Keith Dambrot built up the Akron basketball program by transforming the Zips into one of the Mid-America Conference’s top defensive teams.
Under Dambrot, Akron ranked fourth or higher in the league in scoring defense all but three years. It should be noted in those three seasons—2005-06, 2009-10, and 2011-12—the Zips held teams to 66 points or less, a figure any coach in the country would gladly accept. The 58-year old Dambrot is now looking to do the same in his first season at Duquesne.
“We’re throwing a lot on their plate, which makes it hard on them,” Dambrot said in an interview Tuesday after the team’s morning practice. “We’ve worked really hard to try to get better defensively, and we’re a little bit behind offensively because we’ve spent so much time defensively.”
Duquesne ranked second to last in the A-10 and 225th nationally a year ago in scoring defense, giving up 74 points a contest. Dambrot’s final team at Akron was the only squad during his 13-year career with the Zips that yielded more than 70 points on a nightly basis.
“I thought the last two years at Akron we were just fair defensively, but we were really good offensively,” Dambrot said. “It was more personnel built than anything. I didn’t really like it. I like my first couple teams, even though they weren’t as talented, they were tough.”
Last year’s conference tournament champ, Rhode Island, led the A-10 in scoring defense, limiting opposing teams to 65 points a game, indicating how far the Dukes have to go under their new head coach.
Dambrot embraced a similar challenge at Akron in 2004-05. The previous year, the Zips allowed more than 72 points a contest, but in their first season with Dambrot at the helm, they trimmed that number to 66.
“All we did was turn the switch and took them from a team that was very skilled offensively, and told them, ‘Hey, we have to guard to win,’” Dambrot said. “That’s how I turned the whole program around. That’s going to be the same thing here.”
Dambrot anticipates the Dukes to be better defensively in 2017-18, which will help offset the losses on the offensive side of the ball. Duquesne must replace two of its top three scorers from last year.
“The issue is going to be if we can score enough to win consistently,” Dambrot said. “That’s going to be the big thing. Eventually, when you get good enough talent, you will. But I think we’re good enough to grind out some wins.”
The Dukes only have nine scholarship players available this season, as five transfers must sit out the season due to NCAA rules, so depth will be an issue.
Dambrot won 19 games in his first season at Akron, and if he hopes to duplicate that success at Duquesne, the Dukes must adopt his defensive philosophies, the test of any first-year head coach.
“It’s been fun, but it’s been challenging,” Dambrot said. “I really have to watch my frustration level, because I’m not use to it, per say. Again, they’re trying hard, so as long as they try hard I can live with that.”