PITTSBURGH– Saturday night, the Duquesne men’s basketball team will celebrate senior day, but in terms of players, just one will be honored as walk-on Zach Snyder will have his moment to receive appreciation from fans and students returning just in time from spring break.
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As is the case with most seniors, it has been an up-and-down time for Snyder at Duquesne but even more amazing in his eyes that his basketball career is close to coming to an end.
“It is a mixture of excitement and an odd feeling that time has gone by that quickly,” he said. “We’re only looking at a few weeks left of me ever playing basketball. Being a walk-on, you move onto the real world pretty quickly. This is it for me, so it doesn’t feel like four years have happened but when you are playing basketball you never stop, so time moves so fast.”
Duquesne was the only NCAA Division I program to give Snyder an opportunity to walk on as he mostly was contacted by D-II and D-III programs and the chance to stay where his father and family call home meant a lot.
The adjustment was a challenging one for Snyder because in high school he was the go to player and leader for his team, but as a walk-on he is looked at towards the bottom of the proverbial totem pole.
Now he had to be the best practice player out there, which means, most of his contributions to the team are not seen by many eyes.
In practice, Snyder is one of the most important people on the court because he is running opponent’s set plays and he has to know them so that starters and key reserves are prepared. As a walk-on, if he screws up a play in practice, not only does he get yelled at, but it screws up the entire practice.
Through it all Snyder maintained his love for the game, with his mother Susan, a former player at Michigan State and Rutgers as a big factor towards his playing career.
“In a way she put us into basketball but they never pressured me to do something like that,” said Snyder. “My mom helped me prepare for college basketball, she knew what it was like, the good and the bad and told me about it going in. Not much has changed so I had a perspective going in. She coached me 4-5 years.”
A CHANGE AT THE TOP
Though Snyder first played Dec. 1, 2015 against Mississippi Valley State, he had two problems to contend with after his sophomore season.
The first was that Duquesne was without a coach for nearly two weeks and the second was that he had a torn labrum in his shoulder.
When Duquesne parted ways with Jim Ferry, there was a search to fill his vacancy and several media outlets were quick to opine, offer their thoughts and provide names given from unnamed sources.
Snyder called that gap an awful one because seemingly every day a new name came out and he described it as a “what are we doing” type of feeling.
All of a sudden it became public that Keith Dambrot was the coach.
“You’re sitting back and seeing those reports and then you are wondering if there is even going to be a coach,” Snyder said. “Then one day out of the blue we got Coach Dambrot and he’s won 25 games for how long? We really nailed that one and then we met him and I liked him from then on.”
With that problem solved, Snyder had to figure out the best course of action for his shoulder.
The injury was a fairly serious one, but with a new coach it is always a slippery slope about getting the surgery right away. In hindsight, Snyder feels the staff would have been fine if he had opted for surgery, but when doctors told him the injury would not worsen, the forward played through the pain.
Even through the pain though, he noticed that a lot had changed at Duquesne.
“It was an interesting time,” he said. “The whole culture shifted, work ethic changed. Everything literally changed when he got here, it was night and day. The first workout that we had was to such a higher level than any of us had ever experienced, looking back on it, that is such a minor workout compared to what we do.”
A MEANINGFUL FRIENDSHIP
After Duquesne beat Pitt at the City Game in 2016, Alex Kwong knew the first person he wanted to see as he joined the team and fans in a postgame swarm around halfcourt.
That person was Snyder.
“I remember that day so vividly,” Kwong said. “I ran on the court to find him and we always talk a lot after games too so it was thinking back on moments like that. It meant so much to the program and Duquesne itself and being a part of that, even for the one night was really something special. I was glad to share that moment with him.”
Kwong recalls when he first met Snyder through the random room generator and it was because of him that they see each other every day inside the Palumbo Center.
Now the two will be recognized before Saturday’s game together.
“We’ve pretty much been together literally the entire ride,” said Kwong. “We’ve seen everything and been through so much, especially with the program, it’s really cool to see the direction the program is going.”
Snyder realizes this friendship is a special one.
“Kwong is a funny kid to be around, he is always up to something and is entertaining. He’s been a fun roommate to be around with all of that. There is literally always something going on in his mind.
When the two inevitably go their separate ways, it is clear that both will stay in touch.
“We’ll still be in contact, especially when we are watching Duquesne games from afar,” Kwong said. “We’ll definitely stay close and in touch. He’s been my day one, staying in touch will not be an issue regardless of where we go.”
THE INFAMOUS BUS RIDE
As Duquesne’s lone senior, Snyder is just one of four individuals associated with the program who was on the infamous bus that was stuck in between Breezewood and Summerset on the Pennsylvania Turnpike during a return from George Mason. The other three are Kwong, Duquesne Sports Information Director Dave Saba and longtime team broadcaster Ray Goss.
The bus was stuck for just over 30 hours as two trucks jackknifed and Duquesne was behind a tractor-trailer.
How the team got off the bus at 10:46 p.m. was a story Snyder recalls well and with time can laugh at.
Duquesne became a national story as many national outlets wanted to talk to the team about the experience and through all of the requests, the Dukes put on a high-spirited front, though that was mostly people trying to stay positive.
“It was a pretty miserable atmosphere, everyone wanted to get out of there,” Snyder recalled. “We were holding it together pretty well, but there was no way around it. It could have been a lot worse, we had heat, leftover food, movies, outlets for our phones but overall it was pretty boring and you just wanted to get off that bus. It kind of looked like a zombie movie where you just see lines of cars for miles with no end in sight. ”
Snyder admittedly had cabin fever and does not like to sit still for long periods of time, so he decided to go for a walk around 8 p.m and found a spot around a corner where people started to shovel a path so the truck could be out of the way.
After a quick dialogue in which some recognized Snyder from various televised interviews, he was able to see that once the truck got through there would be a gap for Duquesne’s bus to get through. From there it was an all-out sprint to the bus to call in reinforcements.
One of the concrete medians were taken away which allowed the bus to turn around and find an alternate route. Because of the angle Duquesne was stuck at, they did not see some cars slowly move through the stoppage.
Since Duquesne did not have shovels, it would have to improvise, with the source being Domino’s pizza boxes the student managers walked three-quarters of a mile to get that morning. Those pizza boxes made a path for the semi to get through and then the team worked together to get the bus out of the two feet of snow which had accumulated.
“We didn’t anticipate being there that long because it was a night and usually when you sit in traffic you are there for two hours and get through,” said Snyder. “We got stuck and then it just kept snowing. Then we realized we are in deep snow and think you are in trouble. Then you wake up the next morning and think you are going to be there forever.”
While discussing those 30 hours, Snyder could not help but think about what would happen if this year’s team was stuck in the same situation and he did not have as positive of an outlook.
“Our team now, we have a lot more hyper people, we would have been a lot worse off. That team three years ago was a little more easygoing.”
CALLING IT A CAREER
After Snyder graduates, he has a consulting-work related job lined up with Ernst & Young, which is where he had an internship over the summer.
“Zach is going to be a successful young man,” Dambrot said. “He’s a brilliant student who is going to get a good job. He’s got a good Duquesne business degree, he’s been great. He’s a good guy to have around on a daily basis.”
For now though, Snyder wants to enjoy this Duquesne season for however long it may be and if he does not play on his senior day that does not matter, so long as his Dukes beat Dayton.
“To me, with all this program has been through and everything I’ve seen, 20 wins means a lot and would mean a lot more than me getting in,” he said. “We’ve been through some awful seasons, to see we are one win away from 20 is pretty incredible.”