One of the biggest criticisms of Jim Ferry during his tenure as coach with Duquesne was the lack of an identity of his teams. While most coaches have a certain type of offensive and defensive style they run, Ferry tailored his schemes around the players he had on his roster. With so many changing philosophies, you could never exactly pin point whether he was focusing his team’s identity more to offense or defense. New Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot made it perfectly clear in his opening press conference what he wants the identity of his team to be.
“When my dad played here in 1950, ’51, if you didn’t play great defense at Duquesne, you didn’t play. Simple as that, “Dambrot said in his first meeting with the Pittsburgh media. “It didn’t matter how good a player you were. If you didn’t play good defense, you weren’t going to play. So we’re going to play great defense. And we’re going to build it at the defensive end, and we’re going to keep it simple on offense. On offense, that is, we’re going to share the ball, we’re going to take good shots, and we’re not going to turn the ball over. I think all good basketball teams do that.”
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Playing great defense means Dambrot wants his team to play with a style that reflects the city they play in.
“We’re going to change the whole mindset and culture that we’re going to be Pittsburghians or whatever they’re called,” Dambrot said. “That is blue-collar, tough, rust-belt tough, hard-nosed, tougher than the other teams we play.”
At Akron, great defense is why he won over 300 games and led his teams to three births in the NCAA tournament. There were four MAC Defensive Players of the Year under Dambrot, who will bring his entire staff with him to Duquesne. Though he has run zone in the past, his calling card on defense for most of his tenure at Akron was man-to-man. This past season the Dukes gave up 74.3 PPG, which was second to last in the Atlantic-10 and 225th in the country. They were dead last in the conference in rebounding defense while they were 12th in three point percentage defense. The Zips were first in the MAC in rebounding defense, but like the Dukes, struggled to defend the three at .365, which was last in the conference.
The job here won’t be easy, but if the players and everyone associated with the program buys in, Dambrot believes a resurrection can happen at Duquesne.
“We have to sell the institution. We have to sell the coaching staff. We have to sell the winningness, and we have to make sure that we rally behind this at this point,” Dambrot said. “We need all of you. We’ll be good teammates, I promise you that. We care more about us. We care more than about us. We care about everybody in the department. I don’t know any other way to be.”
Most of Dambrot’s new team was on hand for last night’s press conference including Mike Lewis II and Nakye Sanders, who early this month, along with Isiaha Mike, requested permission to talk to other schools and possibly transfer from Duquesne. Mike was noticeably absence from press conference though it was not made clear whether he missed due to class or other obligations. None of the players have been officially released from their scholarship yet. Lewis II seemed very upbeat about his new coach, liking the fact that he is a proven winner. He was told by Dambrot that he is going to put the ball in his hands if he chooses to stay at Duquesne. Last season, Lewis II was named A-10 rookie team along with Mike, who both missed out on the rookie of the year award to Richmond’s De’Monte Buckingham.
Whether the trio stays or not, Dambrot understands what they are going through and will respect any decision they chose to make.
“Listen, these young men they get recruited by a different coach, right, and they have an experience when they don’t win, it’s not a great experience,” Dambrot said. “I’d love to keep every single one of those guys, and I’m going to do my very best to try to keep them because I believe they’re better players than people think. I believe they’re guys that if they’re put in the right position they can be successful. That’s a quick assessment of mine. I think they’re good guys. I’ve met with them. I think they’re good people, good character guys. I think it just didn’t work out for them. We want them to stay, but they have to do what’s right for them.”
Even before his introductory press conference Thursday, Dambrot was already hard at work offering players he had previous recruited at Akron. One of his big recruits from last season for the Zips, guard Tavian Dunn-Martin, decided to follow his coach to Duquesne. The West Virginia native will have 3 years of eligibility after he sits out next season. But don’t get used to transfers under Dambrot, who likes to develop the guys he recruits out of high school rather than getting a junior college player or a graduate transfer.
If he is able to keep Lewis II, Mike and Sanders in the fold and bring in promising talent via recruiting, you could see a real turnaround at Duquesne in the next few seasons. But as it always is on The Bluff, that is easier said than done. Hopefully Dambrot is the coach who can finally change that and save this once proud program.