Where are They Now? Duane Ferrell
Indianapolis, March 6, 2003 - Sometimes you have a gift, but it takes someone else to notice.
For former Pacers forward Duane Ferrell, that gift is the ability to serve as a mentor. As the Director of Player Programs for the Washington Wizards, Ferrell’s job is to listen, talk, and reach out to younger players.
Ferrell, 37, has helped young stars such as Bobby Simmons, Etan Thomas, Brendan Haywood, Kwame Brown, Juan Dixon and Jared Jeffries with their development and acclimation to life as a professional.
“I’m there with an open ear someone to come and talk to about issues,” said Ferrell. “Sometimes they need you there just to listen or blow off steam, even if they’re not right. But I’m also there to congratulate them, and tell them they’re doing well.”
Rod Higgins was the man who first noticed Ferrell had a knack of counseling people. After being traded from the Pacers to Golden State along with Erick Dampier in the deal that brought Chris Mullin to Indianapolis in 1997, Ferrell encountered Higgins, who was then a Warriors assistant coach. The team had a mixture of younger players and veterans, but Higgins noticed a number of players would come over to Ferrell to talk about different issues. They trusted him.
“Lots of teams have cliques where players hang with certain groups," Ferrell said. "I had a relationship with every player. They all felt comfortable with me.”
Ferrell played one more year with the Warriors. A few years later, Higgins moved to the Washington Wizards to help Michael Jordan as an assistant general manager. Higgins contacted Ferrell, who thought this opportunity would be a way to get himself back inside the basketball arena again.
One of Ferrell’s first projects Kwame Brown, the top pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, a high school senior from Glynn Academy in Brunswick, GA.
“Kwame get more attention than anyone,” Ferrell said. “Coming directly out of high school and being the number one pick, he had everything put on his shoulders. It was important to establish relationship early on with him.”
Bonds take time to form. Ferrell initially had to overcome the perception he was there to spy on the players. But he had a vested interest in the young rookies to not only see them grow and mature but to help them with their problems. He made sure he lived within walking distance of Brown and talked to him each day. Slowly, Brown began to open up and share more with him.
“Once we got over confidentiality hurdle, two months of that, guys started opening up to me and talking to me about various things like basketball, coaches, family issues,” Ferrell said.
He goes where the team goes. Every practice, every meeting, every road trip, he’s there spending time talking to players.
One in particular who is leaning heavily on Ferrell is Jared Jeffries, who turned pro after his junior year at Indiana University and was drafted 11th overall by the Wizards. The rookie forward tore his right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in January and was placed on the injured list for the season. It’s been tough for the Indiana native, as he had been so used to having family and friends around whenever he needed them. Now, things are different, as he is living far from family.
Responding to a phone call from Jeffries, Ferrell said he'd probably eat lunch with him and talk about how the rehab on his injured knee is coming. Even when he travels, Ferrell makes sure to call Jeffries to keep in touch and see how he’s doing. Ferrell still makes him feel a part of the team. He tries to get other players and coaches to do the same, as well.
“I try to pick a guy throughout day who I want to initially spend some time with, or I try to get a couple and spend some time with them together,” Ferrell said. “We may go to a diner late at night or breakfast in morning or they may call me and just want to talk.”
Talking is something that Ferrell constantly does during the day. The Wizards gave him a cellular phone that he keeps on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He tells the younger players, "don’t feel that you can’t call me, no matter what situation is. I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on."
“You can lose them as fast as you get them,” Ferrell said. “If you break that trust with one, it can spread to the other ones very fast. Trust is important to me, and it’s important to them too.”
Ferrell has been with the Wizards for a little more than a year, and there’s no question that he enjoys what he’s doing. It’s the little things that make his day.
“When something goes wrong on floor, I’m able to go talk to him [the player] about what he can do and how he can handle it, and when I see a smile on the player's face when he sees it on floor, that smile is self-rewarding to see. That hint right there has helped his game,” Ferrell said. “Just being able to spend time with them working on their game, see them develop as players, and just watching them from one year to the next, how much they’ve grown off the court (is rewarding).
"When they thank you for it and that you’ve helped them in their lives, that’s all you can ask for - a thank you.”