PITTSBURGH - Ron Everhart didn’t realize how preoccupied with the game he had been until he walked off the court and an assistant coach saw blood oozing through his white shirt from a newly stitched-up wound.
The surprise is Everhart didn’t play in Northeastern’s 104-50 victory over Suffolk University on that November night in 2002, he merely coached it — a laugher of a contest in which there was no tension or any chance of losing.
That he did so less than 24 hours after having his appendix removed, coaching against the wishes of his doctors, illustrates to those who know him the strength and resiliency of a man confronting one of the toughest challenges any college basketball coach has faced.
To them, the task couldn’t be tougher but, then again, neither could the man being counted upon to perform it as Duquesne University’s still-new coach.
“The guy’s a rock,” assistant coach Daryn Freedman said.
Everhart’s assignment — rebuilding a Duquesne program that went 3-24 last season and hasn’t had a winning season in 12 years — was difficult enough before last weekend. When five players were shot on campus early Sunday morning, one critically, a job already monumental in scope took on a look of impossibility.
“At times, the stress has been overwhelming,” said Everhart, who has spent much of the last week visiting hospital rooms rather than basketball recruits and counseling anxious relatives. “It’s been very tough on the kids, too. This team was becoming very tight. Now they’ve got teammates in the hospital, and they’re asking why it had to be the guy next to them rather than them.”
Coaches are trained to be counselors, surrogate fathers, role models and responsible citizens. They deal daily with homesick players, some student-athletes who care mostly about being athletes and not students, players distraught at breaking up with a girlfriend or who want to end a college career prematurely and turn pro.
They are not taught how to cope with shootings that wound nearly half a rebuilding team’s key players, all five of whom were expected to be stars or starters.
Shawn James was the nation’s leading shot blocker last season for Everhart at Northeastern, but now is recuperating from a bullet wound to the foot. Kojo Mensah averaged nearly 17 points per game at Siena, but transferred to Duquesne partly so he and James could be teammates again. He was shot in the arm and shoulder. Junior college transfer Stuard Baldonado’s first season may be delayed by a year as he rehabilitates from back and arm wounds.
“It’s been so tragic, with so much adversity at different levels,” Everhart said. “But I’ve told our guys you have to get through this one day at a time, and understand you’re not out there alone doing this.”
A few weeks before the shootings, Everhart and Pitt assistant coach Orlando Antigua spoke together at a regional meeting of Associated Press sports editors. Antigua talked of how he overcame being shot at age 16 — the bullet stayed in his head for years — to become a college star and play for the Harlem Globetrotters.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
This ability to handle adversity was first seen by his mother, Ida Everhart, a retired school teacher, during the first tragedy of his life at age 6 as a first-grade student in Fairmont, W.Va.
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