In short, Duquesne is trying to tough it out

Dukes have just one player taller than 6-6

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At college basketball practices across the country, coaches will split their squad into two groups -- big guys and smaller guys.

Duquesne's Ron Everhart doesn't have that luxury.

That's because 6-foot-9 Kieron Achara is the only healthy player on the roster taller than 6-6.

"Everybody works on guard stuff, then everybody works on post moves. It certainly helps the versatility of your team," Everhart said of the Dukes, who have only seven scholarship players and three "preferred walk-ons" available for practice. The number has been reduced because 6-5 freshman Stephen Wood is our indefinitely with a bruised left leg that was injured in the weight room.

"He's tried to practice, but he aggravates the injury," Everhart said. "We're going to keep him out until he can go full blow."

The Dukes also are without 6-7 Sam Ashaolu and 6-7 Stuart Baldonado, who were shot in an on-campus incident last month. Both as juniors and were expected to contribute this season. Ashaolu was shot in the head, Baldonado in the lower back and elbow.

Everhart said he has been tougher than normal on his healthy players because, "I don't believe we want to allow them to hang their heads and feel sorry for themselves. Nobody's going to feel sorry for them. They're upbeat. They want to be there, they want to practice."

Everhart and his staff held a tryout last night at the Palumbo Center to give students an opportunity to possibly earn a spot on the roster. He hasn't seen any 7-footers wandering around campus who might be able to help.

"I did see a 6-10 kid, but he told me he's a volleyball player," Everhart said, shaking his head. "I think he plays on some sort of club team in the area. I couldn't get him to come out."

To compensate for the lack of height, Everhart has devised a drill in which a player stands in the lane holding a broom handle to challenge shooters.

Duquesne has the most prolific shot-blocker in college basketball sitting out this season, Shawn James, a transfer from Northeastern. James, who was shot in the foot after a dance on campus a month ago, is doing some light jogging and shooting on the side during practice to see if he can dislodge the bullet from the soft tissue to a position where it can be removed.

"It's going to be a couple weeks before he can practice with us and challenge Kieron," Everhart said.

The Dukes also are without 6-9, 255-pound Almamy Thiero, a graduate student who was eligible immediately after transferring from Memphis where he spent four injury-riddled years. He is expected to be available in two to three weeks after having arthroscopic surgery last week on his right knee.

"I don't think I've ever been around a team so thin up front," said Everhart, who rebuilt programs at McNeese State and Northeastern prior to coming to Duquesne. "Everybody's going to have to play every position. That's all we can do. At times, we're going to have five guards on the floor. A lot of our guys are going to be playing out of position."

Aaron Jackson, a 6-3 sophomore who started at point guard last season, has been working at small forward.

"We're going to spread the court and shoot a lot of 3s," said Everhart, whose drills include diving on the court for loose balls. "You can't expect to dive on the ball in a game if you don't dive on it in practice. We're going to have to rely on toughness. The drills are designed to make the guys understand how hard they're going to have to play. We have a lot more blockout drills that usual because that's the only way we're going to get a rebound.

"We're doing a lot of 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 stuff. We have to be satisfied with teaching more theory because we don't have the bodies to do it on the floor."

NOTES -- Everhart explained why his practices are closed to the media and the public: "Practice time is our time. It's like a family sitting down to dinner." He laughed and added, "But it's not like a church service, either." ... Everhart and his staff are busy recruiting and hope to entertain a couple recruits on campus this weekend. "We're being very careful, very selective because we really don't know what the players we have can do," he said. The NCAA early signing period is Nov. 8-15. ... Tickets are $7 per game for Duquesne's exhibitions against Millersville at 8 p.m. Nov. 1 and Mercyhurst at 2 p.m. Nov. 5. ... The Duquesne men's and women's teams will have scrimmages from 9:30-11:15 a.m. Saturday at the Palumbo Center that are free and open to the public.


Phil Axelrod can be reached at paxelrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1967.


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