-back slam off a teammate’s missed 3-pointer.

I know, I know. It’s dangerous to put too much stock in these summer workouts. Still, I think we’re ready for a breakout season for the sophomore. The biggest question: where does Duquesne put him? With the new bodies Ferry has brought in, there’s not quite as much of a length deficiency as last year, when Duquesne was giving up size to everybody.

For my money, Gill would thrive at the wing, but, hey, maybe his physical transformation will let him bruise with the bigger bodies down low. But if, say, Powell and McKoy are both at the 4, too, does that give Ferry mobility with Gill? It’s certainly something to keep an eye on. Even if Gill doesn’t crack the starting lineup this fall, it’s clear the bench will be far, far better and more experienced than it was last season.


TYSEAN POWELL

Ferry described Powell as a “freak athlete” with a Soko streak in him, and he’s absolutely right. Powell missed the first game with an ankle injury but has been very impressive since. Powell rose up for a ferocious dunk (backboard slap included) and had 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting Monday. As a general rule: if he can grab it, he can dunk it.

While Powell is plenty promising, he’s also a little raw. He’s handled the ball quite a bit for Bakery Square, something he likely won’t have to do for Duquesne — and that’s probably a good thing. He dribbled into some traffic a few times and showed a questionable shot selection. But the groundwork is there. Powell is supremely athletic and quick. He’ll definitely offer a few memorable highlights next year.

Powell also splashed two clutch free throws with 16 seconds left to give Bakery Square a little breathing room in an 86-83 win over Colter’s CRONS.


JORDAN ROBINSON

Robinson missed the 2013-14 season after being declared a partial qualifier by the NCAA. He’ll debut this fall as a redshirt freshman, and I can’t overstate how high the coaching staff is on this kid. He’s a big, punishing body at 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds. He’ll give up a few inches on some of the league’s centers, but he’ll be as strong as any of them.

On consecutive possessions Monday, Robinson got underneath leverage on a defender — Pitt’s Joseph Uchebo, I believe — and backed him down into the lane before rising for an easy bucket. He finished with 8 points on 4-of-12 shooting. He had 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting the first night.

The concern here, it appears, will be his motor. Unlike Soko and McKoy, who look like they can run for days in the Ferry offense, Robinson isn’t exactly fleet afoot. He struggled to keep pace Monday, but he appeared to also be playing through a bit of a left ankle or foot issue, as he had a brace on after the game.


DARIUS LEWIS

Lewis, like Gill, has trimmed up a bit. The 6-foot-11 center is the tallest player on the roster by three inches. He doesn’t possess great speed or mobility, but he could develop as a good stopgap contributor for the Dukes.

In truth, Lewis looks better than I expected. He played very sparingly last season — just 46 total minutes — and would have redshirted if not for Robinson being ruled ineligible. He has moved up and down the court with much more ease than we saw last year and has done well down low when given the ball, which hasn't been all that often. He’s also a strong presence on the defensive end of the court. Lewis won’t challenge for a starting job this year, but he’s another sign of a strengthening bench corps.


Stephen J. Nesbitt:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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