Shootings link NIT foes Duquesne, Va. Tech Print
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Monday, 16 March 2009 12:49
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 PITTSBURGH (AP) -Ron Everhart can't help but feel a touch of sadness as he takes his basketball team to Virginia Tech for an NIT game, even if this is one of Duquesne basketball's best moments during a quarter-century filled with constant losing.
The Duquesne coach's team made a surprising run to the Atlantic 10 tournament finals and has won more games than any at the school in 28 years. Still, the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg is like a second home to Everhart, a former player for the Hokies, and the shootings there nearly two years ago that killed 32 and wounded many others pained him greatly.
Especially when his own team was only beginning to heal from the on-campus shootings of five players - or nearly one-third of Duquesne's scholarship players - seven months before the Virginia Tech massacre.
eir dark times with the shootings and having to endure adversity,'' Everhart said Monday, before the Dukes left campus for Wednesday night's game. ``For us having to go through it as a program, we've seen it first hand.''
Everhart will see his alma mater for the first time since the April 2007 tragedy there, the single deadliest shooting attack in the United States carried out by a single gunman. Everhart will use the visit to remind his players about living life to the fullest and making the most of every opportunity, if only because no one truly knows what tomorrow will bring.
``I'm still trying to make sure these guys understand you still have to look at things in the big picture and keep a level head about you,'' Everhart said. ``That's the one lesson we've learned about handling tough times or handling prosperity. And this is the first time in two years that we've had to handle some prosperity as well as some adversity.''
Since inheriting a 3-24 team three years ago, Everhart has seen the Dukes (21-12) rise steadily to 10 wins in 2006-07, 17 a season ago and 21 this season - Duquesne's highest win total since its 1980-81 team went 20-10.
defeat, the Dukes were rewarded with their first NIT appearance in 15 years.
There are more than a few ties between Duquesne and Virginia Tech, which were briefly co-members of the Atlantic 10 in the 1990s. Everhart and assistant coach Steve Hall are former Hokies players, with Everhart - once the backup to Tech star Dell Curry - serving as a co-captain during his senior season in 1984-85.
Duquesne won't be favored against the Hokies (18-14), who nearly upset North Carolina in the ACC tournament before losing 79-76, but the Dukes are grateful to be playing at a time when their season typically has long since ended.
The Dukes' 203 losses in the 10 seasons before Everhart took over during the 2006-07 season were the most by any team in any upper-tier NCAA conference, yet they are 38-25 the last two seasons despite fielding one of college basketball's youngest rosters this season with eight scholarship freshmen.
``A season like this validates all the hard work Ron, his staff and the players put into rebuilding the program,'' athletic director Greg Amodio said. ``To come from a situation where just a few years ago we had three wins and then to go through the shootings, and to build to 21 wins under the leadership of Aaron Jackson, it's been a terrific culmination to a great season.''
Jackson, the Dukes' captain and the last player still on the team from the five who were shot, was chosen as the Atlantic 10's most improved player while more than doubling his scoring average to 18.5 points.
Jackson, a 6-foot-4 senior, would love to further extend a season that's already lasted longer than expected for a team that was picked to finish 12th in the 14-team Atlantic 10.
``It's making the healing process (from the shootings) that much easier,'' Jackson said.
Jackson's only regret is that his roommate, former player Sam Ashaolu, won't be on the floor with him. Ashaolu was the most seriously wounded of the five Duquesne players, sustaining gunshot wounds to his head that ended his basketball career.
``He would have been such a good player on this team, a real strong guy who would have punished people on the boards,'' Jackson said. ``We would have loved to have had him as a teammate, to be part of the team that helped Duquesne turn the corner and become a power in the A-10.''
 

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