Looking back at the 2007-08 season, I think of a hopeful time to be a Duquesne fan. It was the first winning season in a long time and Ron Everhart had the Dukes looking like they were on the right track in spite of Mike James and Kojo Mensah’s decisions to leave early. Promising freshmen Bill Clark and Damian Saunders made an immediate impact and looked like a solid core for the future. Given that this is Jim Ferry’s second year, it’s only natural to compare what he has to what Everhart had. It makes for a very interesting side by side when you have a look.
In the fall of 2007, the Dukes looked deep at guard. Mensah was regarded as one of the top players in the country to go triple double and his bizarre transfer from Siena created great deal of buzz around him. Reggie Jackson looked like a serviceable point guard his first year as a Duke and his second season exceeded expectations. Aaron Jackson was not the Aaron Jackson of his senior year, but he still looked like a strong player who I thought could step into a bigger role. Gary Tucker was flashy and athletic. Then, there was the glut of walk-ons. Jason Duty, Jimmy Sherwood and Lucas Newton all played a bigger role than scholarship guard Stephen Wood. As the year wore on, the leaders seemed to flip, Kojo faded in the second half as Reggie and Tucker took on a bigger role. Jackson regressed a little as a junior and by the end of the year, only Duty looked like he could still hang among the walk on’s.
This year, the Dukes don’t have the hype surrounding their guards but the group could be more productive. Derrick Colter quietly had the best statistical year of any Duquesne freshman point guard during the last 35 years becoming only the third player in school history to score 400 points with 150 assists in the same season. JuCo transfer Tra’Vaughn White led the nation in scoring last year and was one of the top players in the always strong Jayhawk conference. The concern is that neither player is taller than 5’11. On the bench, Desmond Ridenour can play either guard position and it’s possible that top shooter Micah Mason could join the mix if his waiver gets approved. Both teams had the potential to go 4 deep at guard and both teams might also use a third guard. Philip Fayne played a lot of small forward as a junior and Jeremiah and Jerry Jones will likely see time there as well this year. Without Mason though, the clear edge goes to the 2007-2008 group.
Leading up to the 2007-08 season, I was dreaming on the match up problems playing the 6’10 James and Keiron Achara together
would create. Problem is, Everhart didn’t share my vision and split them up during the 10/40 while having Achara work off the bench with James starting when they backed out of his trademark system. Saunders was a high profile late addition, but he was physically raw and didn’t contribute as much as he would later in his career. Clark played the undersized 4 he would grow accustomed to.
This year, the Dukes have another high profile transfer coming in just like in Everhart’s second year. Ovie Soko will likely become the star of the team though he does not come with as much hype outside of Duquesne circles as James. Soko is not going to lead the nation in blocked shots or get a triple double, but he could become the more valuable of the two players. Behind him the Dukes are loaded with unproven but promising talent and they’re a near lock to start two legit post players this year. For the simple reason that this front court unit should produce two big men who could play together, the 2013-14 looks like the strongest in six years.
The Dukes entered 2007-08 season with 11 scholarship players thanks to Stu Baldonado’s late dismissal. This year, they have 12 if Mason is ready to go. Both teams will be incorporating a number of new parts though the earlier Dukes had the benefit of playing a highly simplified offensive system in the 10/40. It will be more difficult for this year’s team to gel. While Everhart made wholesale changes his first year on the job, Ferry waited until his second.
This year’s non conference schedule looks weaker than it did in 2007-08, but the more challenging Atlantic 10 schedule should balance it out. The Dukes’ doubles in Everhart’s second year were Lasalle, Fordham and St Bonaventure who all finished over 160 in the RPI. This year, Duquesne will face likely bubble teams St Louis and Lasalle and NIT probable George Mason twice. They’ll also play St Bonaventure home and away, but the 2013-14 version should be much better than the one that finish with an RPI in the 250′s 2008.
Experience will also be a key difference. In Everhart’s 10 man rotation, he had three seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen with an average of 1.6 years of division I experience. Ferry will have 2 seniors, 2 juniors, 2 sophomores (assuming no Mason) and 4 freshmen for an average of 1 year of experience.
Everhart’s second team looked primed for more success than Ferry’s does. Everhart had what looks like an easier conference schedule, and while he had to integrate a number of players into his team, he was teaching a relatively simplistic system. He also had more experience and talent that looked better on paper. Everhart was better primed to crack the .500 mark, but Ferry has more potential. It’s very possible that this year’s team could exceed expectations if individuals learn quickly and play to their ability for the entire season. The 2007-08 team didn’t do the later.
Ferry might be in a stronger position moving forward with only four upperclassmen compared to seven. While it won’t be as exciting as having their first winning record in a decade, fourteen or fifteen wins for this Duquesne team might be just as encouraging as actually cracking the .500 mark was in 2008 when you consider most of what they have should be here for at least two years. Losing Soko will no doubt hurt but not as much as ultimately losing six upperclassmen. At the end of the day, how Ferry’s legacy will compare to Everhart’s will be decided in years three to six not one and two. It’s fun to compare now, but what matters is still to come.