Pat Higgins & Saúl Berríos-Thomas | The Duquesne Duke
The Duke had a chance to catch up with coach Jim Ferry to get his take on the 2014-15 season, as well as to look ahead at what is next in the rebuilding project currently taking place under his watch.
PH: Can you speak a little bit to what happened for the Dukes this season and what the next step is for the program?
JF: I think what a lot of times people don’t realize is what was here when I got here. We didn’t take over a team that won 15 games. McConnell transferred, Talley transferred and two guys graduated, and there wasn’t much in this program when I got here. So when you’re starting from that level, everywhere I’ve been we’ve done it the right way. We’re going to continue to do it right. This is a great school, there’s great people here and there’s only a certain type of kid that’s going to have success here. Now what we’re doing is we’re building it the right way, with high school kids. For the past two years, we’ve had so many new kids in the program every single year. We’re moving it at a good pace, and then consider how we played towards the end of last year, we got to be one of the better teams in the league. Now we finally have a foundation set for this program to start to be built on. It’s not all these new kids. This is where the program starts to get built, and recruiting classes get put on these guys as these guys get older and establish them.
SBT: Talking about kids that fit in, you had two guys that transferred this season, and there was talk that maybe there was more coming. Was that something you were concerned about heading into the offseason, and what did you try to say to those guys to get them to stay?
JF: I just tell everybody the truth. These guys are young men. We’re very honest – we just tell everybody the truth of what their strengths and weaknesses are, where they fit in the depth chart. I think that’s the best thing you can do for kids. The two guys that decided to transfer from our program – obviously Jordan Stevens had a suspension and [Desmond Ridenour] – we sat down and evaluated what was best for Des and his family and we left it up to those guys, and we support that. But everybody else is intact; no one else is leaving the program.
SBT: We saw you play a lot of zone this past season. Is that something you’re hoping to change over this offseason? Do you see yourself as a man-to-man team next year, or do you think the zone is something that we will see for the next couple years?
JF: Zone is going to be something we will see as a part of our defensive package. I actually liked it and I thought we got better at it. I thought we got better at teaching it, I thought the guys got more comfortable with it. It’s something that we can definitely use, but that’s our whole offseason right now, figuring out what’s the best way we can defend, because we have to get better defensively. We’ve rebounded the ball better, we were better in conversion and we didn’t foul as much. But we have to get to be a better defensive team.
SBT: That’s key too – the personnel. What do envision the starting lineup being? For this team to be competitive in the Atlantic 10, Darius Lewis needs to be the shutdown center that he can be, but at the power forward you have different options with TySean Powell, L.G. Gill, and Jordan Robinson.
JF: That’s the whole process. Each one of those guys have to get better. Those guys that you mentioned all have the ability to be in the starting frontcourt, but it all has to play out. I’m not going to pre-determine that by any means. But we have more length, we have athleticism with Ty, shooting with L.G. If Darius can get consistent, you called him a low post stopper. He was that one every four games. He’s has to get more consistent. Jordan Robinson is going to play a huge factor. They were young in the frontcourt. Now those guys aren’t young anymore – they have experience.
PH: It’s not really unique to being a college basketball player – the jump from a freshman to a sophomore. For the next six months, what do you tell them to focus on?
JF: Now, you’re in it. Now you’ve seen it for a year and you know what the expectations are. You know what the vocabulary is, you know what the foundation is. You know what’s expected of you. You also know that’s who I have to guard now in the league. As a high school kid, they’re all highly touted, they’re all the best players on their team and they come in thinking that it’s going to be easy and you realize you’re playing against grown men. It’s easy for me to tell them, but now they see it themselves, how physical the game is, how long the season is, what the demands on them are. It’s hard to come in from a high school to a freshman in a regular college setting without playing basketball, so now these guys have all those demands on them – academics, travel, community service. They have to go from being inconsistent to being consistent.
PH: Ty is a guy you can watch for 30 seconds and it becomes pretty apparent the kind of talent that he has being able to jump and put the ball on the floor. What do you think would be the ideal kind of way for him to play?
JF: I think as a versatile four-man. Ty’s got great athleticism. He can put the ball down, he’s gotta get better at putting the ball down, which we’re working with him on. I think he has the ability to expand his game. If he can really drive it, it’s going to make us better and make him better. He’s gotta limit his turnovers when he does it. When you see him at his peak, he’s phenomenal and dynamic, and then as a true freshman he kind of hits the wall sometimes. So as a true freshman we have to get that more consistent, but I think that’s his position as more of a more true, versatile four-man, and he’s getting better at it.
SBT: Is this the most important offseason and upcoming season of your career at Duquesne?
JF: I guess, yeah, in my career at Duquesne it is, because now we have a solidified group of guys that have been here for a while and made strides, so my expectations for this team are to significantly better than we did last year, but we have to improve. Everybody has to improve, and that’s what this offseason is about. We’re putting a lot of work in with these guys, changing their bodies, getting stronger, so I think as this group really comes together, because it’s a great group.
SBT: How did you watch the National Championship game?
JF: I was there for the Final Four. I go every year. I took my sons with me. We watched the game and got great seats. Every year I watch the final championship game at home by myself, and I always watch it twice. And yes, I always watch “One Shining Moment,” too. I’ve taken teams to that tournament, and once you do that, it’s like a drug. You just want to get back there so bad. That’s my goal. That’s what drives me here. Everyone says, “Well they’ve never been since 1977, it’s a bad job, don’t go there.” But I look at it as a great opportunity, very much like what it was at LIU. People told me you’ll never win there. We went two years, and then my assistant took over when I came here and they won for a third year there. They established a program. That’s what the plan is here. That’s what we’re trying to do here. And that’s what drives me every day, to get back to that tournament. Once you get there, you’ll realize why.
SBT: Toward the end of the season we really saw Jeremiah Jones starting to do on a consistent basis, you could expect him to flirt with triple doubles and be a consistent scorer and be a guy who can take the ball. How important is it for him to build on that for his senior season as the leader of this team?
JF: I think Jeremiah is vital to our success. He’s the most mature person we have on this team. He’s a great leader. What we saw with Jeremiah toward the end of the year is that he really accepted his limits, but let’s not even call them limits. He really accepted what his role was, and he really felt more comfortable in it. And then he maximized what he can do in his role. He limited the 3-point shooting, played more of an attacker, was seeing people for passes for baskets, offensive rebounding and he’s our best defender. I think that’s what you talk about in growth and maturity and experience.
SBT: Do you have any update on Big John Rhodes?
JF: I see John a lot. He’s struggling. He has a real battle. He’s lost about 50 pounds. He’s as positive as he can be. Coach Rhodes – he’s the best. He’s got a lot of support from everybody. He’s got another couple of weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, but he’ll be back. He’s grinding. He’s got great support from everybody. He means a lot to this campus. He’s fighting. Everyday he fights.
This interview has been edited and condensed.