Following a quarterfinal exit in the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship, Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot could not have been more direct assessing which areas his program was falling short.
Not only was his team not accountable but also was “fake connected”. He would later admit that he let too much go in the last couple of years, whether it was due to the pandemic, not having a true home gym or other reasons which began to pile up.
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Assessing the program, Dambrot decided that it was not good enough, not championship quality and set out to build again. He has been encouraged by the early results shown in practices.
“I think we’ve made big strides as far as camaraderie, compatibility, our team chemistry,” he said. “I think we have a lot of guys that have been places that they haven’t had as much as they’ve had here. They’re thankful for what they get and I think this team as a whole will be greater than the sum of the parts which is really what all great teams have.”
One thing which certainly aided Dambrot’s cause was the transfer market.
Taking advantage of a recent NCAA rule approving a one-time transfer with immediate eligibility, Dambrot was able to build a competitive roster which has at least two players per position.
“No question we couldn’t have done it three years ago,” said Dambrot. “We wouldn’t have had enough guts to do it because it wasn’t like this, the climate has changed. The ship sailed, no longer are there going to be as many four-year guys at schools, they’ll always be looking around testing the waters. You have to adapt and be flexible or they’re going to leave you in the dust.”
In college basketball’s current climate, Dambrot believes that relationship building is important, or the team will not play for a coach, but at the same time a player has to want those relationships. This is something modern athletes may shy away from because it is an all-out commitment. The same commitment Dambrot brought up repeatedly last season as a shortcoming.
“I feel like we did a good job of finding guys who want relationships, that want to take the next step,” Dambrot said. “You can’t have dysfunction and win championships, I just don’t see it unless you have crazy ability. Chemistry and character are very important. We feel like have enough talent and have good toughness. It’s my job to take to levels they can’t get to on their own and that’s really what I’m trying to do.”
TEAM RESPONDING TO NEW CHALLENGE
Tyson Acuff did not bat an eye when asked about Dambrot’s critical remarks last season, in fact he acknowledged both hearing and reading those remarks.
As a returning freshman guard who competed in 18 games last season, it would be understandable if he reacted negatively to those thoughts, but instead he could not have agreed more.
“If everyone is not on the same page or does not have the same end goal, it won’t end right,” he said. “Everyone has to be able to take criticism and give criticism as well, which we have been working on since the beginning of the year. We’ve preached that in the huddles, before practice and after practice.”
Upon transferring to Duquesne, sophomore center Tre Williams has found that his team has found accountability, playing hard daily in practice and that has only strengthened a bond where everyone is truly part of the team both on and off the court.
“We preach that every day, taking criticism and being able to give it to your teammate, because you know you’re going to need those down the stretch in March, so we have to keep doing that every day,” said Williams. “Coach D pushes everybody to their limits, that’s something you need. You have to trust Coach D, he knows what he’s talking about and he’s always going to teach you the right stuff.”
Graduate student RJ Gunn believes his team has a good system in place that will allow this momentum to continue spinning forward.
“We made sure that coach is going to be the one that brings that negative side, that’s how coaching is,” the six-foot-seven center said. “What we try to do is bring a little bit of positivity. We’re going to have some things to say that might be negative, but everyone wants to bring some positivity with that.
When everything is added together, Acuff believes that this mix, combined with some newfound accountability will be perfect for everyone.
“The discipline and taking the constructive criticism is going to be the biggest part and it’s going to make Coach D’s job way easier than it was last year,” he stated. “I think he had a hard time just talking to the players and getting through to them without getting negative feedback. I have not seen that once with this group. We’ve been here two-and-a-half months and everyone’s willing to listen. It’s always ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ and that’s a great aspect to the team.”