By Matt Langone
LOWELL -- Pat Duquette had been starving for a head coaching opportunity for nearly 20 years.
Finally, he'll get his chance. And with it will come an Everest-like challenge.
Duquette was officially named the head men's basketball coach at UMass Lowell on Thursday. The 42-year-old Dalton native will now lead the River Hawks into a monumental transition, as they enter their first Division 1 season with the school set to join the America East Conference effective July 1. The program will have a four-year waiting period to become postseason eligible, per NCAA rules.
Duquette comes to UML after three years as the associate head coach to Bill Coen at Northeastern. Prior to that he spent 13 years as an assistant/associate head coach under Al Skinner at Boston College.
"I'm thrilled. I feel very lucky, knowing how competitive this business is," said Duquette, a resident of the North End of Boston. "I know how few jobs there are out there. My only hesitation was the unknown of the transition to D1. But all it took was one conversation with Athletic Director Dana Skinner and (chairman of the search committee) Peter Casey, and I knew right away that this was a really great opportunity.
"I know from talking to people at the university that we are all in this together, beginning with (Chancellor) Marty Meehan's passion and support."
In years past Duquette interviewed for head coaching jobs at Holy Cross, Vermont, Niagara and Colgate. As a "lifetime New England guy" he views UML as the perfect fit on every level.
"Pat Duquette's reputation as a recruiter, his high-octane approach, and the manner in which he embraced the opportunities in front of us won over the campus," said Dana Skinner. "He has worked for, and with, some highly-respected coaches. He brings a set of experiences to the university and a track record of playing key roles for some very successful programs."
Interestingly, the two finalists for the job were Duquette and the former BC head coach Al Skinner. The 60-year-old Al Skinner was highly successful at Boston College, taking the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament seven times in 13 seasons. He was fired by BC in 2010 after a 15-16 campaign and has not coached since despite reportedly being a candidate for several jobs.
"In recent days we were engaged in discussions with both Al Skinner and Pat Duquette," said Dana Skinner. "Our discussions with Al didn't quite go in a direction that would work as well for Al, so he withdrew from the process. Our discussions with Pat then moved quickly in the direction we needed to go.
"Al Skinner is a terrific coach with an impressive track record. I think the world of him and wish him the very best."
Former Boston Celtic and current Central Michigan assistant Kevin Gamble, and Stony Brook assistant Jay Young were also considered for the position.
Along with Duquette's high-energy, passionate approach, he greatly-appealed to UMass Lowell's search committee because of his experience recruiting the Boston and New England region.
At Boston College, Duquette joined Al Skinner's staff as an administrative assistant in 1997, was named an assistant in 2001, and was promoted to associate head coach in 2009.
Duquette played a major role in developing All-Americans Troy Bell, Craig Smith and Jared Dudley.
"I have gained a reputation for identifying talented players over the years," said Duquette. "Obviously recruiting is a critical skill to get a program going in the right direction. I believe you have to play a style that fits your personnel. I don't think you can be too selective in the recruiting process and only look for certain players."
Duquette replaces Greg Herenda, who left last month to take the head coaching job at Fairleigh Dickinson University after five seasons with the River Hawks. UMass Lowell returns 13 players and four of five starters from a 15-13 squad in 2012-13, including standout point guard Akeem Williams and star forward Antonio Bivins.
Duquette already spoke with Bivins on the phone and intends to speak with the other members of the team soon. He believes he will have the rest of his staff in place within the next couple of weeks.
Time is of the essence, with less than six months left before the season begins.
"We just have to attack it day by day," Duquette said. "It's much less intimidating that way. In the short term there are clear disadvantages and hurdles. But I feel this can be as good of a job as there is in the America East.
"I was pleasantly surprised the first time I drove to the campus. I'm a big history buff, and seeing all of the textile mills and the revitalization of downtown was really cool. Then you walk inside the Tsongas Center and you start to think about how great it will be to play in that building. There's a lot of potential."
Duquette played his college basketball at Williams College, where he served as team captain his senior season and led the Ephs to a top-10 national ranking. He earned his bachelor's degree from Williams in 1993.
Following graduation, Duquette worked as an intern with the New Jersey Nets and started his collegiate coaching career at Centenary at the same time. He spent the 1994-95 season at St. Lawrence and moved on to Saint Michael's for two years, where he earned his master's degree while helping the Purple Knights to the 1997 NCAA Tournament.