Canadian trip gives head start to Dukes
Once every four years, the NCAA allows college basketball teams to play exhibition games abroad, and for the Duquesne men's team, their time has come.
The Dukes will leave Thursday for Canada and a four-game exhibition tour against Canadian teams named A-Game Hoops and the Phase 1 All-Stars. Both are comprised of semipro players.
"We're playing against guys that have a lot of experience and are really good basketball players, so, at the end of the day, we feel like it will be a situation where we're going to get challenged every night out," said Duquesne coach Ron Everhart.
"That's good because then we'll see who's prepared, who will respond and how well our guys will stick together to survive some adversity."
The trip will not be uncharted territory for Everhart, who took the Dukes on a three-day Canadian exhibition tour in 2007. Those Dukes beat three Canadian college teams, and, that season, Duquesne was 17-13 for its first winning campaign in 13 years.
Everhart hopes this trip will pay similar dividends for a team in transition. The Dukes lost their top two scorers from last season in forward/guard Bill Clark and forward Damian Saunders, a duo that accounted for approximately 37 percent of their scoring last season.
Three starters -- sophomore guard T.J. McConnell, senior guard/forward B.J. Monteiro and sophomore guard Mike Talley -- return from a team that finished 19-13 and made an appearance in the College Basketball Invitational. Joining those three will be four returning lettermen and five freshmen.
Without Clark and Saunders and with a collection of new, inexperienced players, the Dukes have made an effort to come together as a team, and they believe that the Canadian tour will only help develop more chemistry and set them up for title contention in a competitive Atlantic 10 Conference.
"People talk about us losing our top two scorers, but we just take that as motivation," said McConnell, a Chartiers Valley High School graduate and the 2011 Atlantic 10 rookie of the year. "We've come together as a team, and the captains have done a great job of bringing us together as a team. I think we're going to make a run at this thing this year."
At least for Everhart, the exhibitions will provide the Dukes with something of a jump start as they effectively get 10 days of practice.
"It's a chance to experiment with different combinations, with different offensive and defensive schemes and try to figure out what's the best situation to put our team in according to the type of personnel that we have," Everhart said.
"Every year's a different year, and you have to treat it as a different kind of puzzle that you have to fit together. This is just a great head start for us to get all of this figured out."
First Published August 10, 2011 12:00 am