Dukes calling on big man for new dimension
It was only a matter of time before Duquesne coach Ron Everhart decided to break out a secret weapon.
This could be the start of something big.
Tonight, when Duquesne (9-7, 0-2) entertains Saint Louis (10-5, 2-0) at Palumbo Center in search of its first Atlantic 10 Conference victory, look for a 7-foot sighting.
Following the most productive game in his short Duquesne career, sophomore center Morakinyo "Big Mike" Williams, the Kentucky transfer, is guaranteed to step onto the floor for another game, giving Duquesne a different dimention with his 7-foot, 270-pound frame.
Delighted at the thought of playing alongside Williams, Duquesne forward Damian Saunders, an early frontrunner for Atlantic 10 Conference player of the year, was salivating.
"This is a whole new experience for us," he said. "Mike is a guy who can take up space down low. You know, sit on the (opponent's) big guy, wear him out, tire him down."
Following his transfer to Duquesne in 2008, Williams sat out last season while practicing with Duquesne and continued to sit for most of this season while recovering an early season heart ailment that slowed his progress.
"Mike's done a real nice job integrating himself into the offense, really demanding the ball on the box and creating dribble-drives for our other players," Everhart said. "He passed the ball extremely well out of the post in our last game, and we're hoping he improves."
In 23 minutes, his most extensive action in a Duquesne uniform, Williams contributed six rebounds and two assists in a 78-72 overtime loss at Dayton on Saturday.
"Playing with 'Big Mike' is a great experience," said the 6-7 Saunders, a junior, whose 21 points and 11 rebounds against Dayton represented his 13th double-double and seventh in a row.
"He's a 7-footer, and he draws a lot of attention from a lot of guys," Saunders said. "He brings a lot of open space for guys to cut and get a drive in. Keep him down low. He's like a Shaq for our team."
Williams, a native of Solihull, England, who played at Alexandria (Va.) Bishop Ireton High School, was scoreless against Dayton, missing his only field goal attempt and both free throws tries.
"I think I can rebound better," he said. "I need to start watching the ball, especially on the offensive end. If I can get some offensive rebounds, I'm going to get points from garbage buckets and stuff like that. I'm going to refocus on offensive rebounding. I know that's what coach wants."
Until very recently, Everhart had been leery of calling Williams' name because the coach wasn't sure the biggest of his big men was ready for a bigger challenge.
Williams, the first 7-foot player at Duquesne since Ricky Lopes from 1992-94, has played in eight games, averaging 0.8 points and two rebounds in 7.1 minutes. He has averaged 15 minutes in the Dukes' first two A-10 games after getting just an average of five minutes in six nonconference appearances.
"It was hard for him to breath after he had a procedure done," Everhart said, referring to the issue of Williams' accelerated heart rate in early November that forced him to miss a preseason exhibition game and a short span of practice time. "It took him 2 1⁄2-3 weeks to get over that and get back on the floor. That really put him behind."
Williams, whose fluxuating weight problem has been a concern, has looked more comfortable as he continues to play himself back into shape. Once up to 320 pounds, according to his coaches, Williams has credited Duquesne assistant coach Scott Rigot, among others, with keeping him diligent.
"I have a good relationship with him," Williams said. "He's been working with me a lot. He's always on my back, yeah."
Rigot, the Bethel Park native in his second year at Duquesne, is a former Kentucky assistant who left the program a season before Williams arrived.
"Mike's making good progress, but obviously, he's got a long way to go," Rigot said. "He needs to continue to work hard and get a better handle on his weight. If he does that, he'll keep improving. The big thing is he's just a sophomore. His best days are ahead of him, and under Ron's direction, he should give us a lot."
Saint Louis (10-5, 1-0 Atlantic 10) at Duquesne (9-7, 0-2 Atlantic 10)
When/where: 7 p.m. Wednesday/Palumbo Center
Radio: KQV-AM (1410)
Favorite: Duquesne by 6.5
Series record: Duquesne leads, 6-3