It has been a whirlwind last few weeks for Duquesne Athletic Director Dave Harper. After a coaching search that was borderline embarrassing with multiple guys turning the job down, Harper, who said in his opening remarks its time to unite Duquesne, may have found the coach that can unite this struggling program.
Keith Dambrot was introduced to the Pittsburgh media Thursday night as the 17th head coach in the history of the Duquesne basketball program. Dambrot comes to the Bluff following 13 seasons at Akron where he won 305 games while making 3 NCAA tournaments. The 58 year old coach’s ties to the school go far back as the early 50’s when his father Sid played for the Dukes from 1952-1954. Over the past 12 season, Akron was only one of 4 schools along with blue bloods Duke, Kansas and Gonzaga to post 21 wins or more. Duquesne has only won 21 games once in the past 46 seasons.
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Dambrot wants to not only change to the perception of this program, but put banners in the rafters.
“I felt like lot of people were underestimating my dad’s school,” Dambrot said. “I don’t like the fact that there’s no banners in that gym from a long time ago until now. If we win big here, we are going to show everyone that they were wrong (about Duquesne).”
A similar statement has been made by coaches that have sat in the same spot over the past few decades, each one of the promising to bring Duquesne back to the level of success of yesteryear. None of them lasted more than six seasons, replaced by another as the trend went on for years. But Dambrot is a guy who knows the history of this program, knows this program was once among the best in college basketball, and has followed them for all of his life. The tipping point for him when he was considering his job was a conversation he had with his father, who reevealed to him that wants to wear his Duquesne sweater when he is buried. After hearing this, Dambrot knew he had to resurrect his father’s alma mater before he died. With that kind of decree, especially with the program he is inheriting, it would put some level of pressure on him. But for Dambrot, the only pressure he feels is what he puts on himself.
“I think there’s less pressure on me, no one has won here right?” Dambrot jokingly remarked. “No one is going to put more pressure on me than me. I’m going to give it everything I have. I just put blinders on and go.”
What stands out above all out with Duquesne’s new coach is his relationship with NBA superstar Lebron James. Prior to being hired by Akron, Dambrot was the former NBA MVP’s head coach for his freshmen and sophomore seasons at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School. In those two seasons, James led the team to a state championship. Dambrot made the comment that the three -time NBA Champion saved his coaching career. James credited him in a tweet earlier this week about helping to make him the player he is today.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 27, 2017
As far as James being associated with the Duquesne, university president Kevin Gormley promised to have a special seat reserved for any game the Cleveland Cavalier wishes to attend. Even if he doesn’t make it to many games, Dambrot knows he has the full support of one of the best in the world.
“Lebron is going to support wherever I am whether its Alaska or China or Poland,” Dambrot said. “When the greatest basketball player in the world supports you he it certainty can’t hurt you. Last year in the finals somebody asked him about preparation and he said some really nice things about me. If anyone knows Lebron he’s one of those guys who is going to tell you pretty much the truth. He believes in me and I believe in him.”
Now it’s time for Dambrot to get to work in not only rebuilding a program, but bringing pride to fan base where a majority have never seen their school have any level of consistent success. The team of Gormley, Harper and Dambrot can be the group that finally brings that winning culture back to this program. With the big $7 million contract of their new coach on top of the proposed renovations to the A.J. Palumbo Center, Duquesne has made the investment to do just that. The question is, how long until the fruits of that labor blossom?