Duquesne welcomes guard to lineup
In the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, a guard-oriented league of eastern-based mid-major basketball programs, Kojo Mensah turned heads by averaging 16.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game in 2005-06 as a sophomore at Siena.
Despite those impressive statistics, only his average of 2.5 steals ranked him among the nation's leaders.
With the MAAC loaded with offensive-minded guards two years ago, Mensah's numbers were overshadowed. Keydren Clark, a two-time national scoring champion at St. Peter's, was ranked third with a scoring average of 26.3; Andre Collins, from Loyola (Md.), was fourth at 26.1; and Steve Burtt, from Iona, was seventh at 25.2.
At 18.8, Terrence Todd, from Fairfield, also finished ahead of Mensah in scoring.
Yet, you could sense Mensah's immense potential as a team leader, even as a freshman in 2004, when his season was cut short by a stress fracture in his left leg. He opened his college career with three consecutive double-figure scoring performances at the BCA Classic against Oregon State (10 points), Pepperdine (15) and New Orleans (13).
As a sophomore, Mensah started all 28 games for Siena, scoring in double figures 24 times. He was named to the all-MAAC third team after the Saints posted a 15-13 record but failed to reach the postseason in coach Fran McCaffery's first season.
It would be Mensah's last for Siena, which replaced Rob Lanier with McCaffery at the start of Mensah's sophomore year.
"I wanted to leave after coach Lanier was let go, but I liked what coach McCaffery had to offer so I gave it another chance," Mensah said.
After his sophomore year, however, Mensah made it known again that he wanted to transfer, saying the situation simply wasn't right for him.
Siena refused to grant his release and, in what would become a highly publicized move at the Albany, N.Y., school, Mensah left, anyway, and transferred to Duquesne without a scholarship for one season to reunite with New York childhood buddy Shawn James, who followed coach Ron Everhart from Northeastern to Duquesne.
"I have a lot to prove," Mensah said this week as NCAA Division I teams prepared to open practice tonight. The Dukes were scheduled to begin at Palumbo Center amid a buzz on the Bluff not heard in quite awhile.
With Mensah and James, two of the five players shot following an on-campus dance last year, sitting out the season following their transfers, Duquesne still managed an impressive string of victories against Boston College, Xavier, Temple, Dayton and Saint Louis.
Over the Labor Day weekend, more than a month ago, with Mensah and James in the Duquesne lineup, the team played four exhibition games against Canadian colleges in Toronto and won by an average of 28 points, topping the 100-point mark three times.
Mensah averaged more than 20 points during the span.
"Those games helped me to get accustomed to this team," he said. "Even though I practiced here last year and saw most of the games from the sideline, it's not the same as being in there in game conditions. It really hit me when I first stepped on the floor in Toronto, but as I continued to play, I felt more comfortable and felt like I had a lot more around me than when I was at Siena.
"The Atlantic 10 definitely is a different atmosphere. The teams are so versatile. You have to learn to play against a lot of different styles."
It is likely that Duquesne's opponents will be in a similar role against the Dukes, whose frenetic style last season under Everhart, in his first year at Duquesne, caused fits.
Mensah is expected to run the offense as the team's regular point guard.
"He's a versatile player, and his role will be to adjust to a lot of different situations," Everhart said. "He can play both guard positions, and he's really a lockdown defender in addition to a playmaker. He was the leading rebounder for us in Toronto. He can do a lot of different things."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Mensah continues to work on his outside shooting, which perhaps is his biggest problem area.
|College basketball practice opens today. Here are the starting practice times for some local Division I schools and whether they are open to the public.|
|Duquesne||7 p.m. (closed)||7 p.m. (closed)|
|Penn State||7 p.m. (closed)||9 p.m. (closed)|
|Pitt||7 p.m. (closed)||7 p.m. (closed)|
|Robert Morris||9 p.m. (open)||7 p.m. (open)|
|WVU||9 p.m. (open)||9 p.m. (open)|
"He's a kid that probably understands it real well," Everhart said. "He's not only identified what he has to do, but he's working hard on it, and he's been shooting it better."
Mensah knows there are capable leaders, besides himself, on Duquesne's improving team, but he also welcomes the opportunity to take charge.
"Around campus, he's a good person," Everhart said. "You can see the reaction he gets. The thing I admire about him is he doesn't want to step on the floor and not be respected for what he doesn't do well. He wants to take charge, regardless. He has the confidence to do it. You can see it in everything he does. He works extremely hard, whether it's to try to beat you in a sprint or rebounding drill.
"He leads by example, and I know that's a common saying, but those are the best kind of leaders to have."