Derrick Colter’s speed, toughness and explosiveness caught the eye of Long Island University coach Jim Ferry.
The 5-foot-9 point guard would have gotten looks from bigger schools if he was taller.
Still, when Ferry accepted the Duquesne job, he called Colter.
“We are going to run the same system at Duquesne (that I ran at LIU),” Ferry told him. “I think you’re good enough to play run the system here.”
Good enough to make the jump from the Northeast Conference to the Atlantic 10.
“I lot of people thought I was crazy taking him because he was too small,” Ferry said. “(When) he decided to come … it showed me his confidence and determination in himself.”
“I felt comfortable with coach,” Colter said. “He recruited me the whole time I was in high school. He stayed loyal to me.”
Colter’s determination and Ferry’s loyalty go beyond the hardwood. Their off-court started with a phone call.
During spring break last year, Colter was home in Forestville, Md., on the phone with Dr. Stanley Marks, an oncologist from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Marks told Colter he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“I was shocked,” Colter said.
Ferry knew the diagnosis before Colter and after a long conversation with Colter, Ferry spoke with Colter’s parents.
“I wanted them to know that we were going to take care of their son like he was my own child,” Ferry said.
With Marks, a renowned oncologist, and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute just 10 minutes away from Duquesne’s campus, Colter remained in Pittsburgh for treatment.
“As a family, we rotated (people on the basketball staff) taking him to his appointments and radiation treatments,” Ferry said.
Ferry offered his home to Colter, who appreciated the gesture but wanted privacy.
“I just wanted to be by myself and think,” Colter said. “I thought about a lot of stuff. I prayed a lot. I talked to God. I prayed to get through it. I was thinking about if I didn’t play basketball what would I do.”
Daily radiation treatments for nine consecutive weeks weakened Colter only slightly. He felt tired after treatments but not tired enough to play.
“His approach was very businesslike; like his approach to basketball,” Ferry said. “He was always at the gym working out. I would constantly say ‘You need your body to rest, recuperate and recover,’ and he’d say, ‘I need to be with you (guys).’”
Three weeks after Colter concluded his radiation treatment, he played in Pittsburgh’s Summer League comprised of players from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Temple, Robert Morris and smaller colleges.
Marks, whose son coaches a team in the league, was there when Colter was playing.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Marks said. “He played the whole game. Never showed any signs of fatigue and just killed the guy that was guarding him. He played great defense. He wasn’t just taking 3-pointers either. These were hard takes to the hole, too. I walked up to Coach Ferry afterwards and said, ‘Honestly, I can’t believe this. I was expecting him to have some side effects, some fatigue.’ If anything (the treatment) improved his game.”
Colter was the talk of the gym that night, scoring 33 points with 13 assists and 10 rebounds. Most of the people in attendance didn’t know Colter had just finished battling cancer.
“That’s the kind of kid he is,” Ferry said. “Never once did he say ‘why me’, never once did he mope, never once did he question anything. He just said OK what do we have to do and he did it.”
With his cancer in remission, Colter has started every game this season for the 11th-seeded Dukes (11-18, 6-12 A10) heading into Wednesday’s Atlantic 10 conference tournament opener against No. 14-seed Saint Louis, and he leads the team in 3-point percentage (43.9).