Kovacevic: What City Game could have been
The City Game that annually matches the otherwise unmatchable Pitt and Duquesne basketball programs will tip off Wednesday night with a fresh flair, thanks to the otherwise idle Penguins taking over the in-game entertainment at Consol Energy Center.
There will be pro-level player intros, video fun, even a chance for a lucky student to shoot half-court for $25,000.
Should be quite a show.
But man, it could have been so much better.
I'm not going to pick on the Dukes, I swear. For one, in full disclosure, I went to school there during the … uh, Rick Suder era. For another, it's almost as easy as picking on another local two-decade failure.
Besides, there's much to like about what new coach Jim Ferry has brought to the Bluff. He's bluntly honest, he's a proven winner, and he sounds like a man with a plan.
When Ferry says, “We don't want to just be in the Atlantic 10. We want to compete for championships in the A-10,” it's not bluster. Just bluntness.
For this one day, though, indulge me, please, in thinking about what might have been.
Ferry's predecessor, Ron Everhart, was assembling a group of five freshmen — mostly signed, the rest sealed — before Duquesne senselessly fired him March 23 following five winning seasons. Athletic director Greg Amodio had urged Everhart to produce a great class, but he still dumped his coach and, in turn, the very class he coveted.
All five backed out, all landed at BCS schools, and all already are making an impact:
>> Coty Clarke, 6-foot-7 power forward, Arkansas. He's starting in the SEC, averaging 8.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.
>> Willie Moore, 6-3 shooting guard, Oregon. He's averaging 2.7 points and 9.5 minutes, not bad for being undersized at his position in the Pac-12.
>> Donovon Jack, 6-9 power forward, Penn State. He's been hurt but now averages three minutes in the Big 10.
>> Kahlil Johnson, 6-7 small forward, California. He's at 1.7 points for the Pac-12 leader.
>> Brandon Taylor, 5-11 point guard, Utah. He averages seven minutes, 1.6 points and is in line to soon run a Pac-12 offense.
Now, imagine those five guys taking the floor in blue and red against Jamie Dixon's best freshman class in years.
That's a City Game worthy of filling a hockey arena.
That's the stuff of which a once-great rivalry is truly reborn.
As it is, barring an epic upset by a team picked in the A-10's preseason coaches' poll to place 16th out of 16, what we'll witness is Pitt cruising to its 30th win in the past 33 meetings. And when it's done, the Duquesne faithful — many of whom only show up for this game — will mutter something about Norm Nixon the whole way out.
This is the tall task facing Ferry, but his resume shows he can handle it. He took over a 5-22 Long Island University-Brooklyn team in 2002, and he built it up into NCAA Tournament appearances the past two seasons.
The Dukes last danced in 1977.
“I was part of something special at LIU, and nobody there thought it could happen, either,” Ferry said. “That's our goal here.”
To get there, he'll need:
1. The backing of Old Main.
To date, Ferry assures me, he's gotten everything he wants — “above and beyond” — from Duquesne's administration. But if history is instructive, that will fade, if not outright fizzle. These people care about hoops like you care about jai alai.
Ferry tried to salvage that Everhart recruiting class, to no avail. That left him with a terribly late start and a way-light class.
Three freshmen — Quevyn Winters, Jeremiah Jones and Derrick Colter — account for 40 percent of the scoring. The team as a whole is undersized, with no starter taller than 6-7, but it's quick (enough), it defends well (at times), and it can get hot shooting (from the outside).
“I think it's great for the future to have all these freshmen, but I don't think it's great right now,” Ferry said with a smile. “Know the best thing about freshmen? They become sophomores.”
Told you he was blunt.