Duquesne's Everhart has 'a great mix'
Duquesne's Damian Saunders earned Atlantic 10 first-team all-conference honors and conference defensive player of the year last season.
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There are two sides to all of this.
And Duquesne men's basketball coach Ron Everhart understands as much.
"Sometimes everyone, our fans included, look at all the negatives and not the positives," Everhart said. "We can be disappointed with what happened last season, but take away knowing some of the good things that we did. Now is a time that we have a group of guys I feel really good about, a great mix of older guys and younger guys."
Indeed, as the Dukes are coming off a 16-16 season and recently have begun practice for their season opener Nov. 13 against Bluefield State, perhaps Duquesne's most glaring positive is that mixture of veteran talent with a handful of freshmen Everhart speaks glowingly about.
Such a combination is a luxury, and it has the Dukes thinking they could get back to the Atlantic 10 tournament title game like they did in 2008-09. But looking at this team, it all starts with two seniors: Damian Saunders and Bill Clark.
Saunders, a 6-foot-7 forward who averaged 15 points and 11.3 rebounds last season, was a first-team all-conference and Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year selection.
But, there were times last season when he was asked to do too much; when his numbers going through the roof might not have been what the Dukes needed the most.
"Damian was put in a position where he had to do a lot, where he had to be a playmaker last season and I don't think that is always what is best," Everhart said. "We know he is a great defender, but what is best for us, and where I know he is at his best offensively is when he is an athletic finisher for us. There's a difference between that and being asked to be a playmaker."
Clark is a player who has 152 career 3-pointers and comes into his final season on The Bluff as the guy who could most stretch opposing defenses. With Saunders, Clark, junior swingman B.J. Monteiro and junior guard Eric Evans, the Dukes bring back four-fifths of their regular starting lineup from last season.
In addition, three key sophomore reserves -- guard Sean Johnson, forward Andre Marhold and center Rodrigo Peggau -- are back along with seldom-used senior David Theis.
Having those players back could offset the transfers of four players, most notably swingman Melquan Bolding, who headed to Fairleigh Dickinson after playing two seasons for the Dukes and averaging 11.8 points last year.
Then there are those freshmen who Everhart just can't stop talking about -- the five who have yet to play a college game, but have already provided significant scuttlebutt around this program.
Post players Joel Wright and Derrick Martin have some excitement around them, but it is three guards who have created the loudest buzz.
Chartiers Valley graduate T.J. McConnell and Detroit natives Jerry Jones and Michael Talley form a triumvirate Everhart believes could mesh into something exceptional.
"Everyone wants to look at what these guys averaged, in terms of points, in high school and they see 34, 31 and 18 and numbers like that in terms of scoring," Everhart said. "Does that jump out at you? Sure. But that isn't what I look at. I look at three guys who, collectively, had over 30 assists a game. That tells the guys in the backcourt who are older that these younger guys are going to push them [for playing time]. And it also tells our big guys that if they come to play, they are going to get the basketball thrown into them."
First Published October 19, 2010 12:00 am