Duquesne and the Loser Mentality

By Steve DiMiceli

They say old habits die hard and I think this is true. Thought can become habituated as well and old mental processes die just as hard. I don't need to tell anyone reading this how woeful Duquesne basketball had been in the 80's, 90' and the first half of the 2000's. I don't need to tell anyone that many Duquesne alums born in the year of our last NCAA tournament appearance are now pondering how they are going to save enough money to send their own children to their alma mater. Simply put, we lost for a long, long time and it skewed how we think about college basketball, what it takes to be successful, and what it means to be successful. Now after five years of winning we're still falling back on old patterns of behaviors, expectations and assumptions. 

 We have several loser habits as Duquesne fans that I've noticed coming to the fore over the last couple of weeks. First, we perpetually expect the next group coming in to immediately make next season better. Next, we assume the athletic department simply does not have the will or the resources to compete in the Atlantic 10. Finally, we accept that just winning more games than we lose is a tremendous accomplishment.

Loser Mentality and the Diaper Dandy

I remember when I first started following Duquesne during my junior and senior years, I remember the excitement of the recruiting and the expectations of what the next class would bring to the table. Under Danny Nee and Darelle Porter, the players on the team didn't get much better from year to year. So we check onthebluff.com database weekly to see about new interest. I'd check Voy several times a day to see if anything new occurred. Commitments would draw 50 responses and declarations of triumph even if the guy was an unheard of JUCO. We'd Ask Jeeves whether this guy or that would make it, but what did he know. No wonder that brand died! Every year, we'd fall in love without having seen these guys play, and reading two positive articles about them. For the dearth of information we still get about recruits, it was even worse just ten years ago. At the time we didn't need information, we needed hope. 

I still see it now. Every year we expect almost every recruit to step in an immediately turn the program around. I can excuse it with Damian Saunders, Stuard Baldonado, and Melquan Bolding. We were happy if a recruiting service even evaluated our prospects and gave them a single star let alone 4. However, we're still doing it. Two years ago it was TJ and Derrick Martin, this year it was Martins Abele, and PJ Torres. Next year, it will be Donovan Jack. The good news is that we've progressed to the point where don't expect every player to come in and save the program overnight. However, we still cling to the flawed logic that the incoming freshman will be the catalyst for progress and we emphasize recruitment over development. I think this has allowed a great number of fans to accept or even be excited by the player turnover we've seen under Ron. While it's imperative that we recruit well for sustainability, we need to remember that in mid and high major conferences, juniors and seniors not freshman and sophomores lead their teams on deep runs. While a freshman who can give you a spark is always an added bonus winning programs and fans understand the first year is all about development and not about carrying the team. As our loser mentality dies away, we'll come to realize this too. 

Loser Mentality and the Administrative Mistrust

I don't hear the name Brian Colleary mentioned too much around Duquesne unless the word "asshole" comes somewhere in the sentence. No doubt the admin istration was to blame for our athletic failings and BC gets the lions share of the blame. During the final years of the previous regime, the athletic department couldn't even get inter fraternity hockey schedules right.

When Charles Dougherty was named president, the culture began to change immediately and the department was modernized. He took the athletic directer under his supervision rather than having them report to Father Hogan. He wasted little time in firing the bureaucratic Colleary and replacing him with the forward thinking Greg Amodio. He has invested capital resources to make improvements to facilities. All because he understands the a vibrant sports culture helps promote the universities brand, attracts more student applications, and builds the endowment with enhanced alumni engagement and support. This has not waivered since the day he took over and I believe he will continue to be a strong promoter of athletics. Speaking to men's basketball specifically, the budget has increased 81% since he was hired. 

Loser Mentality and the A-10 Inferiority Complex

In 2003, we had good reason to feel inferior to just about every other A-10 school. Most kicked the crap out of us game in and game out. They kicked the crap out us on the floor and in the level they invested into their programs. Times have changed and changed fast. Since Ron Everhart's taken over we've at least split in a number of head to head series against Atlantic 10 opponents. Competitively, we're making out mark as evidenced by a top 4 finish last year and top 9 each of the past 5. At the very worst, we're holding our own. However, there is lingering concern among some fans that our current form is unsustainable and future progress impossible because we lack the financial resources to keep up with the more popular teams like Xavier, Dayton and St Louis. Many assume a massive investment gap between the Dukes and upper echelon programs. Simply put, this is not true. 

Whatever gap there was between Duquesne and the rest of the conference has closed even if their revenues are lagging behind. It's far closer than many might believe. Soon to be departed Temple outspent Duquesne by 1.3 million dollars in 2003 on men's basketball. By 2010, the Dukes were within $175,000 of the Owls with the top budgets in the conference only 40% higher than what Duquesne invested. Having spent 2.9 million, the Dukes ranked 100 in overall men's spending in 2010 ahead of schools like Old Dominion, Umass, UAB and Marshall and just behind St Louis. We are willing to pay our coaches. Everhart was paid more than recently fired URI boss Jim Baron.

Loser Mentality and Not Quite Loser a Expectations

This one I simply don't get. Some fans are satisfied with just winning. Having a .500 or better record year in and year out is enough for them. I can understand people being jaded by the losing but to simply accept mediocrity and not aspire to anything more is disappointing and in my opinion unsustainable. 
While I have no empirical evidence to prove it, they say if you're not moving forward, you're moving backwards. I think this applies to college basketball very well. If you stagnate, you're going to fall behind because there is always going to be someone beneath you pushing forward. It's the nature of competion. I think if we're content just to win as a program, eventually we're going to start turning off better athletes with higher expectations. No high school kid and his ego is going to say I'd be happy to just win more than I lose. They want to dance. They want Gus Johnson calling their name to cap off the afternoon session on CBS. And they're going to pick a school that gives them a better chance of getting it done over one that just wins.

Duquesne is heading the right direction and it will continue to get better whether we're ready for it or not. Hopefully someday, we'll grow spoiled by winning and want our freshman confined to the practice gym after making a single mistake. We'll complain that the lower level teams in the conference aren't spending enough and missing the NIT was tradgedy even if we did play to .500. I'm kidding of course and really this winning perspective is every bit as flawed as the losing one. However, if we want to accept success, we need to accept successful processes and trust that our admins know what they are doing even if we take a little while to come around.