If you think DU is rotting, you don’t know DU

Pat Higgins | Sports Editor

Innovative journalist Dejan Kovacevic, of DKonPittsburghSports.com, attended Duquesne’s matchup with Davidson on Saturday night. From our perspective, Dejan has not been as regular an attendee of the Dukes’ home games this season as we have at The Duke.

Regardless, he was there when Davidson, the best team in the Atlantic 10 this season, routed the Dukes from the midpoint of the first half all the way to the final buzzer. Apparently, he had seen enough to stake the boldest claim anyone’s made about Duquesne hoops this year.

Duquesne rots from the head down.” That’s right: Duquesne rots.

That was the headline he ran on his subscription-based site. At the postgame press conference, where only coach Jim Ferry spoke, Kovacevic asked Ferry a question he’s been asked no less than 10 times this season: Is your team progressing?

Ferry, who was noticeably steamed about answering the same question he’s been asked after every home game, gave the same answer he gave to us in mid-January. He said the Dukes are improving, and if you don’t think so then you don’t know basketball.

At this point in his rant full of mostly factless claims, Kovacevic wrote that the “rotting” that is supposedly happening down at the Palumbo Center “is on Ferry and his staff.”

“Defense can be taught. Middling defense can be taught,” he said, proving his point most likely by pulling up the men’s basketball team’s schedule on GoDuquesne.com and noticing that the Dukes have given up large amounts of points in a number of games this season. Ninety-two and 100 to St. Bonaventure, 87 to La Salle, 86 to Richmond, 81 to Dayton and 95 in the first meeting with Davidson are the games he picked.

Five those six games were on the road, where the Dukes have struggled mightily this season. That’s not a trend unique to Duquesne. The road team is a combined 66-110 in all A-10 action this season. At home, the Dukes have been significantly better. In fact, they had won four straight at Palumbo prior to Saturday’s loss to Davidson, a streak that includes victories over George Washington and Dayton.

But with that being said, I’d really like to see Dejan’s approach to it. I should call upon him personally to shut down his site or just pull back to part-time, head on down to the Palumbo Center and try teaching something better than “middling” defense.

Better yet, just two graphs later, Dejan retracts his claim that the blame related to the Dukes’ shortcomings this season are on Ferry. “Ferry can do better, but this broader scene isn’t on him, either.”

A big reason why the Dukes are susceptible to allowing a lot of points to opponents in spurts is because they try to bring the ball up on the court on offense as quickly as possible. They play at a frenetic pace, and actually finished the regular season tied for second place in the A-10 with VCU by scoring 72.3 points per game. They also finished second in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage (36.7 percent) and fifth in field goal percentage (45.3 percent).

Next, he put together a pretty graphic that depicted former Coach Ron Everhart’s rise to success and plateau around 2008. In his first season at Duquesne in 2005, Everhart finished in 10th place. The next season, nothing changed: 10th place. In the three years following that, the Dukes began to compete at the top of the conference, and basketball was the talk of campus. But Everhart couldn’t sustain his success, finished ninth in the Atlantic 10 in his final season on the Bluff (2011-12) and was fired by Athletic Director Greg Amodio. La Salle’s men’s team, which finished ninth in the conference this season, reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament just two years ago.

Dayton, VCU and Davidson have all reached the Big Dance in recent years. The Dukes compete with these teams on a nightly basis. Competition is the best catalyst for success, and so it’s only a matter of time before it is Duquesne’s chance to make the A-10 proud in the postseason.

He said he could have “ditched this entire column and just run the graphic,” as if Everhart was bringing home titles, awards and accolades to the Bluff. After that, he continues to point his finger at anything and everyone who has anything to do with the basketball program.

Somehow he’s shocked Ferry’s job isn’t in jeopardy. This is literally the first season in his tenure that Ferry had a rotation complete with players he recruited. And just 28 games later, Ferry should be on the hot seat? That is space-killing, content-filling bush league, my good sir. What is Amodio to do now then? Fire Ferry, watch all the players he recruited here transfer by May, and start again from square one.

What do you expect, Dejan? For the Dukes to wake up one day and suddenly start playing like the best team in the Atlantic 10 when there’s 13 other teams loaded with comparable talent? Every one of these Dukes will be back next year with the exception of Dominique McKoy, who set the standard for what it means to play hard on both ends of the floor.

And on the subject of the Rev. Sean Hogan and President Charles Dougherty, they don’t have anything to do with whether the Dukes play man-to-man defense or a 2-3 zone. Blaming them for a roster that hasn’t featured all scholarship players in about three years is simply ludicrous.

To top off his laundry list of factless claims, Dejan writes that “while city neighbors Pitt, CMU and Point Park have progressed and innovated, Duquesne has lost its identity.”

No support after that to back up the claim that Duquesne and its constituents are rotting away up here on the Bluff. Here’s some news for you Dejan: your opinion on the place you briefly called home is the one that rots. And maybe Towers dorm, but they’re working on that.

Duquesne basketball does not define the University. It would certainly help with admissions if they won a few more games and made some noise at the conference championship this weekend, but in each of the last four years, the number of students who have enrolled at the University has risen steadily. And in regards to the driving a stake through the program and the school by publishing that it is somehow rotting is one of the most short-sighted takes I have seen in quite some time.


  1. As someone else “who briefly called Duquesne home” (I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1980), I’d like to weigh in on this topic, but first, I want to add a little context.

    I’ve been following DU hoops as a fan, student and alumnus for 40+ years, probably closer to 45. My first exposure to the Dukes was as a college basketball fan who knew about the great DU teams in the early 1970s. In the days before the Internet, ESPN, and the proliferation of sports programming on cable television, Duquesne was a national program that was sometimes featured on the NBC game of the week. I knew who the Nelson twins were, I knew who Jarrett Durham was, and I knew Red Manning was the coach of the Dukes. Not bad for a junior high school kid growing up in New Jersey.

    My freshman year at Duquesne, Norm Nixon’s senior year, the Dukes went to the NCAA Tournament and I figured we’d be back on a regular basis after that. Duquesne was every bit as good as Pitt, and games against the Panthers were intense and drew large crowds. No one mentioned Robert Morris in the same breath as Duquesne; the Colonials were more akin to Point Park at the time. In 1980, my senior year, I got to cover an NIT game against Pitt at the old Civic Arena for The Duke, and it was one of the most exciting college basketball games ever in Pittsburgh. The year after I graduated, the Dukes played Pitt in the Eastern Eight championship game. A loss to the Panthers resulted in a second straight visit to the NIT, the last time Duquesne came thatclose (sic) to the Big Dance except for the A-10 title game loss to Temple in Ron Everhart’s third year.

    Where are we today? After experiencing some success under Everhart, who in my opinion should not have been fired, we’ve taken several steps back as a program. I sincerely hope Jim Ferry can turn things around, but the thought that the team showed any progress this year is without merit.

    This season, with four returning starters and a roster full of his own players, Ferry won exactly one more regular season game vs. D1 opponents that he did his first year with many of Ron’s players. The biggest culprits were not youth, or a lack of scholarship players, as you suggest. They were: 1. Absolutely terrible defense. 2. The mystifying “one pass and launch a bad three” offense. 3. For college basketball, ridiculously poor FT shooting. Stuff I’m hoping the coach will eventually fix, but at the same time wondering why he hasn’t done so already.

    Next year, the good news is that we have four returning starters again; the bad news is that they’re returning from another sub-.500 season. Worse, we played the balance of the conference schedule with only seven players, which means we’ve done nothing to build depth. Three promising freshmen received little playing time, and for the second straight season, a much-heralded JUCO “scoring machine” turned out to be a clunker. The four returning starters for next season will all be seniors. What happens when they graduate?

    Dejan Kovacevic is not the problem. His observations about this program are 100% accurate. As a wise man once said, you are what your record says you are, not what the coach says in his postgame comments. And the record says we are a sub-.500 program, and a bottom four team in the conference.

    Worse than that, Duquesne basketball has become irrelevant. Duquesne is no longer fighting for #1 in the City of Pittsburgh; we’ve become the “Washington Generals” to Pitt and Bobby Mo. WVU & Penn State are bigger basketball brands in Pittsburgh. St. Francis may be the next to pass us. This is the reality, not something that Dejan Kovacevic invented.

    And he is absolutely correct: The brand (yes, athletics DO have a lot to do with this) is damaged. A lot of long-time fans and season ticket holders have walked away. Student attendance, never a strength for Duquesne, also appears to somehow be declining. When we appear on televised games, the pre-game build-up usually mentions both Norm Nixon and the Nelsons.

    It’s frustrating and disheartening as a fan and alumnus, but you can’t just blame the coach. You have to take a long, hard look at the guy who hired him, the leader who signed off on the transaction, and everyone else who influences the program.

    There’s a long road back to respectability ahead of us, but the first step is going to be the acknowledgement that we have some big-time problems. Denying the will only keep us from being a big-time program again.

    • I agree with your thoughts on the status of Dukes basketball.

      Additionally, I believe the administration/certain alum needs to accept what Duquesne Basketball is today: a low level Div I team along the lines of a Patriot League quality and will probably never return to the days of the 70’s/early 80’s.
      We haven’t made the NCAA tourney in over 3 decades…..what does it take for them to smell the roses? More and more money doesn’t solve the problem. Cutting successful men’s varsity sports 5 yrs. ago didn’t do a darn thing to improve the success of the basketball program (or the football program); a stupid move for Duquesne, but I guess it looked good for the A10 executives.
      Then administration follows that up with firing Everhart; and here where are, a team constantly just trying to stay above .500……that’s our benchmark.

      We are lucky to be a charter member of the A10…..because we certainly don’t do much to promote its brand (at least not with our basketball program).

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