After losing its top four scorers and multiple other players on the roster, Duquesne’s squad underwent a complete facelift this offseason under head coach Keith Dambrot. Leading scorer Marcus Weathers, as well as Tavian Dunn-Martin, Chad Baker, and Amari Kelly entered the transfer portal, and Mike Hughes left to go to the pros.
With the exception of maybe one or two guys on that list, a good amount of Duquesne’s departures were due to off-the-court issues. While those specific reasons remain undisclosed, Dambrot felt as though he needed a fresh start with the program.
“I felt like I let too much go over the last two years,” Dambrot told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “I don’t know if it was because of COVID or if it was because we were out of the gym, but, I didn’t really like it. So I told myself at the end of this year, that would never happen again. I am going to coach like I always have now.”
At the surface, one would think that a program like Duquesne would have trouble rebuilding so quickly.
However, are things all that bad on the Bluff? Since all of those players decided to leave Duquesne, the Dukes have added some impressive pieces from both the portal and the 2021 class that give hope for the future.
From the portal: Kevin Easley, RJ Gunn, Tre Williams, Leon Ayers III. From the 2021 class: Jackie Johnson, Primo Spears, Andy Barba.
A talented group of new faces joining an eager coach ready to change the culture around.
“We just felt like look, if we want to win a championship, we have to change it up,” Dambrot said about the revamped roster. “We had to reorganize, reboot, rethink, re-do our whole team really.”
With the new squad, Dambrot and co. will be looking to improve on a 9-9 record in this Covid-riddled season, which unfortunately included about as many postponements as actual games played for the Dukes. With 2021-22 on the horizon, he is ready to build around his new guys, and ready to win.
“We have built it on toughness, playing strong defensively, playing well together, and winning close games,” Dambrot said about his goals for the culture at Duquesne. “That is what all good teams do. This year, our culture is going to be set by our best players. The coach obviously controls some of it, but ultimately, if your best players are not your hardest workers, or don’t hold others to the highest standard, then you are never going to have a championship-quality team. So that’s still my job to make sure that our best players are held to those standards, but ultimately, they’re going to determine how good a culture and how good a team we have.”
When choosing his targets in the ever-so-crowded transfer portal, Dambrot had in the back of his mind everything above about culture. Everything he wanted in a player, in a group of players, he made sure to look for during this offseason.
“There are not many guys left [from last year’s team], so that is kind of what we did, we vented it pretty carefully to make sure that they cared about winning, that they cared about their teammates, that they were talented enough,” he added. “Good culture and bad talent isn’t a good recipe either, now. You have to have good talent as well.”
Good talent is exactly what the Dukes think they have found in the portal, after signing multiple guys with valuable high-major experience.
“I think we were fortunate, because the timing of the NCAA giving everybody a year back, and then the thousands of guys in the portal, that’s a joke, but you know, 35% of division one players in the portal, is your chance to get high-level players,” Dambrot went on, adding, “Because of that, I felt like we made some improvements on our team because of the circumstances.”
“We improved our shooting, we’ve been able to sustain ourselves on the inside with Tre Williams and the big guys we brought in- Kevin Easley and RJ Gunn- so, we get that. And then we improved our shooting. That is one area that we were not that good at. We haven’t been good since I have been here as far as shooting, our outside shooting in particular. And then obviously, we signed those young point guards which should give us a lit in the backcourt. Those guys have been at high-level prep schools, so we feel like those guys will really help us as well.”