NCAA BK

Duquesne hoops dealing with success after tragedy

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PITTSBURGH (AP)

For years, it seemed as if Duquesne basketball knew nothing but failure, misfortune or tragedy. The Dukes were one of college basketball's worst teams only four years ago, going 3-24 during a 12th consecutive losing season. Then, almost impossibly, it got worse - much worse. Five players were shot, two seriously injured, in September 2006 during the worst act of on-campus violence to affect a major college sports team - more than one-third of the players were injured. Somehow, a program that was nearly ruined by years of neglect, then left scarred by the shootings, not only is being revived but is prospering. In one of college basketball's more remarkable turnarounds, the Dukes went 21-13 last season, reached the Atlantic 10 Conference final and took Virginia Tech to double overtime on the Hokies' home court before losing 116-108 in the NIT. The Dukes haven't played in the NCAA tournament since 1977. They haven't been nationally ranked during any of their players' lifetimes. They're still not viewed as one of the A-10's powers - they're picked fifth in the preseason poll, behind traditional front-runners Dayton and Xavier. Still, with four starters back from their first 20-win team since 1981, the Dukes suddenly find themselves dealing with ... success? "And we have one of the youngest teams in the country," coach Ron Everhart said. All but one of those four returning starters is a sophomore or a junior, led by 6-foot-7 junior forward Damian Saunders (13.1 points, 7.6 rebounds), a one-time Marquette recruit, and 6-3 sophomore Melquan Bolding (9.9 points), who committed to Louisville before landing at Duquesne. Eric Evans, who scored 19 points in that NIT game, takes over for Aaron Jackson at point guard after averaging 9.8 points as a freshman. He'll be joined in the starting lineup by former walk-on Jason Duty, a senior who averaged 7.4 points, and 6-7 Bill Clark (12.9 points, 5.0 rebounds), the Dukes' most-improved player by season's end. Jackson is the biggest loss. He finished off an exceptional senior season in which he averaged 19.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists by scoring 46 points against Virginia Tech in one of the best games by a visiting player in Hokies' history. Jackson was the last of the players who had been shot to finish their careers at Duquesne, and he developed into a leader and playmaker who will be difficult to replace. Even if Everhart believes he may already have his replacement. Sean Johnson, a 6-2 freshman who was the MVP of New York City's Catholic high school league, probably won't start when the season begins, but it may be difficult to keep him out of the lineup. An excellent defender and shooter who can play point guard and shooting guard, he may be the school's best recruit since Everhart was hired nearly four years ago. Duquesne, so undersized last year that it had only one starter taller than 6-5, also may have found a needed rebounder in 7-foot sophomore Morakinyo Williams. The surprise star of Kentucky's preseason scrimmage two years ago, he played so little as a freshman that he decided to transfer. Rodrigo Peggau, a 6-8 freshman who showed promise last season before badly injuring a knee, also looks to be healthy - and, if he is, he also will be a big help on the boards. The Dukes appear to have more depth than before in 6-5 swingman B.J. Monteiro, a former Connecticut high school player of the year; 6-2 sophomore Chase Robinson and 6-6 freshman Andre Marhold. While the Dukes got off to good starts the previous two seasons (12-4 in 2008-09; 11-3 in 2007-08), they might not have as good a record in January, yet might be a better team. Aware of how Temple plays a difficult schedule yet seems to improve as the A-10 season wears on, Everhart scheduled West Virginia and Iowa on the road, the usual in-city game with Pittsburgh, plus three games in three days in Cullowhee, N.C., later this month as part of the CBE Classic. Duquesne hosts Nicholls State in the season opener on Friday night. "It's going to be a big challenge to duplicate (the previous starts), but I think it's really going to help us in terms of the conference," Everhart said. "I'll put our non-conference schedule up against anybody's." Now, the challenge for Duquesne after years of not being competitive is to raise itself to the level of the A-10's best teams. For a program that's been starved for success for more than 30 years, that's a whole lot more fun than losing.
Tagged: Duquesne

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