Expectations post Isaiah Watkins

By Steve DiMiceli

Thursday night, Duquesne got a commitment from Isaiah Watkins that a number of Dukes fans saw as a possibility but one that seemed to baffle the rest of the A-10. Watkins had a huge BCS laden offer sheet that included Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, Baylor, and Cincinnati, but he pledged to middling Duquesne anyway. Why would a player like Watkins pick the Dukes and should Duquesne fans expect a lot more players like him moving forward?

Isaiah Watkins came from a unique situation and perspective which allowed Jim Ferry and company to close the deal. First, he is from Canada, but don't think that Canadian basketball fans and players are somehow oblivious to the NCAA. They've seen the movie Hosiers and Baylor's tennis ball colored uniforms in the Elite 8 last season. Canadians know the good programs from the bad ones, and his upbringing in the great white north had nothing to do with his lack of interest in prestige.  Watkins' Canadian roots play into Duquesne's favor in a couple of other ways. Pittsburgh isn't far from Southern Ontario. By car, Duquesne's campus is less than five hours to Hamilton and six hours to Toronto. The Dukes already have a Canadian on their roster in Marvin Binney who had the same AAU team as Watkins whom he played with somewhere along the line. Clearly, there are personal connections at the foundation of Watkins' commitment and he told the Post Gazette's Jenn Menedez "You definitely want to go where your heart is most comfortable and that was Duquesne for me.” 

If you look at Watkins final thirteen college choices, program prestige was not high on his list which included three Ivies, a MAAC school and four other A-10 programs chosen over Indiana and Mizzou. Academics were also said to be genuinely on Isaiah's mind and Duquesne performed better than a number of other schools he considered in recent college rankings. Philosophically, Ferry's system matches Watkins skill set and Isaiah recognized it. Based on LIU's recent form, the key to success for the uptempo, position flexible system the Dukes will employ under Ferry is versatile, skilled big men. Watkins is just that based on all reports. He will be a key to success moving forward and it would seem he embraces that role. He wants to be a part of building the program based on comments he made following his commitment on twitter:

Isaiah Watkins on Duquesne: "Best fit for my game, I want to raise the program & the school with hard work dedication to the game..."

When you dissect this commitment, a lot needed to line up in Duquesne's favor to land a player of Isaiah Watkins' character and caliber. Players like him do not grow on trees. Duquesne had a decided geographic, philosophical, academic and personal advantage that Ferry and his coaching staff will have a difficult time replicating for other prospective student athletes. In this case, Duquesne strengths seemed to align perfectly with Watkins expectations for a school and prestige seemed to be a non factor. This feels very rare in the college basketball landscape where brand means everything.

So how often should Duquesne fans expect a player like Watkins to pick the Dukes over stiffer competition  I would say more frequently than in the past but not all that often. In a post of mine for January, I look at how recruiting has changed since Ron Everhart arrived on campus and the caliber of player that Ron is bringing in based on the types of schools he is competing against to land them. Last year, Duquesne managed to convince the highly regarded and heavily recruited Donovan Jack to sign a letter of intent. I suspect that Ferry will predominately target players in the moderately recruited or better category moving forward. While I don't think every player will be the heavily recruited, BCS offer sheet type, I think it would be reasonable to expect one with some big offers to choose Duquesne every year as the Dukes have landed one in each of the last two classes. However, they won't be the norm for now. If Watkins is your new standard for Duquesne recruits, you ought to temper your expectations.

When I'm old and grayer and I write a book reflecting on the resurgence of Duquesne to national prominence, the first chapter will chronicle just how bad it had gotten. Chapter 2 will be entitled "A Doormat No Longer" and track the program from the hiring of Charles Daugherty through the Ron Everhart years up until the end of this past season. I'm hoping to title Chapter 3 "The Change They Were Looking For" which focuses on the demise of Ron Everhart and ideally Ferry returning the Dukes to near the top of the A-10 within 5 years. I have no idea what Chapter 4 will be about but in my dream world, it involves Duquesne coaches and players cutting down nets. Players like a Isaiah Watkins would have been a coup in Chapter 1, a product of timing in Chapter 2 and the exception rather than the norm in Chapter 3. We should not begin to anticipate multiple players like Watkins per class until Duquesne is well on to writing Chapter 4. We're still at the beginning of Chapter 3, and Ferry will need to add more players like Watkins here and there. However, the transition from mediocrity to successful will be a balancing act between high profile recruits such as this one and out scouting the competition for underrated players who can contribute at a high level in the A-10. In my opinion,  achieving that balance is the change they are looking for. After they reach that stasis, the sky is the limit in today's NCAA.