Player Turnover Catching Up to Dukes

By Steve DiMiceli

Player turnover has played a huge role in recent history for the Duquesne Dukes. Star players like Robert Mitchell, Melquan Bolding and TJ McConnell have all left the program early along with strong secondary players like Mike Talley and Joel Wright. A number of others left because they were recruited over, went pro, failed to recover from injury or illness, or they just simply weren't good enough. Last spring, I profiled the Dukes turnover rate relative to other schools and noted that we had nearly twice as many players leaving early as the rest of the sample I explored. Certainly, Duquesne's success has been limited by turnover, but up until this season, it really hasn't hurt us badly. Why is it so much worse this year than in years past?

I think the answer is pretty simple. It's not about who is leaving. It's about who is returning. Following Ron Everhart's first season, he lost Mitchell, Scott Grote and Stu Baldonado who never suited up for the Duquesne, but he had a full and healthy roster of returning players including transfers Shawn James, and Kojo Mensah, along with Aaron Jackson, Keiron Achara Reggie Jackson, and Gary Tucker. That was a deep team and the loss of those three, particularly the loss of Grote, had little impact. The 07-08 Dukes were able to step forward and become a winning team in spite of the transfers because there was an in flux of talent waiting in the wings after sitting out a year and enough depth to cover the loss of a star like Mitchell. When James and Mensah left early, the Dukes had sophomores Bill Clark, Damian Saunders and a revitalized Aaron Jackson to step up. Jump forward two seasons, Bolding left with a host of mediocre players, but again the Dukes had cover with then seniors Clark and Saunders as well as BJ Montiero and Sean Johnson. Following that season, Joel Wright departed for reasons out of Everhart's control but again there were returning players like Montiero, Johnson, Eric Evans,  and TJ McConnell to fill the void. Every time a player left the program, there were multiple solid A-10 starters and in some cases all league caliber players left in their absence. This season marks the first where the Dukes are left with only one returning player ready to start in this league, Johnson, and handful of role players.

The depth isn't there thanks to a drop of in recruiting success over the last three years. Starting with the class of 2009, Johnson has become a solid contributor and Andre Marhold has been miscast as a center. Marhold would not be a bad back up but he is too small to be effective in his current role. 2010 was almost entirely lost to transfers. Only Jerry Jones, a good bench player, and Derrick Martin remain. Wright may have hurt the most because he could have been a second true post player to take the pressure off Marhold. McConnell and Talley leaving created a gaping hole at PG that Derrick Colter has filled admirably.  The Dukes have gotten very lucky in this regard because you can't always depend on freshmen to contribute immediately. The class of 2011 started with two post players Cheikh Fall and Shakore Grant committing in the fall. Neither qualified and Everhart was left to scramble to put together a class that, in the end, has had little impact. Already, PJ Torres and Danny Herrera are gone. Mamadou Datt is  an athletic but raw center who could develop into a one dimensional post scorer and Kadeem Pantophlet is being converted to forward though he still has a perimeter mentality. Kadeem has defended well but is miscast on the other end of the floor. Neither player has much upside and neither is ready to be a major contributor now. The last three classes have produced one A-10 caliber starter who has stuck by the program and as a result the Dukes find themselves in their worst shape in 6 years.

For years, Everhart was able to weather the storm of transfers because his recruiting in the early days was good enough to offset the losses of key players. As the recruiting degraded, the Dukes became more vulnerable when players left. People tend to make the argument that Ron always found enough in the next recruiting class to keep his team's collective head above water, but in reality, it was the returning players keeping teams afloat. Don't get me wrong, some good freshman did come along and help immediately, but they were not the catalyst to sustain the success. This year, we have as good a crop of newcomers as we've had in years, but there isn't even close to enough talent left over. The lack of effective returning veteran players is why I believe we're in the lowly position we're in.

The good news is that it may not take long to get out, but I'll explore that more at the end of the season. 

Other Notes:

- Duquesne's 27 point loss to the VCU Rams last night was their worst home defeat since 12/9/06 when they lost by 31 to West Virginia.

- Quevyn Winters may have played his best game in better than a month. He scored 14 points by attacking the basket rather than settling for the 3. It was refreshing to see him play aggressively with the ball in his hands. Same goes for Jeremiah Jones.