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Harris: Dukes' overhaul must start from within

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 12:08 a.m.
Duquesne coach Jim Ferry watches from the bench against Carnegie Mellon earlier this season. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Duquesne coach Jim Ferry watches from the bench against Carnegie Mellon earlier this season. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

Last week, when we discussed why men's basketball coach Jim Ferry was an excellent hire by Duquesne, we stopped short of asking the bigger question: Was hiring Ferry going far enough?

In Ferry's words, there's much work to be done — this year's team (8-19, 1-12 in the Atlantic 10) notwithstanding.

Based on readers' emails to the column I wrote last week about what's wrong with Duquesne basketball, the Dukes might want to consider following the blueprint established by Gonzaga, a like-sized Catholic university which has made 14 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. Another reader suggested Duquesne should consider joining a work-in-progress basketball conference featuring seven Catholic universities from the Big East.

My response: Be careful what you wish for; you probably won't get it.

Jim writes: Loved your article and could not agree more. As a Duquesne alumni, I am embarrassed about the program and change needs to happen. I have a simple solution to recruiting, one that Gonzaga has somewhat emulated. Rather than recruiting marginal D-1 high school players from the mid-Atlantic region, they should start recruiting players from Europe and South America. A Catholic school in an urban setting should be very attractive to young men hoping for a shot at the NBA. And, Duquesne should partner with local employers with international operations to find these kids summer work, as well as potential full-time work upon graduation. Alcoa and U.S. Steel have operations in central Europe, and Heinz and many others have facilities in Europe, Mexico and South America.

Duquesne has approximately 6,000 undergraduate students — about 1,000 more than Gonzaga, which is located in Spokane, Wash.

Gonzaga has won 11 conference titles, advanced to the Sweet 16 four times under coach Mark Few and is currently ranked No. 2 in the country. Duquesne hasn't played in the NCAA Tournament since — drum roll, please — 1977.

Gonzaga makes generous use of international players. One-third of this year's roster features players from Germany, Canada (two), Poland and the Ivory Coast and includes three starters.

Duquesne features four international players this season — one each from England, Canada, Senegal and the Netherlands — but only one of whom starts.

“We've had players like Ronny Turiaf (a second-round NBA draft pick now with the Clippers, who won a championship with Miami last year) that came through the international process and have had tremendous impact,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth told me. “It allows other foreign student-athletes to say, ‘It worked for him and I see it working for me.' ”

Roth admits there are similarities between Duquesne and Gonzaga. But he isn't optimistic about the Dukes emulating his program.

“It becomes very difficult to compare and say you can take what Gonzaga did and transplant that right into what Duquesne can do or is going to do,” Roth said. “In Spokane, we are the team. In Pittsburgh, you've got the University of Pittsburgh, Penguins, Steelers and Pirates.”

Ronald B. writes: Thank you for your recent article on Duquesne. In it, Coach Ferry mentioned that the Duquesne administration has made a commitment to “do things right and compete for championships.” Perhaps, as a result of your research for the article, you can explain why there has been no mention about Duquesne being interested in joining the new league started by the “Catholic 7” who are leaving the Big East?

P.S. I am a season ticket holder to both Pitt and Duquesne.

Forget Ferry building a program that can legitimately contend for the NCAA Tournament every year. I'll settle for once every five years.

As for Duquesne being considered for the proposed Catholic school league featuring Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence and DePaul, I interviewed former Atlantic 10 commissioner and Big East associate commissioner Linda Bruno, now commissioner of the Division III Skyline Conference.

Asked about Duquesne as a potential member, Bruno said, “One of the things the seven schools bring right now are facilities, whether they're on-campus or public facilities. They're in a very good situation where they could be a league of seven and have very good basketball.”

Five of the seven schools feature arena seating capacities above 10,000; St. John's and Villanova play in campus arenas seating under 10,000 but also play home games in Madison Square Garden and Wells Fargo Arena, respectively. The seating capacity at Duquesne's A.J. Palumbo Center is under 10,000. However, the Dukes play select home games at Consol Energy Center.

Pressed about the Pittsburgh market translating to the proposed Catholic league, Bruno said, “It's a market that people appreciate. When you have a school in a certain city, it does help you establish a presence in that particular area physically.”

Even if Palumbo Center had more than 10,000 seats, would Duquesne be attractive to the new league? Let's see the Dukes get their house in order first.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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