There’s no simple formula to turn around the Duquesne men’s basketball program. Following the vision of second-year head coach Jim Ferry, the Dukes cleared house after an eight-win 2012-13 season, bidding adieu to 10 players, including three starters.
Their replacements include six freshmen, two junior-college transfers, a walk-on and two Division I transfers in sophomore guard Micah Mason (Drake) and senior forward Ovie Soko (UAB).
There’s more talent now, Ferry says. The challenge is to make a team out of the mix-and-match talent culled from around the country and brought to the Bluff.
“The biggest thing is really blending this group together to be a family, to be an unselfish team,” Ferry said Monday at Duquesne media day. “That’s probably been talked about more than putting the ball in the basket.”
Chemistry, admittedly an overused buzzword in college athletics, has never seemed more crucial. Ferry said the coaching staff had to initially force the bonds between new teammates, hosting barbecues, team meals and football watch parties.
“You have a bunch of kids, all new, all from different places … so you’ve got to force the issue of camaraderie and team,” Ferry said. “But when you send the message every day that this is what our team is built on, they buy into it.
At some point, it’s on the players to take ownership of that team-building. And, by all accounts, they’ve done just that.
“The best part about our team chemistry is that it wasn’t forced,” Soko said. “It was something that just came naturally; everyone just genuinely enjoyed being around each other.
“I think that’s probably the most important thing when it comes to chemistry. You can’t really force it upon a big group of people. Each person has to want to be involved in one common goal.”
Sophomore forward Jeremiah Jones, one of two returning starters, summed it up with three words and a smile.
“Everyone loves everyone,” he said.
Eligibility, injuries hurts depth
Duquesne is still waiting for an NCAA ruling regarding the eligibility of Mason, a Highlands High School graduate and the No. 12 scorer in WPIAL history, who transferred from Drake this offseason after dietary issues related to POTS Syndrome flared up, forcing his mother to move to Des Moines, Iowa, to cook for him.
Ferry called the request for immediate eligibility a “no-brainer,” since Mason has a legitimate, documented medical and family hardship that required him to move back home.
“To me it looks pretty simple,” Ferry said.
Duquesne also is waiting for word on freshman forward Jordan Robinson’s initial eligibility. Neither he nor freshman forward Isaiah Watkins, recovering from offseason leg surgery, have practiced yet this fall, limiting the team’s frontcourt depth.
Junior guard Tra’Vaughn White, the top junior-college scorer in 2012-13, missed the past week with a high ankle sprain and was in a boot Monday, but he expects to be available for the season opener in two weeks.
“A month ago, we had [all the names] up on the board, and we said, ‘Geez, where are we going to find minutes for everybody?’ Now, it’s like, ‘Where are we going to find guys to play the minutes?’” Ferry said.
Duquesne traveled to Oxford, Ohio, for an unofficial scrimmage with Miami. Per NCAA restrictions, no spectators were allowed to attend and no results or statistics were released.
Duquesne played with just six players.
“There was a lot of good, a lot of bad,” Ferry said. “It was hard to tell because we didn’t have enough guys so we weren’t able to play different lineups.”
Ferry couldn’t get into specifics, but he said Soko “was a monster” with “a lot of points and a lot of rebounds.”
The team reviewed the tape Monday and set to work preparing for an exhibition game Saturday against Clarion at Palumbo Center.
“You get to that point where you’re just tired of playing against each other, so we needed to play somebody else,” Ferry said.
“But, again, with only having six guys who could play we didn’t get out of it what we needed to get out of it.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.