With the season quickly approaching, Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot is zeroing in on a potential rotation.
While the Dukes are already thin with five transfers sitting out the season, the ranks took a hit even more this week when Dambrot announced Monday the team will be without a pair of big men for the foreseeable future.
Junior forward Marko Krivacevic is out six weeks due to a broken hand, and graduate transfer Chas Brown remains sidelined because of a stress fracture in his foot. Dambrot said Brown is progressing but will likely miss another few weeks, leaving the Dukes with just three scholarship big men: graduate student Jordan Robinson and freshmen Tydus Verhoeven and Nicholas Kratholm.
“Bottom line, that’s where we’re a little light in the shorts now,” Dambrot said. “So that’s why Jordan becomes so important, and that’s the way I really like to play. I like to play inside out.”
Pittsburgh Sports Now profiled Verhoeven two weeks ago, and Kratholm is considered more of a project. Until Brown returns to bolster the front line depth, Robinson will be prominently featured on offense, a role he has never been asked to fill in a Dukes’ uniform. The 6-foot-8, 255-pound forward has primarily come off the bench during his Duquesne career and registered just three starts, all during his sophomore season.
Last year, the Toronto, Ontario, native appeared in 18 contests before missing the final seven games of the season due to a knee injury suffered during practice. The injury happened one day after Robinson’s best outing of the season, a 14-point effort against St. Louis in which he logged a season-high 26 minutes.
Robinson entered the preseason with a clean bill of health and has looked sharp in practice, stepping out frequently to hit a variety of mid-range jumpers required of big men in Dambrot’s offensive system.
“He’s done a good job,” Dambrot said of Robinson. “He’s not all the way there yet, but overall he’s a guy who I think can do some good things.”
Dambrot has pushed Robinson to be more selfish, calling for the ball in the low block and to think score first. It’s the same strategy he used at Akron. Dambrot rebuilt the Zips on the strength of big men. First it was Romero Travis, then Jeremiah Wood. Pittsburgh native and seven-footer Zeke Marshall patrolled the paint for Akron from 2009-12. Last year, Isaiah Johnson ranked among the national leaders in offensive rating.
In an era where coaches are eschewing big men for quicker, more athletic wings, Dambrot is going retro.
“We won on a consistent basis at Akron because from day one I had better big people than anybody in the league,” Dambrot said.
With only one true big on the roster until Brown returns, it’ll be incumbent on Dambrot to keep Robinson fresh, and more importantly, out of foul trouble.
Once Brown is cleared for action, Duquesne’s coach will look to muck it up inside with opposing teams, hammering opponents with the combo of two traditional back-to-the-basket centers. Brown, who stands at 6-foot-8 and 235-pounds, averaged a team-high 12 points and seven rebounds for Coppin State last year.
“Chas Brown is a key guy because he’s played college basketball,” Dambrot said during the team’s Media Day. “Physically, we can make it a tug-of-war with him and Jordan. We can make it a mud wrestling contest, which is how we have to win.”
Until then, Robinson will be the focus inside. His development and confidence will be directly linked to the Dukes’ overall success, and Dambrot is convinced Robinson will meet the challenge.
“I think he’s going to have a good year,” Dambrot said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t, and if he has a good year, then we have a good chance to win.”