When first-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry was an assistant at Bentley College in Massachusetts, he often recruited in New Jersey, and one year he pursued a skinny point guard from Christian Brothers Academy because he thought the kid could be a difference-maker.
That player was Andrew Toole, the head coach of Robert Morris and, in Ferry's mind, a guy destined to be a great coach from the time he was lighting teams up in high school.
"I've known him since he was 16, and you see what he looks like now, he was similar, well, maybe take 20 pounds away as he was just this skinny kid," Ferry said, then laughed. "But he was tough as can be and he was a fabulous player, so it was tough when we wound up losing him. You could tell back then, he was smart, he really saw the floor and understood the game.
"I knew he'd be the kind of player who would get into coaching when he was done playing and he'd have success.
"And I can tell you this, he is one of the best young coaches this country has and he makes it extremely difficult to coach against his teams because they are so well prepared and play so hard, like he did."
Ferry match wits with Toole at 7 p.m. today when Duquesne (6-4) travels to Sewall Center to play Robert Morris (6-4) in a game between two of the city's three Division I programs.
The Dukes were pounded by Pitt Dec. 5 in the "The City Game" so Ferry, who was at Long Island University before taking the job at Duquesne, recognizes the importance of winning this game in order to earn a split of the games against natural rivals.
"I absolutely understand how important these city rivalries are," Ferry said.
"When I was at Long Island, those games versus teams like Hofstra, Iona, Manhattan -- even St. John's -- they were all about pride and bragging rights, and this is similar.
"These kids all know each other, they play in summer leagues together and the schools are all so close, it really puts a lot of emphasis on winning these games.
"In New York, there were a lot of programs, but I think it is even heightened here because there are only three, so everyone really knows everyone else. And right now, Robert Morris has beaten us twice in a row, so we are highly motivated to change that."
Although Ferry is new to the Duquesne-Robert Morris rivalry, he has coached against Toole before.
In fact, Ferry has had plenty of success against Toole as Ferry's Long Island team won the past two Northeast Conference tournament championships, beating Toole's Colonials in the title game both times.
Not surprisingly, one of the main reasons Long Island prevailed a year ago was the Blackbirds' ability to get the game moving at the fast pace. Ferry prefers faster than the Colonials' comfort zone, which involves a more methodical game.
Ferry said tempo again will be an important factor against Toole's Colonials.
"This is going to be a grind, a tough game -- Robert Morris is really, really good," Ferry said.
"I know Andy Toole, I've coached against him, and there is no question they will be one of the hardest-working teams we face all year. They are also not going to beat themselves, you have to beat them.
"And they are very physically tough, they have great leadership and aren't going to make mistakes, you have to go out and make some shots and guard their personnel. And someone said to me this game is like another backyard brawl, and that's how we have to approach it -- we need to play with the right disposition and match their toughness."
Duquesne's play has been up and down as evidenced by the Dukes' stunning upset of West Virginia and the hammering the Duquesne absorbed from Pitt, but Ferry said he likes the fact that his players have adopted a "one-day-at-a-time" approach and avoided a emotional roller-coaster.
"We will have some extreme highs and lows this year," Ferry said.
"What we can't do is get too high or too low.
"We need to learn from our losses and take the positives from our wins and move on quickly. We've done that to this point so, hopefully, we can continue."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulzeise.