La Salle's Duren not ready to call it a career

Posted: March 14, 2014

IN THE days and weeks leading to what could be his last collegiate game, La Salle's Tyreek Duren has been prodded with queries he is not yet ready to answer. Family members, friends and local newspaper reporters have been among those to pose questions with words such as "legacy" and other verbiage that indicate a conclusion is near.

"Hopefully, I'll be remembered for something good," Duren said this week, smiling. "But right now, [my focus is] just trying to get my team back to the [NCAA] Tournament and trying to get us back on this winning streak in March."

Odds are heavy that La Salle will not be one of the 68 teams to partake in March Madness this year. On the heels of a disappointing regular season, its only ticket to the Big Dance comes via four wins in four days in a conference against which it lost more than it won this winter.

Duren is well aware of the situation. But the senior point guard, soft-spoken yet confident, prefers to talk as if he still has a slew of games remaining in his collegiate career rather than answer questions about how he'll be remembered.

"A lot of people ask me about it, but I don't really try to think about it," said Duren, who leads the eighth-seeded Explorers (15-15, 7-9) into today's A-10 Tournament opener in Brooklyn against ninth-seeded St. Bonaventure (16-14, 6-10). Tipoff at the Barclays Center is noon.

"As far as my legacy, I'll worry about that when the time comes. But right now, I've still got games to play."

Statistically, Duren, a four-year starter, will finish his collegiate career among the best all-around guards in Big 5 history. Only three others to play in the Big 5 have recorded at least 1,500 points, 450 assists and 200 steals. It's an esteemed list that features Doug Overton, Jameer Nelson and Scottie Reynolds.

Duren's 1,711 career points entering today rank 14th in La Salle history - his 27 points in Sunday's upset of Saint Joseph's moving him past former All-American Ken Durrett and Tim Legler. His 226 steals rank third in school history, and his 496 assists are fourth best.

But numbers aside, the Philadelphia native and former Neumann-Goretti star will be most remembered for his part in last season's historic run to the Sweet 16. A starter in 102 consecutive games, he has been the leader of La Salle's winningest senior class in 22 years.

"I think his legacy is going to be that he was one of the best guards in school history," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "I think his legacy will be that he was one of the best players on one of the best teams in school history with last year's Sweet 16 team. We're all very disappointed that his senior year wasn't up to what we expected, but that shouldn't diminish just the effort and outstanding play that he's put in over the last four years."

Duren's senior season certainly has not gone as he envisioned it in the preseason. An early-season bout with plantar fasciitis in his right heel that was misdiagnosed as a stress fracture put his season in serious doubt - "We were a doctor's appointment away from having him sit out this year," Giannini said - and even when he was cleared, he was not the Duren of 2012-13.

Limited in terms of running and cutting - "It felt like I was running with a pencil or a rock in my shoe," he said - Duren struggled through the first 10 games of the season. Even after that, it took time to retain his normal level of quickness. The past couple months, especially recently, he's looked more like himself, although he said he still feels pain in his heel when he wakes up in the morning.

The 6-foot Duren closed out the regular season strong, scoring 16.5 points per game on 43 percent shooting over the last 17 games, a stretch during which he shot a blistering 50 percent from beyond the arc. His regular-season averages of 15.2 points, 3.5 assists, 1.7 steals and a 41.7 three-point field clip were enough to earn him second-team, all-conference honors for the second consecutive season.

"It doesn't surprise me that he's playing well right now because he's had time to get in shape and get into the flow of things over the last couple months," Giannini said. "But also because he's just such a competitor, I expect him to play great when the games are the biggest."

The oft-discussed trait regarding Duren is his poise. No matter the situation, Giannini said, Duren is the same laid-back guy. It's a quality the coach noticed the first time he saw Duren play, as a high school junior, as he competed against some of the top teams and players from around the country.

"We always said he was the coolest guy in the gym," Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. "You could look at his face and you would never know if we were winning or losing . . . He never let anybody think that they were getting to him. I always felt a certain calm knowing he was out there."

Two days after knocking down 16 of 17 free throws, including each of his 10 attempts in the final 90 seconds of the win at St. Joe's, Duren laughed when asked about the origins of his even-keeled attitude. "That's just how I've always been," he said. "I'm just a laid-back guy."

It's translated to a lot of wins for both Neumann-Goretti and La Salle throughout the better part of the last decade. And while his career in blue and gold could see its end as soon as today, Duren hopes to put discussions about his place in La Salle history and the like on hold a bit longer.

Dick Jerardi: Atlantic 10 at a glance

Teams on the rise: VCU has won its last four. Dayton has won nine of 10.

Team on the decline: Richmond looked like an NCAA team a month ago and then everything changed. First, Derrick Williams left the team for personal reasons and then the college career of star Cedrick Lindsay (18.3 points per game) ended with a torn meniscus in both knees. Chris Mooney’s team could not overcome the Lindsay loss and lost its last four games.

Looking forward to: Seeing a VCU-UMass semifinal game. Be frantic from start to finish and Briante Weber (VCU steal machine) against the speed of Chaz Williams would be a show within the show ... Seeing whether La Salle can regain the postseason magic and how far brilliant senior point guard Tyreek Duren can take his team in Brooklyn.

Worth noting: The league went 129-53 in non-conference and 20-33 against the American, ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 ... There are 21 1,000-point scorers in the league.

Dark horse: UMass has to be one of the best No. 6 seeds in any conference tournament. They may have been playing better in November and December than now, but they are certainly dangerous.

Who needs help to make NCAAs: Dayton is either just in or just out. So the Flyers need to win as many games as possible. And St. Joe's could be in exactly the same spot. If they end up playing each other in tomorrow's quarterfinals, it might very well be an NCAA elimination game.

Best player: Jordair Jett (Saint Louis) was named the player of the year. He is fast, fearless, strong and nobody you want to be defending with the game on the line.

Best shooters: Duquesne's Micah Mason (65 of 114 from the arc, 57 percent), Dayton's Jordan Sibert (73 of 165, 44.2 percent), St. Joe's Langston Galloway (91 of 214, 42.5 percent).

Ultimate title game: St. Joe’s-VCU. If the Hawks get that far, they would be a lock NCAA team. Their first game, won by SJU at home, was a great contrast in styles and ways to play the game. This would be no different, with a championship on the line.

The pick: VCU. The Rams brought the most fans to Brooklyn last season and that does not figure to change. Any team that has to face them on a back-to-back or a back-to-back-to-back is likely to be tired already. Being tired is no prescription for facing “Havoc.” And Weber apparently does not get tired.

On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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