Freshman forward Isaiah Watkins is expected to make his Duquesne debut when the Dukes (3-3) play host to Penn State (7-3) Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.
Watkins (6 feet 7, 220 pounds) has been recovering from offseason knee surgery and had not participated in his first practice until last Monday.
"He's had a good week of practice so far," second-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said Monday, rapping his knuckles on the desk in his office at Palumbo Center. "We'll knock on wood that he continues to practice well."
With fellow freshman forward Jordan Robinson still awaiting a ruling from the NCAA regarding his initial eligibility, Watkins' return will provide the Dukes with much-needed frontcourt depth. Watkins averaged 8.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J.
"He's a high-energy kid," Ferry said. "He's big. He's physical. He can rebound. He can shoot. It gives us that other frontcourt body that we've been desperately lacking."
Ferry said he will ease Watkins into the rotation over the next few games hoping he'll be fully adjusted to the speed of the game once the Atlantic 10 schedule begins.
"Everybody else has six to 10 games under their belt, and he doesn't have any for the past year," Ferry said. "I don't think we'll see the real Isaiah, probably, for another five or six games. Hopefully, quicker, but we've got to get him in and get him going."
Focused on finals
It's a busy week on the Bluff. Not only do the Dukes face Penn State and Robert Morris, they're also hunkered down studying for their final exams.
"The biggest challenge right now is finals week," Ferry said. "Obviously, having a lot of new kids and freshmen there's the stress of taking finals on top of being a college athlete and playing.
"There's a lot going on, but that's part of being a student-athlete, and that's part of getting twice the education when you come here."
Ferry called finals season "a family thing" around campus.
"This is where we rely heavily on our academic advising and support services here on campus, and they are amazing," he said.
With Watkins now healthy, sophomore guard Micah Mason is the only Duke left on the injured list.
Mason, who broke his right hand in the first half of his first start, a victory Nov. 20 against Albany, had his cast removed last week and is now using a removable brace that allows him to continue strengthening his hand and wrist. Ferry had no update on Mason's recovery timetable. He originally expected to miss four to six weeks.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.