Duquesne coach Jim Ferry announced the Dukes' first three signings for the 2014 recruiting class this week. The headliner, of course, is guard Rene Castro, a transfer from Butler who will sit out next season and return in 2015 as a sophomore. Entering as freshmen will be guard Eric James and forward TySean Powell.
I'll have a story on the class in the Monday Post-Gazette, but wanted to share the full Q&A, as Ferry took a break from the AAU Pittsburgh Hoop Fest Saturday night to chat.
Opening thoughts ...
"It really helps us fill some needs as we keep moving the program forward further. I felt like we needed length in our program; we were a little short in the Atlantic 10. Eric James allows us that length at the wing. He's a 6-5 wing that can really shoot the ball and attack the basket to give us versatility and scoring. He needs to get a little bit stronger, but he has the ability to contribute as a freshman. TySean is just a freak with his length. He's got a 7-4 wingspan or something. And he's a freak athlete, which really helps us with not only length but athleticism in the frontcourt. That will really help us after the loss of Ovie Soko. Obviously, we recruited Rene (Castro). Rene was one of our top priorities last year as a kid that could be a point guard in our program and had size — he's not a small point guard, he's a big and strong guard who can play on the ball, shoot, score and bring toughness. We're really excited about these three guys. They're all good additions, and they're all guys that have the ability to help us right away. The two high school kids have to get a little bit stronger, but they'll take care of that. The whole team will be on campus June 2 to start with our weight lifting and conditioning."
After Castro announced in February that he was going to transfer, did you identify pretty quickly that he would still be a good fit at Duquesne?
"Yeah. It came down to us or Butler last year and he chose to go to Butler. Obviously, right before he goes to school Brad Stevens takes the Celtics job and the top assistant takes the South Alabama job, so it wasn't the same Butler that he committed to. It didn't work out for him. Once he got his release to transfer, I contact him and told him, 'Hey, listen, everything is still the same. We don't feel any differently about you.' He didn't come visit again. He didn't need to do all that stuff. He locked in academically, wanted to take a deep breath because he knew he had to make the right decision this time. Like they [Castro's family] said all along, they always felt really comfortable with us. Even last year when they chose Butler they really felt comfortable with us as a coaching staff and where the program is going and the style of play. I think in his mind it was a pretty easy decision as well, so we're excited."
Castro said a few weeks back that the Duquesne style of play really drew him — like Ovie Soko said when he transferred — do you see Castro fitting that mold well?
"Yeah, I do, I do. Rene is a bigger guard, he's got some versatility. He can pass, dribble and shoot. He can play fast. With us it's just a matter now of: we've somewhat established that, we haven't really gotten real good at the style of play yet but we're starting to be able to recruit some kids that fit that style of play. You see what it did for our program and for Ovie as an individual. It opened up the floor for him to attack, and he had a really good year for us. I think everybody's going to really start to see the style of play develop now over the next year or two."
Looking at your bigs, I've gotten a lot of reader feedback demanding you look for another big man alongside Powell for this class — are they maybe forgetting that Jordan Robinson is essentially a part of this class? You've got two new pieces in Powell and Robinson you feel can play from Day One, right?
"No doubt, no doubt. Bottom line: Jordan is a freshman again. He's a big recruit for us that had to sit out this year, but his body is changed, he's in great shape, he's big, he's physical. He's going to help us in the frontcourt. And, remember, Isaiah Watkins was injured last year ... [inaudible, sorry] ... We have a little more depth and a little more versatility to our frontcourt than maybe what we had last year."
Youth and depth in the frontcourt were a concern last year. Do you think the base is stronger there this year despite losing a standout like Soko?
"Yes, we have different options that we can throw out there. Part of our lack of depth in the frontcourt was the youth, you know what I mean? It was hard playing two freshmen in the frontcourt together, so we tried to stay away from that as much as we could. And then obviously not having Jordan eligible to play hurt our depth. Now, coming into this season next year we do have depth in the frontcourt. We can come at you in different angles and different ways, whether it's spreading the floor and shooting threes or the ability to finish around the basket with physical play. I feel like now we have a true post-up player [Robinson, I imagine]. And let's now let's not forget that we still have Darius [Lewis] as well, the 7-footer. The plan for Darius last year was to redshirt him. We had no plans on playing him, but we had to use him because Jordan was out. So, we do have some depth and can have some different looks to use in the frontcourt."
Eric James is the one that committed early, and with Tra'Vaughn White leaving did that make it all the more important to secure a long, 6-foot-5 guard to fill in at wing?
"Exactly. That was a focal point in this recruiting class. We needed to get length at the wing and in the frontcourt. Eric is that. He's a 6-5 wing. Jeremiah [Jones] is a strong, 6-3 guard that can play at the wing, but now we have someone that's going to develop into a true 3-man in the Atlantic 10. He has the length, his body is going to get bigger and stronger. That's the first thing people will recognize: he's a little weak right now. He's athletic, he's quick, and he can really shoot. With added strength he's going to be a true Atlantic 10 3-man, and that's what we're really excited about."
What's going to be the focus over the summer for these guys?
"We've already broken down everybody's individual body type. Some guys have to change their bodies, continue to get stronger. Some guys have to get leaner. It's just another year where we can have this group together over the summer and they can really understand how we want to play. You have to remember that Micah [Mason] really got eligible almost by surprise. He wasn't in the game plan early. It took him time, and then he got injured [for a month]. DC [Derrick Colter] has now taken on a role of playing with Micah. Dez Ridenour had some inconsistencies as a freshman, but he's really talented. He had an unbelievable spring, a great spring. His body has changed, and he's playing with such confidence. He's someone that gives us another opportunity to work with this young group and get a little bit older before the season starts."
By the numbers, you've got one free scholarship. Is that something you're intent on filling?
"No, we're going to try to find the best possible player we can find. We're involved with some really good players right now that we feel can help us right away. If we can land one of them we're really excited, great. There's one we're really focusing in on. If we can get him, it'll really help us."
Are you at a point where you're not necessarily pigeon-holed into taking a big or a guard but can just take the 'best available' option?
"Yes. I think we're looking for the best available guy, someone that can maybe play with versatility, can break people down and can score. We're looking for some scoring. We're looking for the best player for that."
Stephen J. Nesbitt:
, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.