Duquesne's Saunders emulates former teammate
Just last Thursday in the NBA, Michael Beasley tormented the Cleveland Cavaliers with 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Miami Heat in a 16-point loss.
That wasn't all. Beasley also registered three assists, two steals and two blocked shots for the Heat, who selected him as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft following his freshman year of college.
Sound familiar, Duquesne faithful• Well, at least, not the part about leaving early, but much of the rest of it should.
The Dukes (12-11, 3-6 Atlantic 10) have a young man whose statistics resemble Beasley's recent single-game line.
Junior forward Damian Saunders not only puts up similar numbers, he was a teammate of Beasley's at Fitchburg (Mass.) Notre Dame Prep, where the two led the school to a national prep school championship in 2007 under current Duquesne associate head coach Bill Barton.
"Yeah, we were close," said the 6-foot-7 Saunders, who had signed with Marquette, said of the 6-10 Beasley. The latter played just one college season at Kansas State, where he averaged 26.2 points (third in Division I) and 12.4 rebounds (tops in Division I) per game during 2007-08.
Beasley also led the nation with 28 doubles-doubles.
Saunders, who has said he's gleaned a lot of information and expertise on basketball during his one year with Beasley at Notre Dame Prep, leads the Atlantic 10 Conference with 17 double-doubles after his stellar, 27-point, 16-rebound performance for the Dukes on Saturday in a 70-63 victory at George Washington.
And, Saunders also produced two assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
The similarities are many with Saunders and Beasley, but Saunders pointed out at least one thing he's proud of.
"He's more offensive-minded. I'm more defensive-minded," said Saunders, hoping his coach, Ron Everhart, who has been preaching defensive presence all year-long, would be within earshot.
Saunders said Beasley "has a more laid-back style," but that the two were "about the same in terms of athleticism.
"But I've never really seen anyone better than him. I knew he was something special. You could tell he was gifted, just being that size and being able to handle the ball."
Saunders said he can't help trying to emulate Beasley's ways when it comes to playing and practicing.
"The first time he came into practice, I saw him and I said, 'Who's this kid?'" Saunders recalled. "Next thing you know, we started playing and just going back and forth. That made me go hard right away, seeing a guy like that do what he can do on the court when you really didn't know about him. That makes you want to play to the best of your abilities.
"He's one of the best players I've ever played with. Just the things he does, even when he's not in the game. He motivates you to play hard off the bench. He keeps everybody in the game."
On Saturday against George Washington (12-10, 2-7), Saunders was doing his best impression of Mike Beasley.
"He's a terrific player. He single-handedly kept (Duquesne) in the game," said George Washington coach Karl Hobbs, a former longtime Connecticut assistant.
The Web site, draftexpress.com, recently referred to Saunders as having potential to be a legitimate pro prospect as he continues to develop.
The site pointed to outings such as his 22-point, 10-rebound effort against Duke as a freshman in 2008-09 as "enough to draw the attention of scouts."
Everhart has seen Saunders pile up impressive statistics this year -- Beasley-like averages, for the most part, of 15.0 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.7 steals and 3.3 blocks.
Following Saint Joseph's 74-71 loss at Duquesne on Jan. 31, Hawks coach Phil Martelli said Saunders warranted all-A-10 first-team consideration.
After Duquesne beat GW on Saturday, Everhart shook his head in amazement, saying, "Saunders was phenomenal for us, as good as I've ever seen him.
"And I've seen him pretty good, at times."