Harris: Butler did it ? can Duquesne?

| Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011

Butler basketball coach Brad Stevens probably started out the same way — dreaming the impossible, and thinking big.

Look at him now.

Two consecutive Final Four appearances later, Stevens is a smashing success.

Duquesne's Ron Everhart belongs to the same fraternity of mid-major coaches daring to dream like Stevens, who serves as a role model.

Everhart strongly believes that if Butler can win big in the Horizon League, Duquesne can do the same thing in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

"We've got a great school (that) has given us the ability to turn the corner and get things going in the next couple years to maybe we can have a program like that," said Everhart, referring to Butler. "My vision for us is to be like that."

There's a problem with dreaming big, unfathomable dreams like Everhart is daring to do. Eventually, you have to wake up and confront reality. Duquesne travels to play Arizona on Wednesday night in the 2K Classic.

Mid-major programs such as Butler's are needle-in-a-haystack good. They're incredibly rare.

Butler, despite its mid-major status, was good even before Stevens took over. Each of the three coaches prior to his arrival guided Butler to the NCAA Tournament before taking other jobs. One of them was current athletic director Barry Collier, who hired Stevens.

Everhart inherited a Duquesne program highlighted by 12 consecutive losing seasons that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1977. Everhart has generated three winning seasons in five years and appeared in the Atlantic 10 championship game in 2008-09. He's off to a good start.

The finish is far more important.

"We've been to the postseason three years in a row. We've just haven't been to the (NCAA Tournament), and we've got to get there," Everhart said. "My vision for this program would be a team that consistently competes to get there. We've been real, real close.

"When Aaron (Jackson) was here his senior year, we played Temple in the (Atlantic 10) championship game. Last year, we were getting a lot of votes in the Top 25 (poll). We've had our moments."

One problem: You can't sell "moments" in this city, not when Pitt ranks among the top college basketball programs in the country and appears poised to make a Final Four run any year now, and especially not when the Steelers, Penguins, and, yes, even the Pirates already dominate the local headlines.

Duquesne must get to the NCAA Tournament by any means necessary. No excuses.

That means the Dukes winning the Atlantic 10, and then winning it again so that the tournament selection committee will consider them even in years they don't win their league title. That's called building a track record.

Enter athletic director Greg Amodio, who saw how it was done at Xavier before arriving in 2005. Everhart believes Amodio can do for Duquesne what Collier did for Stevens at Butler, which included pumping more money into the basketball program and making Stevens one of the highest-paid coaches in America.

When Amodio was hired at Duquesne, he initiated plans for a $5.1 million renovation of Palumbo Center. Among his next big moves was hiring Everhart.

"From a basketball coach's perspective, it's never really the basketball guys that get it done," Everhart said. "Look at what's happened in our arena. Greg has raised money. We've got new locker rooms for women's volleyball, us, and women's basketball. Look at the things they have stepped up and done for us."

Because he dreams big, Everhart interviewed at Penn State during the offseason only to announce he was staying at Duquesne, where he has three years remaining on a contract that pays him more than $400,000 annually.

"I love coming to work every day," Everhart said. "I can't say that for 18 years as a head basketball coach, I could have said that a lot of years."

Bottom line: You need talented players to win, and Everhart believes he can convince enough of them to play for him at Duquesne.

Everhart said plans are being made as early as this week to welcome the addition of one of the most talented recruits in his tenure.

"This year we actually were able to get a few guys we haven't been able to get in the past," Everhart said. "We lost a kid last year, in the early (signing) period, a tough one to Iowa -- late, right at the 11th hour. That one hurt. This year, that same type of kid that we felt could be a frontline guy who can be an impact guy, we got.

"I really like this team. We've got some kids who take a lot of pride in the name they wear across their chest meaning something."

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