For the last week, Duquesne men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot has spent more time with his guard Primo Spears, something which was done by design for multiple reasons.
The plan was to improve the relationship with the pair but also address areas in which he could improve that would benefit Duquesne.
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“We’ve had our ups and downs so far as far as getting used to each other,” Dambrot said. “I don’t mince any words, I tell the truth. It’s hard for guys to understand how I can be nice off the court and then out here, a mad man. We’ve worked hard the last week to work on that and talked at length about some of the things that he wasn’t doing to make our team great.”
Aided by Spears’s all-around performance, among many individual efforts, Duquesne defeated American 88-79 Sunday afternoon at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
Spears came on strong to start his freshman season as he was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week, but there have also been some inconsistencies as all parties try to adjust to a newness and youth that are affecting everyone.
Duquesne ranks last in the Atlantic 10 with 9.71 assists per game and Dambrot has challenged the Hartford native to grow in that area.
After Spears elevated his game in the final 90 seconds of first-half action with some made baskets including a buzzer-beating three-point shot, he got teammates involved.
The alley-oop plays that became commonplace in recent years under Dambrot began to return and it truly appeared that Duquesne was having fun on the court again.
On top of that, Spears has become a more rounded defender, as evidenced by his six steals, which were one off a program best, held by several different Dukes players.
“I feel like my on-ball pressure coming into college was stellar, but Coach D stressed to me that my off-ball I relax too much,” said Spears. “I just try to be as assertive as I am on the ball as I am off the ball and it showed today. He’s been on my tail about it and I had to show him I was capable.”
AYERS MAINTAINS BELIEF
If you have heard Dambrot say it once, he has said it a million times. Eventually when shots are not falling, they eventually will drop.
Following a 12-point effort in Duquesne’s season-opening win against Rider, Leon Ayers III had trouble converting from the field as the Dukes headed to the Virgin Islands.
While there, Ayers scored 15 points against Colorado and 23 versus Bradley. Ayers matched the 23 points in Sunday’s win.
“I don’t think anything changed for me as far as shooting the ball, I just wasn’t hitting,” he said. “Every great shooter, every great scorer have off nights. I was trying not to let two or three bad games get in my head. We were away from school and everybody for a week, so I got to clear my mind and it was really good for me. I never had doubt in myself.”
Ayers credited Dambrot for making sure players got in spots on the court where they can achieve high-percentage shots.
With those schematics, Ayers now has the confidence to attack, a sentiment his coach shared.
“We’ve put some things in to take advantage of his strengths,” said Dambrot. “A couple of his strengths are coming off of those down screens and getting downhill into the lane or bumping off when they go under and shoot the jump shot. We’re trying to get him to the midrange and get the ball in his hands more. I think he’s a work in progress, he’s very gifted offensively. He’s just scratching the surface. We’ve got to work on his toughness level, if he turns that switch, now you’ve got something pretty special.”
It was 13 days ago that Dambrot mirrored a reporter at the postgame podium trying to figure out what direction his team is going in and the progress towards finding solutions has been a mixed bag.
Dambrot has determined that his team is unlike any in his last 15 seasons as the inside-out offensive style has given way to becoming perimeter driven.
Duquesne has multiple players which can break down defenses and does so with length.
Given Duquesne has gone full-court on defense and the tiredness displayed Sunday, there may be more zone, which also would be a noticeable change.
How much of that had to do with Dambrot limiting those on the court to eight players as he limited his substitutions in an effort to win is up for debate.
He may bring more substitutions in at the end of the game as Duquesne struggled to get stops and he has to determine, who are the best five to see the court for that time.
At the moment, Mike Bekelja has been a bit lost in the shuffle as Duquesne has sacrificed some defense for a needed offensive punch.
Dambrot stated that last year, Duquesne had Mike Hughes and Marcus Weathers and shots did not have to be created, but with the team not fully committed to a direction at this time, it makes it tough for Bekelja to break through.
That being said, Dambrot made it clear that nothing is set in stone this season and he expects things to change.
“It’s going to be a work in progress with our guys,” he said. “…for me because I have to change the way I coach these guys to what’s good for them.”