Harris: Coach Ferry, you're on the clock
Memo to long-suffering Duquesne basketball fans:
The Dukes' 36-year NCAA Tournament drought is not going to end this season. Not next year, either.
Check back in 2014-15. That's when first-year coach Jim Ferry predicts his program will finally return to relevance.
You've waited 36 years, so what will two more years hurt?
Since Duquesne's last NCAA appearance in 1977, here's a roll call of Dukes coaches: John Cinicola, Mike Rice Sr., Jim Satalin, John Carroll, Scott Edgar, Darelle Porter, Danny Nee, Ron Everhart and Ferry.
There have been too many unfulfilled promises. Too many flawed attempts at building and rebuilding. Too many money-conscious shortcuts.
Ferry inherited a similar situation at LIU Brooklyn, where he took over a 5-22 team in 2002-03 and guided it to 52 wins, a 34-2 record in the Northeast Conference and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2011 and '12.
“We got here relatively late. There wasn't much left with the graduation and transfers of a couple guys,” said Ferry, who was hired in April. “We had to quickly recruit to make sure we had a quality team to put on the floor this year.”
The loss of former Chartiers Valley standout T.J. McConnell, who transferred to Arizona, the departures of top recruits Donovan Jack and Willie Moore following Everhart's dismissal, and the graduation of 1,000-point scorers Eric Evans and B.J. Monteiro gutted the roster.
The results have been predictable: Duquesne is 8-17 — 1-10 in the Atlantic 10 — and lost its first nine league games.
The Dukes' first league win under Ferry, 84-83, at Temple, halted an 11-game losing streak and was their first victory over the Owls in Philadelphia since 1995.
Freshman point guard Derrick Colter hit the winning free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining. Colter, from Forestville, Md., was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week for the third time. He's on his way to becoming the first underclassman to lead the Dukes in scoring and assists.
But Colter doesn't have the local appeal of McConnell, who plays the same position. And Colter's team isn't winning. According to Ferry, that won't occur with regularity until Colter's junior year.
“I think the process when you take over a program that was in the situation this program was in, it takes at least two or three recruiting classes,” Ferry said Monday. “The guys we got this year, we got them late. We put together a recruiting class this year (featuring 6-foot-8 Isaiah Watkins). The following one, I think, is really where you really start to see in year three or year four where we're going to be as a program. You have to have patience.”
Patience is in short supply at Duquesne. There have been six winning seasons at Duquesne since 1981-82 — four under Everhart, who was fired. What if Ferry's grand experiment doesn't work? What will the next coach tell Dukes fans?
“I like what Jim Ferry is doing. He's a top-flight guy,” said John Giammarco, who operates the Green Tree Summer Basketball League. “But the same problems that existed at Duquesne in 1980 are the same problems that exist today. That program wasn't broken in a year, and I don't know if you can fix it in a year.”
I asked Porter, the former Pitt star who posted a 23-64 record at Duquesne from 1998-2001, what holds Duquesne back from being a major player in local college basketball. Porter suggested Duquesne's academic standards, which he said are higher than other Atlantic 10 schools, and the school's tuition, which is higher than some of its league counterparts. He also mentioned his roster at Duquesne being loaded with Western Pennsylvania talent; there's one local player on this year's team.
“When something takes that long, maybe it's a little bit more than just basketball,” Porter said.
“Fifteen years ago, getting a fax machine was harder. The athletic department had a fax machine. They're like, ‘What do you need one for? Just go right upstairs and do that.' But when kids send something, you want them to send it directly to you. We had to get one. They didn't pay for my cell phone when I was there. I paid for it out of my camp money.
“Lot of small things that make it into a big thing,” Porter said. “Instead of having a 7-foot player, you might get a 6-8 player. Instead of having a 6-3 guard, you might get a 6-1 guard. Perception, it takes awhile to change it.”
Duquesne pays for Ferry's cell phone. But some things still haven't changed.
“The commitment is there from the administration to try to do things right and compete for championships,” Ferry said. “You can't try to quick-fix it. We're taking our lumps right now, but it's a process we have to take.”
It's a process covering more than three decades. Losing is a bad habit at Duquesne. Ferry was hired to break that habit. He did it with another program, so there's no reason to believe he won't do it again. If Ferry can't turn the program around — given his recent track record — perhaps no one can.