Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Turning Point? The 07-08 Season in Review

Two years ago Duquesne was one of the worst basketball programs in the country with a 3-24 record. Danny Nee was fired, and Ron Everhart was brought in from Northeastern to turn around the struggling Duquesne program. Coach Everhart cleaned up the Dukes program, and even though he was playing with a young inexperienced team that was depleted by off court injuries due to an on campus shooting the Dukes improved dramatically and won 10 games finishing 10-19 and 6-10 in the A10 last year.

The 07-08 season started with bad news for the Duquesne basketball program. Duquesne's star player and 06-07 A10 Rookie of the Year Robert Mitchell (pictured right) had a falling out with Coach Everhart and he decided to leave the program and transfer to Seton Hall. Mitchell wouldn't be the last player to leave the Dukes program in the off season, junior college All-American Stuard Baldonado, (who had sat out the 06-07 season while he recovered from a bullet wound in his back that occurred as a result of an on campus incident) decided he was going to leave the program after he sued the school and subsequently was suspended for several scrapes with the law. When Baldonado was being recruited by Duquesne he was considered one of the best JC players in the country. Baldonado never played a game in Duquesne uniform.

Despite losing their most talented returning player, and one of their best new players the Dukes started off the 07-08 season on a 6 game winning streak. The Dukes would struggle through a tough December dropping close decisions to now nationally ranked Drake, and a then full strength Pitt squad. By the end of the non-conference schedule the Dukes had earned a 10-3 record with their only loses coming to ranked teams, Drake, Pitt, and WVU.

The Dukes A10 season was a frustrating one. The Dukes were able to upset A10 powers Saint Josephs and Dayton, but they also lost to A10 bottom feeders St. Bonaventure, Fordham, and La Salle. Had the Dukes been able to take care of business against the bottom feeders the Dukes would have secured their first 20 win season since 1980-81. But 20 wins was not meant to be. Oddly enough even with some heart breaking loses during A10 play the Dukes were able to secure a spot in the A10 Tournament, and earn a favorable tournament match up facing a beatable La Salle team in round 1. The Dukes' loss to La Salle in the first round of the A10 Tournament was a microcosm of the Dukes' biggest problem all season, their failure to win close games. The Dukes ended the season 1-9 in games that were decided by single digits. The Dukes only single digit win was their 2 point upset victory over Dayton when Shawn James surprisingly hit back to back 3 pointers in the final minute.

The Dukes added 4 key players to their program this year: transfers Shawn James and Kojo Mensah in addition to freshmen Damian Saunders and Bill Clark. James and Mensah ended the season as the Dukes top 2 scorers with 12.6 and 12.1 ppg respectively. Shawn James also broke the career blocked shots record mid way through the season, he ended the year with 111 blocked shots. Mensah had an up and down season for the Dukes. Kojo was a big part of the Dukes strong non conference run, but he played inconsistently during the A10 schedule. Kojo seemed to be in and out of Ron Everhart's doghouse throughout the season for his poor ball control and team leading 89 turnovers.

Damian Saunders played a huge role on this team as a freshman. Saunders seems to have picked up one of the toughest aspects of the game of basketball, defense, early on in his career. Saunders led the team in steals with 45, and was 3rd on the team with 39 blocked shots. Saunders also displayed wonderful ball control only turning the ball over 32 times this season, the lowest amongst any of the regulars in Duquesne's rotation. Saunders will play an even bigger role as he continues his career at Duquesne and I expect him to be considered one of the best players at his position in the A10 by the time he is a junior.

Bill Clark rounds out the list of Duquesne's newcomers who made a significant contribution this year. Clark led the team with 40 made 3 point shots, but he only shot 31% from beyond the arch, and he shot poorly from the field in general shooting 38%. Clark struggled with his shot but hopefully will find consistency as he continues to mature and develop as a basketball player. The one aspect of Clark's game that I love is his tenactiy. Clark seems to play better in clutch situations, and he turns up his game when it matters most. I don't think Clark's ceiling is quite as high as Damian Saunders, but I do expect him to become a star later in his Duquesne career.

Gary Tucker and Reggie Jackson were vastly improved this year after playing smaller roles last season. Tucker and Jackson were JC teammates and both came to the Dukes with 2 years of eligilbilty when they started their careers here last season. Tucker and Jackson both learned to play tougher more consistent defense, and become contributors on offense. Reggie Jackson had several big games for the Dukes throughout the season, and Jackson played well for the Dukes down the stretch. Both Tucker and Jackson will be missed next year.

I have to tip my hat to Kieron Achara. Kieron was finishing out his long successful career this season at Duquesne, and sadly he knew coming into the season he would be playing second fiddle to Shawn James. Achara had already earned his diploma and could have chosen to forego his last year of eligibility rather than spend the year in James' shadow. Achara chose to come back to Duquesne and the Dukes were a much better team because of it. Kieron earned a 4.0 GPA and was named Scholar Athlete of the year for the 2nd time by the Atlantic 10 this year. In addition to his continued success in the class room Kieron averaged 11.3ppg, 4 rpg, and 45 blocked shots. You will be missed next year Kieron good luck in your professional basketball career.

If someone told me the Dukes would finish the season 17-13 with wins over Dayton and Saint Josephs I would have chuckled but that is how the season ended for Duquesne. The 07-08 season should be considered a success and we should all congradulate Ron Everhart and his team for their efforts this season. Thanks for an exciting season guys.

What made this season so difficult was that the Dukes showed so much promise, but they just couldn't find a way to win close games. Again the Dukes were 1-9 in single digit games, and if they could have won just 3 more of those they could have won 20 games and given themselves a great shot at the NIT Tournament.

Questions for next year:

How will the Dukes respond to the departure of Kieron Achara, Reggie Jackson, and Gary Tucker?
Will Ron Everhart be able to recruit a talented post player to replace Kieron Achara?
How will the new recruits fit into the Duquesne program?
Will the Dukes continue to play the 10/40 two platoon system next year?
Will the Dukes continue to improve their record next year by winning more than 17 games?


goduquesne12 said...

the key to next year is damian saunders and bill clark. with rumors of shawn james leaving, plus losing reggie and tuck they will have to step it up. also another is kojo. he has killed this team many times this year with bad turnovers at bad times. if he can get his act together will be another think to look for.

Anonymous said...

How can you talk about the success of this years team and not inculd Arron's name in the entire article??

Anonymous said...

Great article from a great website. I may have disagreed at times with what you've written this season, but that's what makes fan driven banter fun. Look forward to reading the blog over the summer and next fall.

phildogg said...

I followed this team closer than any previous teams of the past years since the Alston led NIT team.

I think that they achieved as much as possible for a program with no recent tradition of respectability.

This team did it with JC transfers,lower level D-1 transfers and two freshman. I would have liked to have seen more wins in the close games but that will come with better players and more expierence.

That said, I enjoyed the Dukes Court blog site and the input and terrific grafics and photos.
Thanks for your hard work and loyalty to Duquesne Basketball.