The collegiate sports scene in Boston has always lived on hockey, with three of the city’s schools participating in what’s regarded as the most competitive college hockey conference in the nation, Hockey East. Recently, the city’s basketball culture has grown more and more close-knit, interweaving rivalries here and there and developing tradition each year. In just over two weeks, Northeastern and Boston University will tip off their respective seasons at the TD Garden. Harvard is fresh off of a stunning second round victory in the NCAA Tournament and Boston College is returning almost their entire core a from year ago.
The New England college basketball coaching circuit has been a close bunch for decades. BU’s head coach, Joe Jones, served as an assistant at BC before taking over the Terriers. BC’s Erik Johnson was an assistant with the Eagles before taking the head job at Denver prior to returning to the Eagles last season. Northeastern’s Bill Coen, who’s held the reigns of the Huskies program since 2006-07, was an assistant with Johnson in Chestnut Hill, before heading to Huntington Avenue.
And now, one of Coen’s disciples, Pat Duquette, has his opportunity to seize control of a Division I basketball program. Duquette was hired over the summer to lead the UMass Lowell Riverhawks during their inaugural season in the America East.
After learning from Coen and the rest of the New England coaching circle, Duquette feels ready for the challenge and is eager to build his own program from the bottom up.
"You’ve got to have your own personality to it," Duquette said of his project. "In terms of the culture, we’ve got to get high character kids who are disciplined and really committed both on the floor and in the classroom. That sounds simple, but for the process that we’re gonna go through and the transition that we’re trying to make and the challenges that lie ahead, those ingredients are really important."
Duquette takes over a basketball program that enters Division I a year removed from yielding 75.6 points per game to Division II opponents.
"Yea, we’ve got to play better defense," he said with a laugh. "I watched a little bit of game tape and they gave up far to many points and they fouled way too much. Not fouling is going to be one of our major points this year," He continued. "But I think the make-up of the team is going to be different. Our competition is radically different, so we’re gonna have to play our own style and a different style that gives us the best chance to win."
But Duquette hasn’t necessarily been dealt the best hand. It’s not an easy task to completely change a program in a matter of months. Installing an original and creative offensive and defensive scheme before the Riverhawks season begins on Nov. 8 will be a tall task. And to make matters worse, Duquette’s head-coaching debut comes against the defending National runner-ups in the Michigan Wolverines.
"For this year, we kind of know what we have. Defensively, we’re going to play man-to-man. We’re not going to extend the floor, we’re just going to try and be really good in the half-court. Offensively, our most productive players are our guard who are very productive and experienced," Duquette explained. "So, I’m going to run an offense that’s designed to utilize their strengths with a lot of ball screens. It’s also a relatively simple offense that I think we can implement in a year and that they can pick up quickly."
While this rookie season does bring some questions for Duquette, he has worked very closely with terrific role models. The Williams College graduate spent 13 years under Al Skinner at BC before following Coen to Northeastern. Duquette valued his time coaching alongside Coen in Matthews Arena.
"His work ethic I think is what defines Bill and sets him apart from a lot of his peers," Duquette said. "Basketball is really, really important to him and he puts a lot of hours in and gives it a lot of thought and time—not just to basketball, but also to his players."
Coen thinks his former assistant is primed to take advantage of the opportunity.
"I’m just very, very happy for Pat. He’s worked a long time in this profession and he’s done it the right way," Coen said. "For him to get an opportunity speaks to his credit and speaks to his volume of work and everything he’s accomplished in his career. I know he’s going to have that program up in running before too long and they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the America East.
The ticket to Duquette’s success is likely through recruiting. He was responsible for bringing Quincy Ford and Reggie Spencer to Northeastern in 2011. Northeastern freshman guard T.J. Williams is also a recruit Duquette is proud of and the Huskies are excited about.
"You’re trying to get young men to give themselves and to buy into a team environment and play hard, play smart and play together," Coen said. "If you can accomplish that, you’re going to give yourself a chance night in and night out. Pat’s been apart of that winning philosophy over at Boston College and at Northeastern. He’s a very intelligent and a hard-working man himself."
Duquette and his new staff already have five commitments for the Class of 2015 and he inherited senior guard Akeem Williams to ease the transition this winter.
However far Duquette ultimately takes this program will be a testament to his diligent work, but he will undoubtedly use the lessons he has learned from the close-knit Boston coaching circle he came up in.