In his previous previous 22 seasons, Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot has not apologized for wanting to win every game he has coached and making that euphoric feeling his primary goal at all costs.
Admittedly, it was less at times about developing younger players and more about getting the victory.
Now as Monday afternoon’s season opener against Little Rock draws near, Dambrot is considering a change in approach, if it helps his team.
Though it may seem harsh that Dambrot was less reliant on newcomers, he could at least fall back on having 13 non-conference games which normally includes buy games or games which at least on paper seem easier to win, where those young players could see some time on the court.
Perhaps Dambrot was also previously pressured by coaching at Akron for the majority of his coaching career, which is not a shot at the Zips, but rather a realization he himself made that the program is a member of the MAC – a traditional one-bid conference as far as the NCAA Tournament goes. Dambrot understood come conference time, there was zero margin for error and towards the end of the non-conference slate could narrow his rotation down to those he believed could effectively fill time or had a role defined enough for a purpose.
In his first three seasons, the Atlantic-10 has fluctuated as far as how deep it is, but this year the conference projects to have depth that has not been achieved in several years. Not many would disagree with the A-10 potentially sending three teams to the NCAA Tournament, if not more.
While that is great news, Duquesne does not have 13 non-conference games, but rather three. That means that after Friday, the Dukes do not have an opponent until Richmond starts A-10 play in mid-December.
Of course games could get added within a blink of an eye and several teams have proven quite creative in finding new opponents, while others are working the phones and social media in hopes of not just adding games but also being able to meet the minimum number of contests to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, which is down to 13 games this year.
With Duquesne currently having just three games in its non-conference slate and of course no secret scrimmages or exhibitions, all Dambrot can go on is what he sees in practice, which really is both a blessing and a curse.
“Usually, you get ample time to develop young players which helps you down the line,” Dambrot said. “Right now, you have a three-game non-conference schedule and they are three hard games. We’re playing NCAA-caliber teams, so I have to make a decision. Do I try to develop and win or do I go all in and not worry about those other guys. It’s a hard decision. I am three days away from the first game and I still don’t know the answer. I’m not comfortable, let’s put it that way.”
Really it is hard to determine how far along all nine of Duquesne’s newcomers truly are. Dambrot has had them come to practices early so he can go over the team’s complex offensive playbook which features many high-low actions down, or at least as close to mastered as possible considering the circumstances.
Assessing the newcomers, senior forward Marcus Weathers first named Toby Okani and then Andre Harris as standouts for their versatility and potential to play right away. Weathers also stated Jett Roesing is shooting the ball well in practice, which can help a Duquesne team that was inconsistent on its 3-point shooting a season ago. Additionally, he stated that Mike Bekelja has handled the basketball well and can be a good combo guard.
Though Dambrot likely has this feedback, he remains unsure who will be good when the lights come on Monday afternoon. When Duquesne faces the caliber of teams it is to start the 2020-21 campaign, every minute counts, so it becomes even more important to avoid a drop off in production.
Regardless of his decision, the newcomers could expect to see the court as Duquesne may have to navigate the same early-season basketball issues that have plagued a lot of teams, namely a noticeable increase in fouls, turnovers and lack of defense.
🚨 November 25 is HERE 🚨
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) November 25, 2020
. Assessing his team, Dambrot did state that had it played Nov. 25 as originally schedule, Duquesne may not have been quite ready, citing conditioning as the main reason. On the other side of the token, Dambrot feels Duquesne has cabin fever and everyone just wants to play somebody at this point.
Duquesne’s contest against Little Rock is part of the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic, as Duquesne will enter a Louisville bubble. Wednesday’s game against UNC Greensboro will also be part of the event, while Friday morning’s contest versus Winthrop is separate from the tournament, but remains in the bubble. All three games will be contested at the KFC Yum! Center.
• Dambrot would not directly commit to a starting five for Monday, though he hinted if everyone acted right it could be guessed, but if not that, it could be guessed.
On an unrelated note of sorts, Weathers stated a returner that impressed this offseason has been Lamar Norman Jr. who has grown in confidence and has improved with trusting his shot.
• The UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse still does not have a set opening date. COVID-19 caused multiple months of delays and Dambrot is not counting on it being ready before season’s end, though that is far from confirmation in either direction.
It is not yet public knowledge where Duquesne will play its home games, however when you combine Duquesne Duke reporter Adam Lindner’s report of women’s basketball playing St. Bonaventure Dec. 11 at La Roche University’s Kerr Fitness Center and Dambrot’s admission of wanting to play in the smallest place they can, perhaps that will be the landing spot. Duquesne managed to turn La Roche into a home-court advantage of sorts last season, posting a 4-0 record.
One thing Dambrot does know is it has been 18 months of waiting for the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse to be completed. Practices remain at the Power Center where only tier one personnel are permitted and a cleaning process occurs before the next team takes the court. There is not a shower in the gym and no locker room due to COVID-19. Last year, Duquesne used the racketball court as its makeshift locker room.
“I would be a liar if I said it wasn’t getting old,” Dambrot said. “I am so sick of being in the rec center and in the crappy offices. I’m sure our guys are too, it’s a tough deal. I really didn’t sign up for not having a shower or locker room. Ask Andy Toole it wasn’t fun for two years at Robert Morris and he has a good program, but they struggled in those two years. We did a good job last year and I think we can do it again, but it’s not easy.”
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) November 24, 2020
HE SAID IT
“I think I’ve grown into more patience and less aggressiveness but it is still a challenge. If you don’t have high expectations or standards then you’ll never achieve at a high level. While I have an understanding of where we are at, I’m still not going to like it.” – Dambrot
“Overall, (our) base system is in. Do we have more ability than the rest of the league? Probably not. But we have experienced availability and if we grow emotionally we’ll be right there.” – Dambrot
“You can practice a certain way and then in a game it could be very different. For our newer guys to play the first game is a good thing for them just to get that feel of what to expect and how the college game is played.” – Weathers