PITTSBURGH — The Duquesne men’s basketball team went 17-17 in 2016. One on hand, the .500 mark represented something of a success for the Dukes, who had won than many games just seven times I’m the preceding 43 years.
But the reason 17-17 felt disappointing to most observers was the way it happened. The Dukes roared out to an 11-2 start, but a season-ending injury to senior forward Jeremiah Jones sent the season into a tailspin and Jim Ferry’s squad finished by losing eight of their last nine regular-season games.
“For Duquesne, that was a pretty good season, but we were on the verge of having a great season,” Ferry said in his office this week. “We were 10-2 to start the year and then Jeremiah Jones goes down. Then, what people don’t realize, too, is that Micah Mason turned his ankle right after that and he struggled finding his rhythm. We were never able to recover from losing Jeremiah.”
For 2016-17, Ferry will have to recover from losing Jones, Mason and fellow senior Derrick Colter. That’s an average of 97.5 minutes per game out of his lineup. Not to mention the loss of leadership that the three seniors brought to the team.
“That was the biggest thing that was glaring,” Ferry said. “Some of the games we lost down the stretch last season, we had the lead in the second half. We didn’t have that leadership and that toughness to hold them off when teams in our league made a run at us. That’s the biggest thing that we’ve been working on is the defensive mentality and sustaining the defensive intensity.”
The solution to one of those problems is depth, and the Dukes have taken a two-fold approach to combat their lack of experience. First, transfer guard Tarin Smith will be eligible after sitting out all of 2016-17 due to NCAA rules. Smith had offseason surgery, but should be ready to go by the time conference play rolls around.
Next, Ferry brought in a highly regarded freshman class that includes 6-foot-8 wing Isiaha Mike, a late-blooming two-star from Scarborough, Ontario.
“The freshman class has tremendous, great personalities,” Ferry said. “Great kids. Great energy every single day. They’re really talented. It’s a talented group and they’re all different from each other. … I think this year, we have the depth to defend at the level we’re going to need to defend at. I think it’s a pretty balanced group in that regard. We have some older guys with experience, some juniors, some new guys, a transfer.”
The older guys are a pair of graduate transfer that will help ease the transition from the heavy minutes of Colter, Jones and Mason to the youngsters. Kale Abrahamson is a 6-foot-8 forward from Drake and Emile Blackman is a 6-foot-3 guard from Niagara. Ferry said the influx of new bodies and personalities into the locker room has goon smoothly.
“It’s been a great summer into fall,” he said. “We really like this team a lot. I think we have a lot of real positive players and personalities. Coming to practice and coming to workouts every day has been great. We like spending time with each other on the court, off the court. I think we’re progressing really well. It’s going to take us a little while to figure out which pieces fit together the best as we figure out our depth and our rotation. As we get to figuring that out, I think we’ll start to click.”
But Ferry doesn’t expect there to be one-to-one replacements for his departure senior stars.
“Whenever you have guys like Colter and Mason — Colter started every single game of his career and Mason was one of the best 3-point shooters in the country — you don’t replace them with one guy,” Ferry said. “You just become different. You do things differently. Some of the guys that are going to be playing those positions might not be as good of a shooter as those guys, but they bring other things to the game. Length. Tarin Smith is a 6-foot-2 point guard. Rene Castro is 6-foot-2, where Colter was 5-foot-10. Where Micah was exceptional shooting, I think Emile will have more of an ability to attack the basket. Defend with length and athleticism. I think we’re going to be a little bit different.”