Minus Soko, hoops team eyes A-10 title

Claire Murray | Photo Editor
Claire Murray | Photo Editor
Claire Murray | Photo Editor

Pat Higgins | Sports Editor

After two years of laying a foundation for the Duquesne men’s basketball program, head coach Jim Ferry says his young team, which features only one senior, has bought into his system.

From the top of the roster down, Ferry says there is an increased sense of athleticism and energy in the gym this year.

This season will be the first in which Ferry coaches a team full of players he recruited. Gone are any traces of former Coach Ron Everhart’s regime. The only two players who remain from Ferry’s first team in 2012-13 are now junior backcourt members Derrick Colter and Jeremiah Jones.

Finally, Ferry says, he and his coaches have established a distinct culture among their players. With 11 scholarship players on the roster, the Brooklyn native was more than happy to talk about his team’s progression in the preseason, with many more Atlantic 10 caliber players in the gym this year than in previous years.

“You could see it’s an energetic group. We have a lot of young guys in the mix, a lot of new guys in the program,” he said. “Our practices have been significantly more competitive than in recent years.”

Ferry is especially excited about the higher level of athleticism, length and depth at each position. He said he and his coaching staff are still tinkering with the starting lineup, but did offer a glimpse of who will take the court when the team opens regular season play against Bluefield State Saturday at 2 p.m.

Junior guards Derrick Colter and Micah Mason will man the backcourt. Mason, who logged a high number of minutes at point guard near the end of last season, will begin this year as the team’s primary ball handler, while Colter will play more shooting guard.

Junior Jeremiah Jones will start at small forward, while sophomore swingman L.G. Gill will technically play in the post but has showcased a silky jump-shot in preseason. Ferry said the team’s lone senior, Dominique McKoy, will alternate time between power forward and center with 6-foot-8 freshman forward Jordan Robinson now in the mix. Robinson started at center in the team’s exhibition against Shippensburg on Friday night.

While Colter, Mason, Jones and McKoy were all key contributors last season, Gill is a returnee who has made significant strides in the offseason. According to Ferry, the 6-foot-7 sophomore forward has improved his game tremendously.

“L.G. has blossomed,” Ferry said. “His body has blossomed. His confidence has blossomed. He’s consistently one of our best players every day in practice with his versatility inside and out.”

According to Colter, Gill is “just playing the game instead of thinking about it.”

Ferry continues to build the program into a contender in the A-10. Without Ovie Soko, who Ferry said was the clear “alpha dog” on last year’s squad, the ball is moving much more fluidly around the perimeter and inside the paint. The coaching staff has been stressing the importance of team defense and rebounding noting that from the start, spectators will see a different style of play from Red & Blue.

“You’re going to start to see more of the development of our philosophy of how fast and how aggressively we want to play,” Ferry said. “Last year we had Ovie as such a main scorer and a focus to our offense. I think it will be a more balanced scoring team because we’re playing so fast, guys aren’t holding it and we’re really sharing the ball.”

In order to play as fast as Ferry would like for a full 40 minutes, the team needed to add some depth off the bench. Though he tipped his hand regarding what the starting lineup will likely look like, he said swingmen Eric James, Tysean Powell and Desmond Ridenour will see meaningful minutes off the bench.

The Dukes were picked to finish 11th in the conference in the A-10 Preseason Poll. Jeremiah Jones, who Ferry said has stepped up as a central vocal leader, said the team’s play on the court will render those rankings irrelevant.

“We’re just looking forward to taking another step this year,” Jones said. “We know not a lot of people respect us, and that’s fine. But we’re going come in here this year and earn our respect.”

After the game against Bluefield State, they’ll continue their non-conference schedule through November before playing Pitt in the annual City Game at Consol Energy Center on Dec. 5.

This year will be a big step for the Dukes. With more talent at each position, Ferry hopes to see the style of play he demands. But for now, the Red & Blue are taking things one day at a time just days prior to the regular season opener.

“We have to do this right,” Ferry said. “We’ve established a foundation with two legitimate recruiting classes and now it gets built from here. The key is getting these guys experience because we have this whole team back next year.”