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Duquesne basketball off and running

Duquesne headed into the offseason carrying the weight of an uninspired performance in a loss to Princeton in the College Basketball Invitational.

Only time will tell if the extended time off has lightened the load for the Dukes.

"I like our cohesiveness," coach Ron Everhart said Friday. "We had a good first practice. I'm excited about it."

Four starters — all double-figure scorers — from a team that finished 16-16 were back, as Duquesne opened official workouts last night at Palumbo Center with most of its regulars in uniform. Only senior forward David Theis and sophomore guard Sean Johnson, reserves nursing ankle injuries, were missing from the returnees.

Incoming freshman forward Derrick Martin, who averaged 14.0 points and 15.0 rebounds last season at Flora MacDonald Academy in Red Springs, N.C., is awaiting word from the NCAA regarding his eligibility. He is not permitted to practice until a decision is made.

"Derrick was a very productive player on a very good team," Everhart said. "I'm really high on his ability to run the floor and block shots. He can also step out and shoot the 3-pointer. Players who can do that are a rare find."

With or without Martin, Duquesne is loaded with fresh talent to complement its veterans. They're led by returning Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year Damian Saunders, who averaged 15.0 points and 11.3 rebounds. He ranked second in Division I in steals at 2.8 per game as a junior.

"You've got to be excited about the first practice," Saunders said. "We're here to get started on something special. We know what we're capable of, and it's time to get down to the business."

While several players transferred — most notably guard/forward Melquan Bolding (11.8 ppg) to Fairleigh Dickinson — Duquesne's newcomers potentially are an exciting bunch.

Guards T.J. McConnell, from Chartiers Valley, and Mike Talley, from Melvindale (Mich.) Academy for Business and Technology, averaged 34.2 and 31.2 points as high school seniors. Forward Joel Wright, a New York native, averaged 23.0 points and 17.0 rebounds at Brittain Academy in Thomasville, N.C.; guard/forward Jerry Jones, from Inkster (Mich.) High School, averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 rebounds.

Joining Saunders among the incumbent starters are senior swingman Bill Clark (14.1 ppg), junior swingman B.J. Monteiro (11.1) and junior guard Eric Evans (10.0.).

"With the five new freshmen, I like our youthfulness and energy," Everhart said. "Saunders and Clark have come back looking like the leaders I know they can be, and I like the commitment that B.J. Monteiro has made in the offseason. He came back in great shape and looks like he's ready to be a go-to guy."

Duquesne opens the regular season against Bluefield State, a Division II school, on Nov. 13 at refurbished Palumbo Center.

Additional Information:

Lockdown defenders

Duquesne senior Damian Saunders had the most steals of any forward in Division I in the past two seasons. His 160 steals ranked fifth among players in that span. A look at the leaders:

Devan Downey, South Carolina G : 174 steals

Brigham Waginger, Western Carolina G : 171

Aubrey Coleman, Houston G : 168

Kevin Palmer, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi G/F : 163

Damian Saunders, Duquesne F : 160

Marqus Blakely, Vermont F : 152

Note: Saunders is the only returning player.

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