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As a boy toiling in the coal mines of West Virginia, Ron Everhart couldn't have been further away from any kind of involvement in Division I college basketball. He has come a long way.
Now, he's the architect of a significant turnaround at Duquesne, which will play tonight in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at Virginia Tech (18-14). Though the Dukes from Pittsburgh haven't visited Cassell Coliseum in 10 years, Everhart will be in familiar territory. He's a former Tech basketball player and 1985 Tech graduate.
"I think having a chance to play in the postseason is exciting enough, but having an opportunity to go back to where you played in college, I guess for me it's probably about as good as it gets," said Everhart, a Fairmont, W.Va., native who was the captain of Tech's '84-85 team that made it to the NCAA tournament.
Everhart, 47, also has a good idea about the man who will be pacing Tech's sideline and working officials — Hokies coach Seth Greenberg. In the early-to-mid-1980s, Everhart remembers running into Greenberg a lot at Five-Star Basketball camps.
"At that point in time, he was a little older and he was kind of a guy that used to look out for me," Everhart said. "Being a younger guy, you really respected and admired him because he took the time to help the younger guys working at the basketball camp, like myself and Herb Sendek and some of those guys. (Greenberg) always took a lot of pride in being a good person and being a real thorough basketball guy. I've always had great respect and admiration for him, and he's done an unbelievable job at Tech."
Working those camps was a welcome change to some of the jobs Everhart had to work as a youth. Coal mining was a way of life in his hometown. He'd help his grandfather, David Mainella, in the mines during the summer. Mainella was one of 78 miners to perish in the '68 Farmington, W.Va., explosion in mine number nine, a tragedy that led to national reform of mining safety rules, health rights and inspection standards.
"My dad always made me go work in the coal mines in the summertime, so I never really had a chance to do much," said Everhart, who also helped lead Tech to third place in the '84 NIT. "Even if it was a summer-school situation, he wouldn't let me go. He'd always make me come back and work in the mines to make me understand the value of hard work and the value of a college education. I used to do everything I could to get a break from working in those mines. It wasn't the most pleasant job, as you could imagine. One of the things I would do was request to work at the Five-Star Camp, because it was great."
In addition to being around Greenberg at those camps, Everhart also worked with other up-and-coming coaches at the time, including Jerry Wainwright and Rick Pitino. The relationship with Greenberg has endured through the years.
"I've talked to Ron when he was looking at different positions," said Greenberg, who was an assistant coach at the University of Virginia when Everhart was a counselor at Five-Star. "He has bounced things off me. ... I understand what that (Duquesne) job is all about, and when I got the job (at Tech), I gave him a call just to talk to him a little bit about the position and to just kind of get a better feel for what makes Virginia Tech tick."
In March 2006, after coaching at McNeese State and Northeastern, Everhart arrived at Duquesne — a campus less than 100 miles from his hometown. Six months after getting to Duquesne, a shooting on campus resulted in five of his players being injured. Guard Aaron Jackson, who leads Duquesne with 18.5 points and 5.8 assists per game, is the only player left on the roster who sustained an injury in the shooting. He suffered an injured left wrist when a bullet grazed it.
Despite the tumultuous start, Everhart has helped Duquesne (21-12) make progress. The Dukes, who went 3-24 in the '05-06 season, were 17-13 last season. Seven scholarship freshmen this season made the Dukes the youngest team in the Atlantic 10, but Everhart led them to their most wins since going 21-4 in '71.
"I think our young guys maybe are young enough to not be intimidated, or not really understand certain things about what's at stake and competing in a league-type of thing," said Everhart, whose team plays an up-tempo style. "I think from that standpoint we never really played like a team that was ever tight."