2002-03 Men's Basketball Preview
October 3, 2002
Last year, Duquesne head coach Danny Nee entered the season with a roster that featured just three scholarship players over 210 pounds in centers Chris Clark (6-10, 230), Simplice Njoya (6-10, 225) and departed senior forward Wayne Smith (6-7, 220). Throw in the fact that Clark wasn't eligible until mid-December (academics) and Njoya was sidelined by a 19-game NCAA-imposed suspension and the Dukes often found themselves severely undersized.
Nee and his staff have since addressed the lack of bulk by adding a recruiting class that averages a shade over 6-7, 220 pounds. Newcomers Derek Ahern (C, 6-11, 260), Ron Dokes (F/C, 6-9, 240) and Elijah Palmer (G/F, 6-7, 215), along with Gonzaga transfer Jimmy Tricco (G, 6-8, 200) and freshman point guard Bryant McAllister (G, 6-3, 185), are all expected to have an immediate impact on the Duquesne program.
"Our second recruiting class will greatly help our front line," says Nee. "Ron Dokes, Derek Ahern and Elijah Palmer will help us counteract our biggest weakness last year, which was our lack of size. Bryant McAllister will help us in the backcourt, and Jimmy Tricco has a chance to be something special."
When you combine the recruiting class with seven returning lettermen, Nee has reason to be a little more optimistic entering the 2002-03 season.
Leading the returnees is senior guard Kevin Forney (Sr., G, 6-4, Philadelphia, Pa.). Forney, the Dukes' top returning scorer at 11.4 ppg., finished last season with a flurry, averaging 15.3 points over DU's final 10 games, shooting 57 percent from the field (57-of-100) over that span.
"I think Kevin is more comfortable with this coaching staff," says Nee. "He is now more familiar with what we're trying to do. He'll rotate more between the one and two and will have more opportunity to score. He's one of the few players we have who can create his own shot and score off the dribble."
The other key returnee is 6-10 sophomore center Simplice Njoya (So., C, 6-10, Yaounde, Cameroon) who had his freshman season sidetracked by a 19-game NCAA suspension. Njoya, who scored in double digits in five of the nine games he played, showed his potential by earning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors once in the five weeks he was eligible. The Cameroon native, who blocked nine shots in nine games, is DU's top returning rebounder at 5.9 rpg.
"Simplice is the project," says Nee. "He is the key to this whole puzzle because he gives us a legitimate, mobile big man that can score, block shots, rebound and defend. But he's still totally inexperienced. He has to play every game, and get better every game. As he gets better, you'll see our program get better."
Senior returnees Brad Midgley (Sr., F, 6-5, Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Chris Clark (Sr., F/C, 6-10, Toronto, Ontario) bring experience to the Duquesne roster. Midgley, who leads all returnees with 86 career games played, is averaging over 19 minutes per game for his career, while Clark has seen action in 71 games with 24 starts.
"Kevin [Forney], along with Brad and Chris have had a large amount of experience. We're counting on them to play significant roles," says Nee.
Junior Jon Pawlak (Jr., F, 6-9, Natrona Heights, Pa.) showed steady improvement with increased playing time last season. Pawlak, whose minutes per game jumped from 2.1 as a freshman to 19.2 last year, converted over 45 percent of his three-point attempts over the final 13 games of the season. He now gives Nee another viable option in the frontcourt.
"Having Dokes and Ahern and combining that with the improvement of Jon Pawlak gives us the versatility to play four perimeter people and one big man," says Nee. "Or we could play with two or three big men and fewer on the perimeter."
Junior college transfers Dokes (Jr., F/C, 6-9, South Bend, Ind./Lincoln Trail (Ill.) College) and Palmer (Jr., G/F, 6-7, Marshall, Mo./Kennedy-King (Ill.) College) are expected to figure prominently in Nee's plans for 2002-03. Dokes, at 240-pounds, brings a much-needed Atlantic 10-sized body to the frontcourt, while Palmer showed a knack for putting points on the board (16.8 ppg.) at Kennedy-King (Ill.) College. Ahern (Jr., C, 6-11, Andrews AFB, Md./Palm Beach (Fla.) College), who underwent ankle surgery last May, has battled a number of knee and ankle injuries since high school. If healthy, the 6-11, 260-pounder could provide valuable depth at the center spot.
The addition of Tricco (Jr., G, 6-8, Phoenix, Ariz./Gonzaga) and McAllister (Fr., G, 6-3, Pittsburgh, Pa.) will help alleviate the loss of No. 4 all-time scorer Wayne Smith (team-high 16.4 ppg.) and fellow senior Jamal Hunter (9.7 ppg. and team-high 79 assists). Tricco, who played in 50 games in two seasons at Gonzaga, was a standout as a member of Duquesne's scout team last season. He is an outstanding long-range shooter who is expected to play a significant role this season.
"Jimmy brings experience, leadership and scoring ability," says Nee. "You can't put a value on the experience factor. He's won championships and been to post-season play. He knows how hard a team has to practice to improve and he shows that every day with us. He leads by example which makes him a quality role model."
McAllister, who was widely regarded as the top prospect to come out of western Pennsylvania last season, averaged 20.7 points, 5.5 assists and 2.9 steals per game for West Mifflin High School. McAllister should complement returning guards Tyler Bluemling (So., G, 6-2, Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Aly Samabaly (So., G, 6-3, Bamako, Mali).
"We're going to play the point guard position by committee," says Nee. "We have McAllister coming in from high school. We'll have Aly and Tyler who are making the transition to their second year and will be much better playing the one and two. Forney and Tricco can also play the point at times. We'll be very multiple at the one, two and three positions. We'll be able to play small or go with a bigger lineup."
Nee sees his second season in the Atlantic 10 as a challenge. "The
Atlantic 10 is just what I thought it would be," says Nee. "It is a tough,
quality league with good coaches and a lot of good players. The West
Division is extremely tough. Dayton, Xavier and Richmond all have the
potential to be top 25 programs. Our goal is and has always been to
continue to improve."