Duquesne returned the kind of production from the 2019-20 season to this one that most coaches can only dream about.
Leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Weathers returned to the red and blue this fall, as did second-leading scorer and leading assist-maker Sincere Carry, third-leading scorer and top shot blocker Michael Hughes and fourth-leading scorer and top 3-point threat Tavian Dunn-Martin.
Of the 2,146 points scored by a Duquesne player last season, 1,824 of them were scored by players that returned to the team this year, a full 85 %.
With the Dukes going through a mixed-up early season schedule that saw them play just two non-conference games and go nearly a full month between competitive contests, it would have been easy to envision head coach Keith Dambrot lean on that experience to guide the Dukes through their Atlantic-10 opener at George Washington on Saturday.
Instead, it was true freshman Toby Okani leading the charge. Okani was a perfect 6 for 6 from the floor to tie for the Duquesne lead with 14 points as the Dukes put five players in double figures in a win over the Colonials.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 2, 2021
Okani, is not a typical freshman, that much is clear.
“The thing that I like best about Toby is he likes the game,” Dambrot said after the game. “He wants to get in the gym. He wants to get better. He thinks he’s good, even to a fault. He’ll probably tell you his coach was stupid for not playing more earlier in the season, but that’s okay, because that’s what guys are supposed to do. They’re supposed to think they’re good. But I was proud of what he did. I thought he was fearless. I thought he made shots, but he spent a lot of time on his shooting. He drove the ball to the rim, and he’s a multi-dimensional defender. I thought he did a good job defensively. He’s a very prideful young man.”
“My teammates and my coaches gave me the confidence to just come in and play my role,” Okani said. “So I felt comfortable once I got on the court. … I think it was just a confidence that Coach D gave us. It was just gonna come in and just play our game and play together and everything will work out.”
It’s hard to imagine a better situation for a freshman to come into than the one at Duquesne. With the Dukes returning so many players, they certainly don’t need a contribution from Okani to play well. But Dambrot also has an open enough mind to give his freshmen the minutes they’ve earned, even if it comes at the expense of more experienced players.
— Toby Okani (@t_boogi1) October 23, 2020
“Our veterans took me under their wings, like the other freshmen,” Okani said. “They just told us to just play our game and that everything’s gonna come. Everything starts with defense and just showing us what Coach D wants. … I still got to work for every opportunity I get.
“They were pretty good last year, but at the same time, we’re just better as a unit now. I think we have a lot of depth, even that we played, like 10 guys, we can go even deeper, and all of them can play the same amount of minutes as everyone else.”
In a mixed-up season thanks to COVID-19, with the Dukes play George Washington on back-to-back nights already and a significant potential for short lineups at times throughout the season, the depth that Okani has helped created could be key moving forward.
“I definitely think that our depth is going to come into key later on in the season, because no matter injuries, someone’s out, that everyone’s ready to step up. In practice, we just keep going at it like you’re a starter,” Okani said. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t play or you do play.”