Dukes, Ferry face long odds
NEW YORK — New Duquesne men's basketball coach Jim Ferry didn't have to worry about getting lost Thursday on his way to the Atlantic 10 media day at Barclays Center.
Ferry, 45, spent a decade as head coach at Brooklyn's Long Island University, an urban campus literally around the corner from the sparkling new arena that opened one week ago and that will host the Atlantic-10 championship in March.
Thursday's visit to the old neighborhood, however, is where the comfort zone ends for Ferry these days.
Unlike the Northeast Conference powerhouse Blackbird program, winners of the past two league championships, Ferry has taken over a Dukes team picked to finish last in the 16-team Atlantic-10.
Conference mainstay Saint Joseph's was picked to finish first in the preseason poll of coaches and media. Saint Louis was chosen second and Temple fourth.
Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, two recent Final Four programs that join the Atlantic-10 this season, were picked to finish third and sixth, respectively.
“I think this was already one of the top basketball leagues in the country that was made even better with the new additions,” Ferry said. “It's a multiple-bid league with great players and great coaches. That's one of the reasons I made the jump to come here.”
Ferry, who was hired in April following the dismissal of sixth-year head coach Ron Everhart, understands the challenges of taking over a team that returns just two starters — guard Sean Johnson (13.5 points per game) and forward Andre Marhold (5.1 ppg, 4 rebounds per game) — from last year's 16-15, 7-9 club.
Duquesne sports three freshmen and six sophomores, none of whom have any significant A-10 experience.
A reflection of that: The Dukes failed to place a player on any of the league's three preseason teams, and none was voted all-defensive or all-rookie selections.
Still, Ferry insists trying for quick fixes is not the answer.
“This isn't the type of league you're going to come into, say, ‘Bang!' and get it done,” said the Long Island native, a two-time NEC Coach of the Year. “The first thing we have to do is establish a foundation. We want to communicate what our philosophy is in terms of how we are going to do things. We want to find good kids who are good students and get them to work hard and try to improve every day.”
Ferry is certain his club, which opens at Albany on Nov. 9, will play the same up-tempo style that served him well at LIU, where his teams consistently ranked among the Top 10 nationally in scoring.
“That's the way I've coached in the past, and I think it's the style that kids enjoy playing,” he said. “It's the influence of AAU on the college game, and you have to adjust. We'll try to find the right pieces to make it work.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-1 junior, will be critical. The Queens product out of high school powerhouse Christ the King, averaged 25.9 minutes last season.
“We're going to have to rely on Sean,” Ferry said. “We have other talented kids, but they don't have the experience you need playing in a league like this. That's the challenge right now: to get kids experience quickly.”
Meanwhile, Ferry will try to bring stability to a program that saw 27 players transfer over the previous six seasons.
“Things are different,” Ferry said. “It's about building things from the bottom up. That's our mantra.”
Cormac Gordon is a freelance writer.