If you asked Pat Duquette how his summer went, the new UMass Lowell men's basketball coach laughed.
"What summer?" said Duquette. "I didn't get out to the Berkshires this summer, which was the downside of getting this new job."
The "new job" is building a Division I program from scratch. The River Hawks had been in the Division II Northeast-10 Conference.
Duquette and his River Hawks open their first year as a Division I basketball team on Friday when they play at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
UMass Lowell moved up this year, joining America East when Boston University switched to the Patriot League. For Duquette, it's his first head coaching job after spending 16 seasons as a D-I assistant at Boston College and most recently Northeastern.
"The first few months of building a program, hiring a staff and putting my mark on it, has been a lot of fun," said Duquette, quickly adding that the summer went by in a blur.
The River Hawks will play road games at Michigan, Boston U. and Dartmouth before opening at home on Nov. 19 against Brown. Duquette's team will play only two of its first 10 games at home, and will face only three non-conference D-I opponents at home -- Brown, Duquesne on Dec. 21 and New Jersey Institute of Technology on Feb. 3.0
"It's always a transition period," said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen, Duquette's boss for the last three years and a colleague at BC. "He's worked very hard and it's great to see his hard work rewarded.
"It's hard to get a head coaching position. He's certainly deserving."
The River Hawks finished 15-13 and 10-12 in the NE-10.
"I know we're making great strides, because I see our players starting to become the type of student-athletes we want in our program," Duquette said. "I know we're making progress.
"We have five commitments in the 2014 recruiting class, which is a huge amount."
The five players are expected to sign later this month.
As to the current team, the other coaches in America East voted Lowell to finish ninth out of nine teams, not particularly surprising due to where the River Hawks came from.
Add to that the loss of senior Antonio Bivins and freshman Jahad Thomas, and it could be a longer season than Duquette and his staff anticipated.
Bivins was the No. 2 scorer for UMass Lowell last year, averaging 15.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Thomas was an All-State player out of Williamsport, Pa., and he tore up his knee during the first week of classes. The staff was hoping Thomas would see significant minutes right off the bat.
Akeem Williams will have to take up the slack scoring. The 5-foot-10 senior from Brockton and the Winchendon School averaged 19 points per game last year.
"His fingerprints will be all over it, but the biggest thing is keeping the confidence up," said Coen. "My first year [at Northeastern], I opened up at Syracuse and he's going to open at Michigan. Those are challenging games, but the kids get excited to play in those games.
"[The challenge is] to keep everybody getting better, even though the scoreboard might not represent that."
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