‘Skies clear’ for ravaged Dukes
You practically have to go back to the Norm Nixon era – if not the Paleolithic era – to find a Duquesne basketball victory as significant as the one that occurred Thursday night in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
I know I did a double-take when the score scrolled across the bottom of my television screen:
Duquesne 98, Boston College 93 (OT).
Dukes coach Ron Everhart did more than a double-take. He did a chest bump with athletic director Greg Amodio – and that wasn’t easy to do, given Everhart’s predicament.
“Here I am (hooked up to) an IV on a pole, a thing in my arm, and I’m jumping up like that,” Everhart said, laughing. “You kind of forget you’re in a gown, sitting in a hospital lobby, you know?”
Duquesne’s run of horrific luck had taken another devastating turn three days earlier – at 12:15 p.m. Christmas Day, to be precise – when Everhart was admitted to the UPMC Passavant emergency room with severe abdominal pain. It turned out to be a condition called diverticulitis, characterized by fever, nausea, vomiting and chills.
Everhart, 44, first experienced symptoms Dec. 22 and waited too long to seek treatment. He gutted it out long enough to see his 7-year-old twins, Ronnie and Gianna, open their Christmas presents.
It was nearly the last thing he saw them do.
I asked Everhart if doctors ever told him his situation was life-threatening.
“Yeah, I mean, there was no question about it,” he said. “It was, when I got to the emergency room.”
Fortunately, toxic fluid formed a pocket outside of Everhart’s ruptured colon instead of leaking into his abdomen, he said. Surgery was avoided.
Everhart escaped a worse fate, just like the five Dukes players who were shot and wounded in an insane act of violence following an on-campus party Sept. 17. All five lived and all but forward Sam Ashaolu have either returned to the court or seem likely play again.
Truth be told, Everhart had been hurting inside all season. He felt for his players, who were 20-point underdogs Thursday, even though Boston College was missing its best player, Jared Dudley, and a few others.
Remember, this is Duquesne, which has posted one winning season in the past 21 years. The undermanned, undersized, inexperienced Dukes came in with a 3-7 record, never having won a road game against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
The streak seemed safe when Boston College went up by 10 with 4:43 left, but Duquesne, coached for a night by assistant Kim Lewis, sent the game to overtime on freshman Scott Grote’s 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds remaining in regulation.
Everhart listened to the game on the radio and watched it on-line as visitors – including Pitt coach Jamie Dixon – stopped in. The video lagged about 45 seconds behind the radio call but served a critical purpose: Everhart had to see the comeback to believe it.
He called it the most emotional game of his career, compounded by the fact that he’d been so eager to return to Boston, where he coached Northeastern the previous five years.
“I was just elated for these kids,” he said, “knowing how bad, deep inside as a coach, these guys needed something like that to happen.”
Everhart helped to make it happen with a paint-peeling pre-game speech that must have been something to hear – and to see. He’d never done one by speaker-phone before, let alone in a hospital gown.
It’s hard to believe he ever produced a better one.
“You guys have to understand that you have the opportunity of a lifetime,” Everhart told his players. “When you have a chance to play in a game like this, there’s nothing like it — and you can never get it back. First, you have to remember the opportunity that some of the guys don’t have, who can’t play but want to play and be there with you and your teammates.
“Secondly, you have to understand that if you guys take advantage of this opportunity, the thing you want is now within reach, because the basketball world has to notice you. We’ve been disrespected as a basketball program for a long time, and you guys know all about that.”
As he recounted the speech a day later in his office, Everhart laughed and added, “That was pretty much the talk. I think after that, I said something like, ‘Let’s go out there and kick their (butt).’ ”
Upon his release from the hospital Friday afternoon, Everhart drove to campus to greet his players as they arrived from the airport. Still pale and a few pounds lighter from his five-day hospital stay, he was eager to witness the afterglow.
It wasn’t hard to spot, as players filed in and out of the Palumbo Center.
“There was kind of a cloud over us for a while,” said guard Aaron Jackson, one of those wounded in the shooting and one who sparked the victory with 19 points.
“This cleared the skies a little.”