After losing eight players to the transfer portal and one to professional basketball, Keith Dambrot was faced with the tough task of rebuilding practically an entire college basketball team.
Mission impossible, right? Finding nine new players who have never shared the court together who can lead a team in a tough conference like the Atlantic 10 is surely no easy task. However, Dambrot says, with a little bit of good timing, his staff recruited a roster that they think will be one of the most successful ones since he has been at Duquesne.
“You know one thing about me, I have never BS’d anybody in my life and I have always told the truth,” Dambrot said. “I think this is the best team we have ever had here. Again, it is a little early to tell because we haven’t really had them in the gym yet, but we were fortunate that our reorganization, our rebooting, our regrouping, came at a time when there were 1,635 guys in the portal. So we were able to land not only high-quality players but high-quality people, and I think it was the perfect time for us to change our dynamics.”
Dambrot continued to refer to this “changing of dynamics” and talked about the establishment of a new culture, a new set of values for the Duquesne basketball program. He felt that last year’s roster did not have the correct make-up to win a championship, and for that reason, a lot of the players either left or were encouraged to leave.
“We didn’t feel like we could be championship quality with the direction we were headed,” he said. We didn’t think we could win a championship. We thought we could win 11 games in the league, or twelve games in the league, or ten games in the league, or nine games in the league, and that’s not really what I came to Duquesne for. If you are going to win championships, sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror and fix what you think is wrong. I just felt like we didn’t have enough winning mentality, our expectation level both on and off the court wasn’t high enough, and that I was going to go back to the way that I have always done things.”
He continued, comparing coaching Duquesne to coaching LeBron, which he did back in James’ high school days at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s.
“Let’s say you coach LeBron James, you can’t expect anything but greatness on a nightly basis from him,” Dambrot added. “You can’t expect anything less than a competitive winning mentality from your team at Duquesne either. That’s what I mean by raising our expectation level, both on and off the court. That’s the classroom, that’s off-the-court habits, that’s eating right, that’s team mentality. And let me just say that those aren’t the players problems, those were my problems. I didn’t hold them to that, so I decided I was going to fix it like I always have.”
After losing all of those guys, Duquesne was left with six players on the roster from last season. While not many of them played a large role in the past, Dambrot says, he wouldn’t be surprised if this returning core
“I think all the guys coming back, we have six guys coming back. The good thing is, we’ve only got six guys coming back of which Toby played a lot, Maceo has played a lot, Rotroff ha played a fair amount, Mikey Bekelja played some, Mounir [Hima] hasn’t played at all, and Tyson Acuff played a fair amount. But, we also brought in a guy that’s started 55 games at Indiana State, a guy that has played a lot of basketball at TCU and at Chattanooga, and then we brought in a guy that averaged 12 points a game at Mercer, and then a Division II All-American. So we brought in a lot of experienced guys.”
Dambrot also has Primo Spears and Jackie Johnson on the roster for next year, two prep-school guards that are bound to have huge college careers.
“The two prep-school guys are really really talented guys,” he said. “Very, very talented. I would say they are going to be the key to our team. How well they can come in and play college basketball right away. But they are really talented.”