It is clear as far as Duquesne goes, outsiders are unsure of what to expect but there is a clear confidence that the Dukes possess as the season tips off Tuesday night against Rider.
Duquesne continues to play with a chip on its shoulder and as assistant coach Charles Thomas said at Atlantic 10 Media Day, the reason is simple.
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“Because Keith Dambrot is our head coach, that says it all right there,” Thomas said. “That man lives with a chip on his shoulder. If you watch his teams play, that is how we play and this year is no different. The way our leader coaches and how passionate he is about the game, it is going be that way whether we are picked first, or 14th, that’s how Keith Dambrot teams play.”
Duquesne was picked 11th in the A-10 Preseason Poll, though Duquesne had been in the top half of the conference in recent years.
Dambrot admitted that it was time to retool the roster because it was not yet ready to win and with everyone spending the offseason together, holding each other accountable, there is a clear rise in chemistry.
“The chemistry has been amazing so far, these guys seem like they’ve known each other forever,” Thomas said. “I think people are really going to be surprised. Guys have come from different universities to Duquesne. This is their second chance of showing people what they can do. There is a bunch of excitement that will carry over to the season.”
All of the team is together on and off the court and Thomas opined that Duquesne will get back to the level it has been at, citing good new players coming in and that one of those, Tre Williams is going to be a focal point of what is done this season.
That likely will not serve as much of a surprise to Duquesne fans who were used to seeing Michael Hughes and Marcus Weathers bang bodies in the post.
Dambrot likes to run his offense through the post and if that player is double teamed, kick it back outside in an effort to find a higher-percentage shot.
Regarding Williams, Thomas stated that his skillset resembles Hughes, but that there is more versatility. Defensively, he has the ability to change everything, even if a shot is not blocked.
“He’s already done a good job with that in practice,” said Thomas. “We’re excited that we still have some rim protection because we weren’t sure at first, but with Tre, we know we’re going to be okay.”
Assessing other newcomers, Thomas said that Primo Spears comes in and controls the offense, getting players in the proper spots. He is quick and break defenders off the dribble. He also could be one of the top defensive players as a freshman.
Jackie Johnson meanwhile has been a scoring machine in practice and also provides a quickness which could add additional pressure to Duquesne’s backcourt.
Leon Ayers is flexible in his ability to play any traditional guard spot and is a scorer. He is able to stretch defenses which can open up additional post touches.
Thomas added that Kevin Easley has the right mindset with ability to play and score. He can defend and also sees the floor well.
When RJ Gunn returns from injury, Thomas believes he will cause problems for A-10 opponents. He can shoot well, is strong and the versatile piece that Dambrot had when he coached at Akron.
Since being given a scholarship, Davis Larson has shown maturity, a tough mindset and winning attitude. His ability to hit the three-point shot also may be needed to further Duquesne’s cause.
Additionally Thomas believes Tyson Acuff has indeed been a good leader for this team. He understands his fit in college basketball. He figured things out towards the end of his freshman season and came out guns blazing in all facets. He knows that everything has to start on the defensive end.
Defensively, Thomas does not expect too much to change. He did concede that Duquesne may pick up the floor more and go with a 10-man rotation, at least to start the season.
“We’re still probably going to hard hedge and trap some, but we’re going to do a lot of different things,” Thomas said. “I’ve known Keith Dambrot for over half my life and we’re going to be aggressive on both ends of the floor, that I do know.”
Rider was picked to finish fifth in the MAAC this season and were 6-17 last year, placing last and winning one of its five non-conference contests.
Senior guard Dwight Murray Jr (15.8 ppg/6 rebs) was a member of the Preseason MAAC All-Conference First Team and is the Broncs leader.
Graduate transfer Dimencio Vaughn (1.7 ppg/1.5 rebs) earned a nod on the Preseason MAAC All-Conference Second team after transferring in from Ole Miss. Vaughn previously was with Rider before the transfer and had scored 1,239 points and grabbed 565 rebounds in that time.
Forward Mervin James (14 ppg/7.2 rebs) is a transfer from North Alabama, and figures to be a key performer as well.