In today’s day and age, there are athletes that are very active on social media, and others who avoid it, but after last season when Duquesne Men’s Basketball Coach Keith Dambrot called out his team’s culture, insisting things had to change, guard Tyson Acuff read and saw every last word.
As one of four who saw the court last season that did return to the court, Acuff has taken on more of a leadership role and this has paid early dividends as in the early stages, Duquesne has shown to be a more accountable and committed team.
“It has been learning and picking things up on the fly and also teaching the newcomers the game and how they like to play,” he said. “As far as the coaching staff and the league have a lot to offer. It’s helping each individual grow. It puts you in a great mindset to know that your brothers have your back and you can have someone you can depend on and come to talk about anything. It’s great to know you have a group of strong people behind you.”
Acuff admitted that his freshman season was not always easy as he displayed a reluctance to adjust to Dambrot’s message and it took the Detroit native time to see that.
All this time, Dambrot recruited Acuff for who he was but it was playing more free which served him well.
Though Acuff averaged 13.7 minutes per game, in 12 of his last 14 contests, he saw the court for at least 10 minutes.
Additionally, Acuff was the only non-starter to see the court for all 18 games. In the Atlantic 10 Championship, Acuff contributed 21 points, nearly 1/3 of his season total, over 52 minutes, between contests against Richmond and St. Bonaventure, two of the conference’s top teams.
Of his late success, Acuff said it came down to digging deep and simply playing his game.
Now as a leader, it is on Acuff to help set the team’s standard of play. With Dambrot, that starts on the defensive side of the ball.
Acuff thought that it took last year’s team too much time to intensify defensively, which meant the Dukes were unable to achieve its full potential on that end of the floor.
It is now on the team to make sure this is not repeated for the 2021-22 campaign.
“We’ve been bringing it every day in practice going hard, talking a lot of trash to each other, really emphasizing the defensive (aspect) of the game,” said Acuff. “I think it’s going to be a big part starting from jump. We don’t want to wait until it gets too late or the middle of the season for it to get going. Defense has been the key factor of our practices.”
TEAM PLENTY MOTIVATED FOR SEASON
In Dambrot’s first three seasons, Duquesne was able to overachieve, at least from what so-called experts outside of the program expected.
Last year, Duquesne took a step back in terms of projections as it suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, player transfers, breaks and a lack of cohesion which plagued the on-court product.
As always there are preseason prognosticators whether it be national experts, preview magazines or even other websites and blogs.
Duquesne’s standing has typically been anywhere from ninth-13th in the Atlantic 10, which is a departure over recent years. With Duquesne losing Tavian Dunn-Martin, Michael Hughes and Marcus Weathers in addition to Sincere Carry’s midseason transfer, Maceo Austin’s decision not to return to the court this season, and the team moving on from Chad Baker, this is a new-look Dukes program, which creates uncertainty when it comes to on-court results, something each program is ultimately judged by at day’s end.
The conference’s preseason poll will be released later this week and always includes each program’s head coach and a media member which covers each team.
Preseason polls are exactly that, an analysis of what is returning, what has been lost and how that shapes out.
In recent years, Duquesne has always had a proverbial chip on its shoulder and regardless of the poll’s results, that will not change.
“It’s really a good motivation factor,” Acuff said. “We’ve talked about it numerous times and people are going to talk and say what they have to say. We can just let them talk, our game will show on the court and then we’ll talk to everybody after who has something to say, so I think it is a good, determining factor.”
Dambrot was never shy to state that in his first three seasons his team placed ahead of where the A-10 preseason poll projected, and the team’s goal of winning a conference championship has not changed.
Duquesne has been pushing each on physically and verbally to achieve its goals ahead of its Nov. 9 season opener against Rider.
“We know we’re going to shock a lot of people this year,” sophomore center Tre Williams said. “We just have to keep working hard every day.”