PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Fresh off his team’s 10th straight home victory Saturday, Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot entered the media room to a few more suitors than usual.
It seemed as if every news outlet in the city was present to hear him speak.
The packed room offset of the Palumbo Center playing floor mirrored the lower level seats during the team’s 95-89 win over George Mason. 2,500 red and blue clad fanatics filled the arena and were loud from the opening tip until Eric Williams Jr.’s ninth and final three of the day.
When you’re the hottest ticket in town, everyone wants a piece of you.
Fans, and even members of the local media contingent, were slow to embrace Duquesne’s early season success. Detractors quickly pointed to the schedule or the back-to-back losses to Robert Morris or Pittsburgh. It was all a mirage. This was the same old Duquesne. Well, those tunes have changed.
A 5-2 start in the Atlantic 10 has converted doubters into believers. Suddenly, Dambrot and the Dukes are appointment viewing. If you missed the three-overtime roller coaster against La Salle, hopefully you caught the encore against George Mason. Granted, it was only two overtimes, but Williams Jr. put on a show, scoring a Duquesne freshman record 34 points.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 21, 2018
When asked during the postgame press conference if his team is the top draw in town, the 59-year old coach broke into laughter.
“That’s a funny question,” Dambrot said. “I don’t know, you tell me. I hope it becomes a hot ticket. That’s why I came here; I want those old Duquesne fans to get some relief. 40 years is too much to withstand, right?”
Because of his dad, Dambrot is personally invested to turn the program around, and he’s doing it quicker than expected. The players bought in a long time ago. They fans are now getting on board.
“I want guys like my dad and people after him to be able to feel good about it, and say, ‘Hey, you remember when Duquesne was great? We’re pretty good again,’” Dambrot said.
But his work is just beginning. The season could conceivably go off the rails starting Wednesday against Richmond. All indications are though it won’t. These Dukes play at a high level and have just enough talent to compete with the upper echelon of the league.
And just like the perception around the program is quickly changing, the season objectives for the Dukes are changing, too.
Prior to the Saint Louis game, Dambrot had this to say about pushing to be the best in the league.
“One of the things I’ve hit hard on in the last two days is, ‘Look, we need to strive to be at the top of the mountain,’” Dambrot said. “Not the middle of the mountain, nor the bottom of the mountain, the valley. We want to be at the top of the mountain. So what’s it take to be at the top of the mountain?”
He followed that up by explaining you have to have reasonably good ability, which the Dukes do, and intangibles, i.e. guarding, sharing the ball, and winning the battles you’re good at. The latter is something Duquesne is working on each day.
Did you know, @DuqMBB has more wins (14) than UConn, Georgetown, Iowa, Dayton, LSU, Temple, Texas, Northwestern, Penn St, Stanford, Baylor, Oklahoma St. @CoachDambrot Factor pic.twitter.com/yARpSTkcrQ
— mike vukovcan (@mvukovcan) January 21, 2018
“So we have to strive at this point now to be at the top of the mountain, and nothing else is really satisfactory,” Dambrot said. “I believe if we do things the right way we can be at the top of the mountain.”
Anyone would have dismissed those words as foolish back in November, but here we are in late January and everyone’s buying in. Junior guard Tarin Smith said as much in his comments following Saturday’s win.
“Our goal is to win a championship,” Smith said. “Whether the regular season or tournament, at the end of the year our goal is championship. We want to finish at the top of the league.”
Smith added it’s been a “wild” ride, and fans will probably concur. Dambrot is just getting started, and he won’t stop until the Duquesne basketball program is fully restored.
“We got a lot of work to do,” Dambrot said. “I’m just hoping at the end of my seven years that the Duquesne people can be pretty proud of what they have.”
If ticket sales are any indication, fans are already proud. The best is yet to come.