Even with Basketball Coaches, the Child Can Be Father to the Man
Jan. 27, 2011
Alan Robinson, who spent the past 28 years covering Pittsburgh sports for The Associated Press, will be contributing to GoDuquesne.com for the remainder of the basketball season. Look for his columns here every Monday and Thursday.
By Alan Robinson
The basketball story is a familiar one that writes itself in the households of thousands of athletically gifted 17-year-olds every year. This one was different, especially given the time and the circumstances, the motive and the method.
In 1979, Ron Everhart was an honor student and second-team all-state basketball player at Fairmont (W.Va.) Senior High School, commonly known as West Fairmont. He had an effective jump shot, a more-than-adequate vertical leap, a gift for playing defense and the acquired skills that often come from being the son of a coach. While he also loved baseball, he knew basketball was his future - and maybe it always had been, given the Wilson Jet basketball that was placed in his crib not long after he was born in 1962.
Only there was a problem.
While Everhart himself was talented, he played in a region where large-school high school basketball was traditionally weak, with little competition resembling the kind he faced during the summer camps he attended. Even when schools from his area advanced to the West Virginia high school tournament, they often were thumped by schools from the northern and eastern panhandles and the southern half of the Mountain State. Few Class AAA players from the area earned Division I college scholarships, and fewer still succeeded at such a level.
So Ron Everhart initiated a recruiting program of a different kind. He recruited a high school.
Convinced he could not get the big-school scholarship that had been his passion since the days when he listened to Jack Fleming call West Virginia games, Frank Lee broadcast Fairmont State games and, yes, Ray Goss announce Duquesne games, Everhart decided to transfer to national prep power DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., a Catholic high school that owned a national reputation for success even though high school sports coverage at the time was largely local. There were no online recruiting databases or Hot 1000 prospect lists, and visits to college campuses weren't tracked by multiple recruiting services.
After meeting DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten at a summer basketball camp, Everhart said, "I knew I didn't want to go anywhere else."
What was unusual was that nobody else went with him. Parents Ron and Ida Everhart, caught up in a busy, noisy household with three other basketball-obsessed youngsters, all younger than Ron, simply weren't in a position to leave their jobs in the Marion County, W.Va., school system and move with him. Luckily there were several aunts and an uncle in the area, and he bunked in the spare room of aunt Bernadette's apartment.
"Here's my first born, and he's going off a year earlier than we expected," mother Ida said. "Apprehension and nerves? More than a little. It was almost like when he was off to first grade, off to this great unknown. When it really bothered me was Thanksgiving. We'd always had this tradition where the kids watched the Macy's Christmas parade on TV while mom was cooking the big turkey. Only he wasn't there. I was devastated. That was tough."
For Ron Everhart, perhaps surprisingly, the transition was almost seamless. He bonded almost from the first day with players such as Bob Ferry, the son of the NBA Bullets' general manager, and Adrian Branch. His style fit perfectly with Wootten's team-concept game, one that still allowed for the demonstration of individual skills. He also thrived in the classroom, earning nearly all As.
The longer the season went, the more college interest Everhart began attracting. He heard from Virginia Tech and Georgia, Harvard and Auburn, schools he knew wouldn't have sought him had he stayed at Fairmont West. After finishing a season in which he averaged nearly 17 points and was chosen as the MVP of the season-ending Alhambra National Catholic Invitational tournament in Cumberland, Md., his second recruiting process in a year ended when he chose Virginia Tech.
What must be remembered is this simply wasn't done back then, long before charter schools and high school basketball factories and the regular movement of players from year to year to program to program to coach after coach. In West Virginia, Everhart was a bit of a pioneer, a kid with a plan who was confident enough to follow it no matter where it led.
"I knew I couldn't get any better playing in West Virginia," Everhart said. "If I was going to get a college scholarship, I knew I was going to have to go somewhere I could get better. I knew I needed to improve."
Sometimes, even with basketball coaches, the child can be father to the man.
Fast forward 31 years later, and Everhart - now the coach at Duquesne University - still wants to improve individually, still wants his team to get better - and is willing to take a non-traditional route to get there.
So when his fourth Duquesne team disappointed him by going 16-16 last season, the first time since he arrived in 2006 that the record hadn't improved from the preceding season, he reshaped not only his roster but his coaching staff.
Convinced he needed new players and new faces to play his preferred style, to adhere to a defensive system in which all-out commitment is required and to end an internal tug-of-war over playing time and recruiting priorities, Everhart became his own lead recruiter - even as two assistant coaches left and two more arrived. Six players, only one of whom had earned substantial playing time (Melquan Bolding, who averaged 11.8 points last season despite playing part of the year with a broken hand), were allowed to leave or graduate early. Everhart also chose to spend the maximum time permissible on the recruiting trail after becoming convinced the best possible person to sell his program was the man in charge of it. This isn't a common strategy in major college basketball, where the lead recruiters often are the top assistant coaches, and the head coach fills a closer's role.
"It's just something I thought we needed to do," Everhart said.
The results are evident. The Dukes (14-5, 6-0 in Atlantic 10) are riding a nine-game winning streak that is their longest in exactly 40 years. And they're about to play one of the biggest games of the Everhart Era Sunday against Dayton (15-6, 3-3) at CONSOL Energy Center. The game will take on a big-time atmosphere at beautiful CONSOL, where for a change Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or Ashton Gibbs won't be the primary attraction.
Duquesne is tied with Xavier for the conference lead, but the Dukes still have three important games remaining - against Dayton, George Washington and Saint Bonaventure - before they face the Musketeers at CONSOL on Sunday, Feb. 13. With 14 wins in 19 games, they have their best record at this stage of the season since the 1979-80 NIT team also was 14-5; that team went on to tie for first in the Eastern Eight (the forerunner to the Atlantic 10) with a 7-3 record. The winning streak is the Dukes' longest since their 1970-71 NCAA team won 15 in a row. Duquesne also is 8-0 in January for the first time since that season.
The fans who show up Sunday will see a team that excels in getting after the ball, creating turnovers, forcing an opponent out of its game and wearing down teams that don't like to go up-and-down for 40 minutes. Duquesne leads the nation in assists to turnovers differential, is second in assists per game (No. 2-ranked Pitt is first), is third in steals per game, and is fourth in steals to turnovers. The Dukes had assists on 25 of their 31 field goals during a 91-72 victory at Fordham in snowy New York on Wednesday night, when Bill Clark scored 23 points and Damian Saunders added 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Everhart was somewhat disappointed with his team's defensive effort as an opponent that has lost 32 consecutive A-10 games scored 72 points. There wasn't as much "chaos creating" as he likes, too many undefended shots. So that likely means stepped-up, intense practices before Sunday, with Everhart reinforcing the necessity of adhering to a non-swerving commitment to a defensive style that few teams are equipped to play.
"They're good, and they're going to show us no mercy," Dayton coach Brian Gregory told the Dayton Daily News after his team lost at home to Richmond 70-61 before 12,126 fans on Tuesday night. "If we're not ready for that, it's going to be a long night."
Likewise, the Flyers are equipped to make for a long day for any opponent. They have two of the A-10's best players in 6-8 Chris Wright ( 13.4 points and 9.0 rebounds) and 6-6 Chris Johnson (12.2 points, 5.9 rebounds). Wright is second in the conference in rebounding on a team that leads the league with a 40.2 average. The Flyers are No. 4 defensively, holding teams to 63.8 points per game, but are only 10th in scoring (68.2 points).
The teams played two tight games last season, with Duquesne losing 78-72 in overtime on the road before winning 73-71 at home. Dayton leads the all-time series 43-20.
B.J. Monteiro heads into the game off a 15-point effort against Fordham; he has 48 points in three games since being held to 16 points in the preceding three.
"We know a lot of people will be coming out to see us play, and we know how important that is (to Duquesne)," Monteiro said. "We know everybody at Duquesne wants us to have a good basketball team. We're really doing it for coach Everhart - he works and pushes us so hard. We want to keep it going for him."
Just like a youngster named Ron Everhart, who wasn't expected to succeed on so big a stage, was determined to do for his coach three decades ago. Even if it wasn't the coach - or the team - he once expected.