Every time Duquesne freshman point guard Derrick Colter takes the court, he improves as he quickly incorporates everything he has learned into his game.
But while the Dukes were losing Saturday night at Robert Morris, Colter had much more on his mind than basketball.
Colter's older brother, JJ, died last week, and the funeral was held Saturday morning in Baltimore.
Colter, from Forestville, Md., attended the funeral, but had to leave before it was over and didn't have time, in his mind, to say goodbye properly. He figured that was a sign that he wasn't really supposed to.
"He is with me all the time now, and I am playing for him every night," said Colter, who flew back to Pittsburgh in time to get to Robert Morris, where he had 16 points and six assists in the Dukes' 91-69 loss.
Colter said JJ, who was 33, was an inspiration to many people as he had cerebral palsy and wasn't supposed to live past 15.
He beat the odds for almost two decades and was his younger brother's biggest fan. He and Colter were best of friends.
"I think about him a lot. I thought about him during the game," said Colter, who has dedicated the rest of the season to his brother.
"I didn't even get the chance to stay and watch as they put him in the ground, but I know he was with me. I'm just sad, but I have to be strong and just keep moving forward."
Even though the Dukes lost that game, it was the second big game in a row for Colter, who had 12 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals in the Dukes' 60-56 upset of West Virginia Dec. 11.
For that, Colter was named the Atlantic 10 rookie of the week.
And, while he is happy to be scoring as much as he is, what has him feeling best about his game is his ability to accumulate assists.
"I view myself as a playmaker first," Colter said, "I want to get my teammates in the game, get them the ball, set them up with some good passes for easy buckets -- that's what I think I do the best.
"I have a lot of work to do on the rest of my game, too, but I think I have gotten better every game.
"That's the thing about our team. We have been getting better and we have really worked hard, and every game we go out there we want to play better than the last game."
The Dukes (6-5) will try to get back on the winning track at Palumbo Center tonight when they play host to Western Michigan (7-3).
Duquesne will play two more nonconference games -- at Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday and at Penn State Dec. 29 -- before they begin their Atlantic 10 schedule Jan. 9 at Fordham.
Colter said that gives the Dukes a little more time to get some things straightened out, but he believes there already are a lot of things to feel good about, and the way the team defends and rebounds heads such a list.
He said defense and rebounding are two of the team's core principles.
"I think we really are playing good defense right now, and we are only getting better," Colter said.
"I think we play good team defense, good help defense and we just have to keep working on rebounding and getting better at being more physical under the basket.
"But the conference schedule is tough, and these last few [nonconference] games are going to be tough as well, so they will just help make us better here down the stretch so that we have a chance once the conference begins."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulzeise. First Published December 19, 2012 5:00 AM