The biggest guy on the team was the easiest to overlook last Sunday.
The beauty of Josh Duell is how easily he fit in with the herd of gazelle surrounding him.
The shame of it all was how difficult a time he had staying out of the training room and on the floor this season.
Duell, a Scotia native and Christian Brothers Academy graduate who’s been the only Capital Region player on the Siena basketball roster the last two seasons, came into the game against Louisville with 8:34 left in the first half. Just over two minutes later, he was out of the game, and his college basketball career was over.
He got one last play in — as usual, an important one — an assist to Ronald Moore, who made a three-pointer from exactly the same spot on the floor where he had beaten Ohio State in double overtime two nights earlier.
Alex Franklin made a layup shortly after, and Siena settled down after having fallen behind by 14 to the Cardinals. The Saints almost beat the top-ranked team in the country.
A big part of Siena’s emergence on the national stage is the fact that the Saints “act like you belong,” advice that was passed to Duell from Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine when he was at Vermont, and advice that he passed along to his young teammates last season.
The fact that Duell belonged with this team wasn’t an act.
Sure, he looked out of place, wearing the big T-shirt and the clunky black knee braces and white sleeve socks all the way up his legs. After he partially tore a calf muscle at the end of a practice near the end of the regular season, his leg was completely bruised in the back and had a nasty purple lightning bolt down the front of his shin. Think Robo-Cop.
From a personal standpoint, Duell had a smooth, highlight-reel season last year and a sputtering, frustrating one this year.
In his first-ever game with Siena, he outplayed Robin Lopez as the Saints beat No. 20 Stanford at home, and he made the game-winning three to beat Rider and Jason Thompson on the road. Those guys were both picked in the first round and are playing in the NBA. Duell also had the game-winner against Loyola in the 2008 MAAC semifinals, an awkward, falling-down layup that bounced high off the glass.
His 2008-09 season will be remembered as much for how he missed the preseason (Achilles), hurt his knee at Kansas and tore his calf in Buffalo, two minutes before the end of practice.
Trainer Greg Dashnaw said Duell’s pain threshold is through the roof. That’s the physical stuff. It wasn’t hard to see in his eyes that the affable center was feeling pain of a different sort last Sunday.
But the last thing he said during interviews in the locker room after the Louisville game, still standing in his uniform, was: “I’ll get over it.” His dream is to be a high school history teacher.
Out of necessity, because the Saints needed to be as fast as possible against the Cardinals, Duell didn’t play much last Sunday. He couldn’t offer the fresh legs or acrobatic moves that most of his teammates have, but he brought a bunch of other stuff you need to be a winning team.
“He came to Siena and helped us win two championships,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “And this [Louisville] was a tough game for him because of who they were, but we don’t get here without him. That’s the reality.”