Jermaine Duke patrols the paint for the UPEI Panthers.
The fifth-year forward, who has made a career of swatting shots away from his team’s basket, leads the Atlantic University Sport conference in blocks with 28 in 16 games.
“It always came naturally to me, since high school,” said Duke, noting being a strong defensive presence has always been key to his game. “(My teammates) can always count on me and I’ll never let them down.”
The blocks are one thing, but he also alters many more shots during the course of a game.
“Everybody is aware where he is,” coach Tim Kendrick said.
“We count on him to do a lot of things for us. He’s always the backline of our pressure because of his shot-blocking ability . . . He’s very important player for us going down the stretch.”
While undersized for his position at six-foot-six, Duke relies on quickness and reading the play to be a force inside.
“He brings a tireless work ethic,” Kendrick added. “He never complains and just goes out and tries to do his job every day.”
Former Panthers coach Matthew Davies recruited Duke, a Toronto native, while he was playing at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ont.
“I looked at it as a great opportunity to come over and play in a higher league and it worked out great,” Duke explained.
The learning curve was steep, but he met the challenge head-on and rounded out his game.
“It was way different from college but it helped me become a better player,” he said. “With this coach now, and working on my game, I have become an overall player and I love it.”
Duke has stepped into more of a leadership role this year with the graduation of Jon Cooper and Manock Lual.
His teammates appreciate what he does for them, even if they were ribbing him last night over a missed dunk during a loose beginning to the team’s practice.
This weekend will mark a bit of an end for Duke. He will play his final home game Saturday night against the St. F.X. X-Men.
“I’m going to be excited, but then sad . . . because I won’t get to play with these great guys (at home) any more,” Duke said.
The Panthers finish the regular season with two games next weekend in St. John’s against Memorial before travelling to Halifax for the conference championship.
“To finish off (strong) and give these guys a championship and even a (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) championship too would be really great,” Duke said.
He has a year left to finish off his university education and would like to play professionally, possibly in the National Basketball League of Canada.
Duke still finds it hard to believe his university career is down to its final weeks.
“I’d do it over and over again. It’s been great,” he said.
“I still feel like I’m just like these guys coming in,” he added as some of the rookies walked into the gym for practice.
His attitude, worth ethic and team-first mentality were just some of the qualities Kendrick highlighted.
“He’s been a great player and an even better kid,” Kendrick said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked of him.”
u Who- A fifth-year player with the UPEI Panthers basketball team.
u Hometown - Toronto.
u Position - Forward.
u Statistics (per game) -
GP Pts. Reb. Assists Blocks
16 5.4 5.9 1.1 1.8
u Quote - “I think he’s one of the top players in our league defensively at his position.” - Tim Kendrick, UPEI coach.
The UPEI Panthers basketball teams play their final home games of the season this weekend.
u Today - St. F.X. at UPEI, women at 6 p.m. and men at 8 p.m.
u Saturday - St. F.X. at UPEI, women at 4 p.m. and men at 6 p.m.