March 3, 2006
WASHINGTON - As one of the most touted freshmen recruits ever to don an AU men's basketball jersey, Derrick Mercer had the pressure of expectation along with the difficulty of adjusting to college basketball on his shoulders heading into the 2005-06 season. The Jersey City, N.J. native has responded to the hype by doing what he atributes his success to, "just working hard." In doing so, he's shown that his pedigree, hustle and basketball IQ are more than enough to make up for his undersized stature. The coaches of the Patriot League have not been blind to this fact either as they recently voted him as the Patriot League Rookie of the Year. His statistics on the year support their opinions that the kid can play. Mercer is one of only two freshmen - the other being Andre Ingram - to have started every game as a freshman under head coach Jeff Jones. In his first game he had seven points and seven assists against former No. 1 seed Washington. A few weeks later, Mercer held Howard senior guard Louis Ford scoreless for the first time in his collegiate career. In the last month, the point guard has done whatever it takes, scoring in double figures in five out of eight games and leading the team with four steals to a season-high 14 against the U.S. Naval Academy. AUEagles.com got a chance to speak with the soft-spoken Mercer about the season, the freshman class and the upcoming PL Tournament. Here's what he had to say.
AUEagles.com: What were your thoughts on winning the PL Rookie of the Year?
Derrick Mercer: I would say it's a nice surprise. I didn't really expect it because I don't think I played better than any other freshmen in the Patriot League. It was a nice accomplishment and I'm happy that I received that type of award.
AUEagles.com: One of the things people have talked about is that you've stepped in and played a lot of minutes and been a starter this whole year. Was that something you expected coming in?
DM: Nah, I didn't expect it to come in and play as much as I have been. I just work hard and do what I have to do to play. That's what I learned from Coach Hurley, just work hard and play hard and you'll get what you deserve. I came in and I've played hard and tried to show Coach Jones I deserve to be on the court.
AUEagles.com: What did you do over the summer to prepare for the year? DM: I was down here early actually for the STEP program. I was in the gym shooting and when I got back home, I was just working out and working on my running, jumping, lifting, everything.
AUEagles.com: You guys played year-round in high school anyway right?
DM: Yeah, basically because of AAU. Coach Hurley always had us in the gym over the summer doing drills and stuff, so year-round it was basketball.
AUEagles.com: You mentioned Coach Hurley, what was the transition like coming from Coach Hurley to Coach Jones? Do they have the same type of style?
DM: I would say they have somewhat of the same style, but Coach Jones he lets me to go out there and play more, like less structured than Coach Hurley. I can say it was pretty easy because the type of practices we had in high school were the same as Coach Jones, so I can say it was smooth sailing for me.
AUEagles.com: You played in national-class Tournaments in high school so you were exposed to some very good players. How has the level of play increased from high school or has it from what you experienced?
DM: I think it's a whole different level. Everybody is faster and stronger and it's up to me to gain some more speed, get stronger and everything. There's a difference between college basketball and high school basketball no matter what level you play.
AUEagles.com: Coming into this weekend you are facing a Lafayette team you beat twice in the regular season, how has the approach changed heading into the Patriot League Tournament?
DM: We're taking this game by game. We aren't going to sleep on any team. Right now, Lafayette is the team we play first, so we're going to have to focus on them and we'll worry about the results after. If we play Bucknell, then we'll worry about Bucknell after whatever happens between us and Lafayette.
AUEagles.com: What do you see as keys to winning this weekend?
DM: I would just say we go out there and play hard, play team defense like we did against Navy and just play the best that we can. This is a real important game for us. We have to go out there and show that this game means something to us.
AUEagles.com: You're headlining a group of freshman that have contributed minutes and in different ways helped that team. Who do you see as someone that can surprise people in the coming years?
DM: What can I say? I would say Jordan Nichols because he is undersized and worked hard and he's not afraid to defend anybody, no matter what height they are, 6-7, 6-8, 6-9. It don't matter to him. I think Brian Gilmore is another player because he hustles, he works hard, he talks during practice. We have a real good freshman class. Garrison Carr could be another surprise and Gary Garris could be another one. No one has seen him play yet, but he's very athletic. I think all of us could be a surprise in a couple of years.
AUEagles.com: What have the veterans taught you along the way this year?
DM: Craig Weinstein is always there to help me out on the sideline or in the locker room. He'll just talk to me and say look at this, look at that. Sometimes when there's a media timeout he'll come up to me and say, "Well, look, you should have did this or that." And Andre Ingram, I just feel like I should listen to whatever he has to say because he's been it all. He's a very important guy to me so whatever he tells me, I just listen to me because he's been through it all and I know he isn't going to steer me the wrong way.
AUEagles.com: Lastly, what can fans expect from the Eagles this weekend?
DM: Basically, we're going to go out there and play hard and bust our butts and do whatever it takes to get a win. Hopefully we'll win on Friday and if it comes to Bucknell we're just going to play hard and see how it happens.
[Editor's Note: The Eagles play tonight against Lafayette in the opening round of the PL Tournament at 5:30 p.m.]