Gorman: Duquesne's Ferry deserves time to build program
The Atlantic 10 Tournament is at PPG Paints Arena this week, which puts Duquesne basketball in the spotlight.
It will focus on Dukes coach Jim Ferry, on the hot seat after five seasons.
It's easy to look at Duquesne's record this season (10-21, 3-15 in the A-10) or Ferry's 60-96 record and conclude it is headed in the wrong direction.
That would be a mistake, one Duquesne president Ken Gormley and athletic director Dave Harper can't afford unless they want to continue the cycle of starting over.
Five years ago, a week after Consol Energy Center hosted the NCAA Tournament, Duquesne fired Ron Everhart despite his 99-89 record in six seasons.
The Dukes were actually a mess. The revolving door of players, including future NBA point guard T.J. McConnell, had them on the brink of NCAA penalties for a low Academic Progress Rate.
Ferry was asked to fix it, and to do it the right way.
“Listen, I came here five years ago and was asked to build a program,” Ferry said. “And that takes a long-term commitment, and I made a long-term commitment to build a program and do it the right way. That's exactly what we've done. We've had to fix a lot of things that people don't even know are involved in a basketball program, in regards to APR and academics and culture. We've done all of that. It takes five years to do it. The next five years is where you'll see the success.”
Ferry points to his time at Long Island, where he endured six losing seasons before winning 52 games with back-to-back NEC titles and NCAA tourney berths in his final two years. Duquesne promised Palumbo Center renovations and time to build a program that can compete in the A-10 and for postseason berths.
“It wasn't going to be a quick fix. If that's what they wanted to do, I wasn't going to be the guy for it,” Ferry said. “We're going to do it with good kids, good people, a good coaching staff and continuity. It's challenging. It's very hard to do, especially in a league like this, but Duquesne has to recognize who they are. They've tried the five-year quick fix over and over and over. It's never worked. It's been 45 years.”
It wouldn't hurt his cause if Duquesne made a run in this A-10 tourney, difficult as that is to imagine after the Dukes lost 13 of their final 14 games. Even one victory would help attendance and generate fanfare.
“I hope everyone comes out, I really do,” Ferry said. “It's a great sports town. It's a great city. For the City Game, people come out for it. I think you're going to see great teams, great players and great coaches. It's an opportunity for us to show out Pittsburgh and what a great sports town we are.”
The 14th-seeded Dukes open against No. 11 St. Louis at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the winner facing No. 6 George Washington on Thursday. The Dukes split with St. Louis and lost to GW by two and seven points, two of Duquesne's 14 single-digit losses this season.
“We all know in the locker room we're not what our record shows, so it's time to show people,” said freshman guard Mike Lewis II, who leads the Dukes in scoring at 13.9 points. “We want to go out and show our fans, ‘Look, we know we struggled all season but we're better than what our record shows.' Now, we have to show everybody.”
Ferry believes Lewis and fellow freshman forward Isiaha Mike are strong candidates to make the A-10 All-Rookie team and are building blocks for the Dukes. Chances are, however, they would leave if Ferry is fired.
“It's very important because he's the guy that recruited us,” Lewis said. “For me, especially, he's the big reason why I came here. If he comes back, we have some recruits coming in and, with some of the older guys graduating from other schools, we can probably make a good run next year.”
That's when the NCAA tourney returns to PPG Paints Arena, and when Ferry's fate could be determined.
To do so any sooner would be a mistake Duquesne can't afford to make.