Dukes Start Practice Friday

Last season, Duquesne was the surprise of the Atlantic 10 Conference in advancing to within six points of the school's first NCAA Tournament bid since 1977.

The Dukes, who entered the season as the youngest team in the nation with eight scholarship freshmen, posted 21 wins - the school's most since 1971 - in advancing to the A-10 Championship final before losing 69-64 to Temple. Duquesne was rewarded with an NIT bid, marking the school's first post-season appearance since 1994.

Eleven players, including eight of the top nine scorers, return from the 2008-09 team.

"Our program has handled adversity pretty well for a couple of years now," said fourth-year head coach Ron Everhart. "Now we've put ourselves in a position where we have to handle some success. Quite honestly, sometimes it is harder to do that. When you have a little success you have to work even harder and our kids are getting a sense of that."

Junior forward Damian Saunders (13.1, 7.6) leads a group of four returning starters. The 6-7 Connecticut native led DU in rebounding and blocks (83) and set a DU single-season record with 71 steals in `09. He enters 2009-10 with the unique career stat line of having more assists (125), steals (116) and blocks (122) than turnovers (100).

Junior swingman Bill Clark (12.9, 5.0) showed marked improvement in leading the team with 66 3-pointers made in '09. Clark was at his best in conference play, where he averaged 15.4 ppg. and shot a team-best .542.

Jason Duty, DU's lone senior and third returning starter, finished fourth in the A-10 in 3-point shooting percentage (.414). Duty, who leads all returnees with 79 games played, was rewarded this off-season with a scholarship after playing his first three seasons as a walk-on.

Saunders and Clark, who signed with a Duquesne program that hadn't had a winning season in 13 years, have known nothing other than success in two seasons at Duquesne, having helped the Dukes to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1979-80 and 1980-81.

Everhart is counting on the Saunders and Clark duo, along with the experience and leadership of Duty, to help ease the loss of first team All-Atlantic 10 guard Aaron Jackson (19.3 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 5.7 apg.).

"I expect Billy and Damian, who have been very productive for two years, to assume an even larger role," said Everhart. "Those two - along with Jason - are our elder statesmen. Their work habits have allowed our younger guys see why we are where we are right now. They have invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears and now is the time for them to step into the spotlight."

Sophomores Melquan Bolding (9.9, 4.4), a member of the A-10 All-Rookie Team, and Eric Evans (9.8, 2.2a), a four-time A-10 Rookie of the Week in '09, played major roles while learning from veterans Jackson, Saunders, Clark and Duty last season. Bolding, who started 29 times, showed steady improvement as the 2009 season progressed, averaging 14.8 ppg. in five post-season games. Evans who, like Bolding, got better as the season went on, tied his scoring high with 19 points in the season-ending 116-108 double overtime loss at Virginia Tech in the NIT. Evans, who came off the bench for all 34 games last season, is expected to fill Jackson's shoes at the point.

"I demand a lot from a point guard and Eric is learning that," said Everhart. "I look for him to have a solid sophomore year. Once Mel got into the flow of things, he really began to show his talent," added Everhart of Bolding who missed preseason drills last September while going through the NCAA clearinghouse.

The versatile B.J. Monteiro (3.3, 1.3 in 30 games) is expected to provide depth at both guard and forward.

"Finding someone who will give us minutes as a back-up at the point is our biggest question mark entering the season," said Everhart. "B.J. Monteiro has done a great job of handling and passing the ball in preseason workouts. [Incoming freshman] Sean Johnson and Jason Duty can move over and Billy Clark is also a guy who can get us into the offense from time-to-time. Right now, we have quite a few guys who are capable of getting the job done in a back-up role. I'm confident, since we play with two ballhandling guards most of the time, that our guards will develop as we practice and move along."

In the frontcourt, the arrival of 7-0, 270-pound Kentucky transfer Morakinyo Williams along with a healthy 6-8 Rodrigo Peggau should turn a liability into a strength. Peggau played in four games prior to opting for season-ending knee surgery last December. He was cleared to begin full workouts in September. Williams and Peggau will be joined by returnees 6-9, 255-pound sophomore Oliver Lewinson and 6-7 junior David Theis.

"We'll have a lot more depth in the frontcourt with the addition of Mike Williams and Rodrigo Peggau," said Everhart. "Mike is a quality big man who can impact a game with his size. Rodrigo is a high-energy guy who can play multiple positions. He'll impact us in a positive way with his energy and toughness. Oliver Lewinson gained a lot of valuable experience and really did a good job defending the post last season and Dave Theis committed himself to working hard over the summer and is playing really well.

"Having a team that doesn't have to play "small ball" all of the time gives us an added dimension," continued Everhart. "Being able to get Damian away from having to play center for 30-35 minutes per game will make us a better basketball team in the long run."

Incoming freshmen Andre Marhold (6-6, F) and Sean Johnson (6-2, G) will bolster the front and backcourt respectively.

"Andre is an extremely hard worker who will have to make the adjustment to the speed of the college game," said Everhart. "He is a very talented kid who is that athletic rebounder we've been missing the last three years.

"Sean is a warrior. He comes from a great high school program in a great league and has had excellent coaching. He's a great fit for our system. I expect him to compete immediately in the backcourt. He's a high-energy guy who is tough and gritty."

It is with that group that Everhart hopes to continue Duquesne's rise in the Atlantic 10.

"Our returnees have an understanding of what it takes to compete at a high level and have a chance to win," said Everhart. "If that leads to a team that competes hard and keeps its composure, we have a chance to be a pretty good ballclub."


DUQUESNE OFFSEASON QUICK NOTES

• Senior guard Jason Duty was awarded a scholarship for the 2009-10 season in May. Duty, who joined the team as a walk on in November of 2006, was one of four players to start all 34 games last year. The Cranberry Township, Pa. native finished fourth in the Atlantic 10 in 3-point shooting at 41.4 percent (55-of-133) and hit at least one 3-pointer in 28 games while averaging 7.4 ppg. in 2008-09. He shot a team-best 82.9 percent from the foul line and handed out 45 assists in 24.8 minutes per game. Duty, Duquesne's lone senior has played in 79 games with 49 starts in his three seasons at DU. Off the court Duty, an accounting major with a 3.75 GPA, earned spots on both the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District 2 Basketball Team as well as the Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball All-Academic Team.

• Sophomores guard Eric Evans and swingman Melquan Bolding were both named to the 2009 Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro Am Summer League all-league team. Evans averaged 16 points and a little under three assists and three rebounds per game, while Bolding averaged 17 points and five rebounds per game. The league featured players from area Division I schools including Pitt and Robert Morris among others.

• Six-eight forward Rodrigo Peggau, who underwent successful right knee surgery last December, was cleared to participate in individual workouts in early September. Peggau, who played in four games last year prior to opting for season-ending surgery, will be classified as a redshirt freshman in 2009-10. His last full season of basketball was in 2006-07 at The Calverton School (Md.). He missed the 2007-08 season at The Patterson School (N.C.) due to a torn meniscus in his right knee.

• The 2009-10 season marks the debut of 7-0, 270-pound Kentucky transfer Morakinyo Williams. Williams, who was signed by Tubby Smith, played in five games in 2007-08 for Billy Gillispie at UK before transferring to Duquesne in June of `08. Williams, who was a Top 100 recruit out of Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Virginia, sat out the 2008-09 season and has three years of eligibility remaining. The Solihull, England native played for the Great Britain U20 team which competed in the European Division B Championships in Targu Mures, Romania last summer. He practiced with the Duquesne team in 2008-09.

• A total of six players from the 2007-08 Duquesne team - the one that ended a streak of 13 consecutive losing DU seasons with a 17-13 record - are currently playing professionally overseas. They are: Kieron Achara (Angelico Biella - Italy), Aaron Jackson (Antalya - Turkey), Reggie Jackson (Newcastle Eagles - Great Britain), Shawn James (Bnei-Hasharon - Israel), Kojo Mensah (Anastasia - Uruguay) and Gary Tucker (Science City Jena - Germany). All but Aaron Jackson, Mensah and Tucker, who signed this summer, competed overseas this past season.

• Duquesne, which opens the season at home on Nov. 13 vs. Nicholls State, will face an Atlantic 10-tying high five NCAA tournament teams in non-conference play in Binghamton, Pitt, Radford, Robert Morris and West Virginia. La Salle is the only other conference school that will face as many 2008-09 NCAA tournament teams in non-league play. In all, the Dukes will face 11 teams (12 games) against teams that made post-season appearances last year (eight NCAA, one NIT, one CBI and one CIT).

• Rising sophomores Aleksandar Milovic (0.6 ppg. in eight games) and Shawntez Patterson (0.0 ppg. in four games) transferred out of the Duquesne program in the spring. Milovic is now at the University of Hawaii and Patterson is at Pensacola Junior College. Junior walk on Jimmy Sherwood, who left the team last December is currently enrolled at Arkansas Tech where he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining. Fellow walk on Lucas Newton, who also left the team last December, is back on the roster for 2009-10. He will be classified as a junior.