UMass-Lowell coach, Dalton native Duquette seeing progress
Selection Sunday is when a number of Division I college basketball teams find out where, or if, they'll be going in the NCAA basketball tournament.
If Pat Duquette and his University of Massachusetts Lowell basketball team are watching the selection show, it won't be with long faces. That's because in his first year as a D-I head coach, Duquette led his team to a finish that nobody counted on.
The River Hawks, picked to finish ninth in a nine-team America East Conference, ended up 8-8 and in fifth place.
"No, I didn't expect that at all," said Duquette, a Dalton native who graduated from Wahconah and Williams College. "I was real happy, not just that we were 8-8 in America East, but we finished the season on a good note and it seems our guys got better as the season went on."
UMass Lowell was 10-18 overall. A winning record would not have put Duquette's team into the postseason because UMass Lowell is required to wait four years before being tournament eligible as it moved from Division II to Division I.
The River Hawks were 4-4 at home and swept season series from Maine, Maryland-Baltimore County and Binghamton. They split series with America East tournament champion Albany and New Hampshire.
"Not knowing a whole lot about their program and not seeing them play last year, my expectations were they were going to struggle and struggle mightily," UAlbany coach Will Brown said.
To say that UMass Lowell struggled out of the gate would be an understatement. Duquette's team went 0-11 against Division I non-league opponents and didn't notch its first D-I win until the River Hawks beat UMBC on Jan. 5. Duquette's team won nine games in the final six weeks of the season.
"If you would have told me they were going to go 8-8 before the season started, I would have said no way," said Albany's Brown. "After watching what Pat did with that group, it's obvious Pat can coach. It's obvious those kids are tough kids who play hard and know how to play."
Duquette spent 13 seasons on Al Skinner's staff at Boston College and three more at Northeastern with Bill Coen. His coaching family tree includes two former Williams coaches -- Harry Sheehy, who Duquette played for in Williamstown and Dave Paulsen, who hired Duquette at St. Lawrence.
Much like his mentors, Duquette deflects some of the praise for the success of the season to his players. Twelve months earlier, most of the UMass Lowell players were finishing up a 15-13 season in the Northeast-10 Conference, a Division II league. Duquette said the players quickly adjusted to a new coaching staff and a new style of play.
"Not only were they coachable from day one, they continued to believe through all the adversity," Duquette said. "A lot of times [adversity] forces guys to give up or to not believe in a certain way of doing things. Despite all the losses, they continued to believe and get better."
Senior guard Akeem Williams, who was named a second-team All-America East pick, led the conference in scoring with a 15.8 average. He led the NE-10 the two preceding years. He was also in the top 5 for assists and fifth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
"The way the season ended, we felt we could play in that tournament and make some noise," said Williams. "I was watching the tournament games the other day and I told [teammate] Antonio Bivins we just wish we had a chance to play and show our stuff."
Bivins, another of the seniors who made the conversion from Division II, was named the conference's sixth player of the year. They are two of four seniors who helped build a first-year foundation for Duquette's program.
Duquette's lone freshman recruit for this season, Jahad Thomas, will still have four years of eligibility. The all-state guard from Williamsport, Pa., suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season.
Duquette also has five players signed for the coming year, and has room for one or two late signees. That could have the River Hawks poised to take a step back next season.
"In some ways, absolutely. It's hard to look at our roster and think it won't be tougher next year without four important seniors that we're losing and at least seven new freshmen," said Duquette. "It's part of the building process and it's something we knew from Day One.
"We knew we were going to be really, really young. It's also exciting to get a chance to work and develop all those young guys."
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