This losing streak for Duquesne has been tough on everyone – the players, coaches, administration, fans – heck it is even hard to cover a team that is mired in losing because the reality is, how many different ways can you write “this team is not good” and how many different ways can you ask the question “why did you lose this game?”
That being said, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t attempt to offer some slim glimmer of hope for the rest of this season and beyond.
I mean, it is well documented that this team is not very talented, that there are some real holes on this roster and that it is a youthful roster. It is well documented that many of the best players left and the recruits the previous coach had lined up went elsewhere so the roster is short handed and unfortunately the Atlantic 10 is extremely strong this year so there aren’t many breaks for a struggling team.
So I am not sure what more can be said about that – the team isn’t very good, it will struggle to win against anyone who is even mediocre left on its schedule.
But here is what I will say:
1.) The team hasn’t quit. I know, I know – not much of a consolation but here is the thing – with a first-year coach there are always transition growing pains, especially when the team starts to lose. The upper classmen think the coach doesn’t care because he didn’t recruit them, sometimes the seniors turn it off and coast to the finish line and the younger classmen are generally guys who were a bit of a stretch in recruiting because the class had to be thrown together at the final hour. So what happens is the team just shuts down midway through the season and it takes a year or two until some of the upper classmen graduate for the team to truly transition to the new coach and system. That doesn’t seem to be the case here – Andre Marhold and Sean Johnson played as hard as I’ve seen them play on Saturday and the younger guys – beyond the freshmen – like Derrick Martin and like Jerry Jones – seem to really want to get better and seem to have a pretty good work ethic. That’s a great start – a team that wants to get better and works hard at it, eventually will. Maybe not this year but this group will get better.
2.) Nobody is more bothered by this losing than Jim Ferry. I know, I know he has said all the right things about how “he knew what he signed up for” and that’s what he should do. He has been patient with this group and he is working as hard as he can to make them better. But he is a coach, a competitor and you don’t become a Division I coach if losing doesn’t bother you. As a coach I am sure he is questioning himself, he is wondering if he is doing enough, he is wondering if the team will ever win again – I guarantee the losing is bothering him and it bothers him that he hasn’t been able to come up with a magical formula to break this streak. That being said – he has done all the right things behind the scenes to try and lay a foundation for the future of the program. He has gotten on planes and trains to go recruit on every single off day this season, he has worked overtime and burned the midnight candle to try and find whatever edge he can find to get this thing right.
He is also building a philosophy that is a proven winner – defend hard, rebound harder, be tougher than your opponents and protect the basketball and value possessions on offense. You know how I know this is successful – because I see an example of how that basic philosophy works right up Forbes Avenue at Pitt under Jamie Dixon. Pitt has won a ton of games, has won the Big East a few times and has been to the Sweet 16 a bunch and you know what, go back and look at the starting lineups of some of those teams and tell me if you think they had any business winning as much as they did. If you defend, rebound and are tough that is half the battle.
3.) The players care. They are trying. I could see it Saturday night in the postgame – both Jerry Jones and Quevyn Winters were not in the mood to deal with us. It bothered them that they lost that game and it bothered the rest of the team as well as you could tell when they walked off the floor. That’s a great sign – winning and losing has to matter and these kids want to get better. And Derrick Colter, from what I can tell, is going to be a success not because God handed him a bunch of talent but because God handed him enough talent to get in the door and he is going to work harder than about 98 percent of the other people he plays against and that will be his edge. You can say the same about a few of them.
4.) The Atlantic 10 is tough but there are a few of the softer touches coming in the next few weeks and my guess is the Dukes will get at least one of them if not a few. And there have been some good looking recruits at these games and if Ferry can sign a few of them and improve the talent level every year this team will get better and better and start to perhaps even contend for the league title.
5.) Finally let me say this – one thing that makes it a little tough to build a program at Pitt and/or Duquesne or Robert Morris is that there isn’t much help from the local recruiting base. The WPIAL and City League just aren’t that strong and don’t produce enough players to fuel three big-time programs. However, as we have seen at both Pitt and Robert Morris – you can still go out and recruit guys and get them to come to Pittsburgh because it is a great city and if you are selling the right things, people will buy it. Now, that being said, there are some players coming up through the ranks in the next few years – a kid like Ryan Luther at Hampton could be a very good player for Duquesne – so Ferry will have some opportunities to build one some local players if he continues to work as hard as he has in recruiting.
Well that’s about it – like I said, I wish I could give you a bright sunny day tomorrow but I really can’t – all I can tell you is that this staff and these players are working hard and working hard in the right ways and that more than anything else will put them in the ballpark of having a chance to be successful.