As Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot spoke publicly to a collective group of reporters for the first time in nearly a month, he felt the need, specifically the need for speed.
Indeed Dambrot decided to compare his team’s situation to Maverick losing “Goose” and having to get back in the airplane.
Duquesne which was able to practice for the first time in over two weeks Saturday evening will travel to face Saint Louis Wednesday night in its Atlantic 10 Conference opener.
“For us, I think that’s pretty much what we have to do,” Dambrot said. “We’ve just got to get back on the horse that threw us off and then we have to live with the results. This isn’t going to be a quick fix, we’re going to have to work to get better. We’re certainly not going to play our best basketball and pay our dues again.”
Dambrot fully understands that his team is not 100% and is heading it to face a physical Saint Louis which is receiving several votes towards the AP Top 25 poll.
With Duquesne not having played in approximately a month and two non-conference games played in total, it will have a Saint Louis opponent which is battled tested and 7-1 overall.
Still, Duquesne has been sidelined as players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 shutting the program down once again. Dambrot himself is the only coach yet to test positive which allowed him to do informal one-on-ones with student-athletes as they became healthy.
Nothing about the season in general has been easy and Dambrot believed the proper precautions would be taken in the Louisville bubble, but did not prove to be the case.
“The hard part is you see these kids come off quarantine, the 10 days and you look in their eyes and see they’ve been sick,” said Dambrot. “It’s not like anything I’ve seen. It takes them two, three, four days to even resemble themselves out there. I look in their face and you can tell they’ve been sick, that’s the hard part. Everyone at some point will go through it to some extent that some time I think. We thought the bubble would be safe but it ended up killing us really.”
Duquesne has already tested five times since returning and all tests have been negative include those conducted Monday prior to Dambrot meeting with reporters.
With the tests negative, Duquesne will have a full team with the exception of freshman guard Mike Bekelja who has a stress fracture.
Earlier on in the season Dambrot faced a dilemma on whether he wanted to play several of his freshmen to develop them or shorten the bench and go with those that allowed Duquesne to find success a season ago.
Given Duquesne is coming back from being shutdown, Dambrot will not have the same dilemma now.
“We just have to compete and we’ll have to play shorter intervals for sure, play more people for sure,” he said.
Any basketball year can prove to be a grind, but this year has been especially brutal for Duquesne which was shut down multiple times before the season and now again during it.
“I was just worried about the grind of it all mentally,” said Dambrot.”Thank goodness most of them got to go home for Christmas, though some of them were in quarantine. The grind of not playing games, not being around normal students, not having a real college experience. Every team is going to react differently to that. It’s not even a real year the way I view it but it doesn’t matter because at the end of the season it’s going to be viewed as a real year.”
All of this leads to a question which has been widely discussed across the country.
Is this season worth it?
It is a question Pitt coach Jeff Capel pondered once again after going through his own battle and has clear feelings about.
Dambrot is 62-years-old and states that if he were to test positive for COVID-19 he would probably be in more harm’s way than his players, said he would understand if any of his players were to opt out.
Still there are several factors as to whether this season and all of the stoppages will be considered “worth it” for Duquesne.
“I don’t know whether the answer is we shouldn’t play or we should play,” he said. “I don’t know if we did the right thing or the wrong thing, I’m not smart enough for that. I think most of the kids want to play. If we have no catastrophic events and these kids stay healthy and we don’t have any huge issues or get hospitalized.”
Photo credit: GoDuquesne.com