As Duquesne Men’s Basketball coach Keith Dambrot watched Wednesday’s contest between VCU and Dayton he could not help but notice Rams coach Mike Rhoades sitting down with his head buried in his hands after.
Dambrot knows exactly how Rhoades feels as both have gone through these past couple-plus weeks navigating through COVID-19 as each tested positive.
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Speaking to reporters, Dambrot, 63, said that the first couple of days he was in trouble and 17 days in, he is not back to full strength.
“Every time I would work one hour, I would have to sleep for two,” he said. “I had a struggle with it, I’m not going to lie. It was one of the toughest things I’ve had to get through in the last 20 years and I still can’t stop coughing. I feel like I am starting to get my energy level back.”
Dambrot stated that the entire coaching staff and all but three players tested positive for COVID during a stoppage that saw Duquesne be unable to play in its last four contests, one of which was cancelled.
Now Duquesne is set to play its first game since Dec. 19 when it travels to face Massachusetts Saturday.
“I think we’ve been a little unlucky in the sense that last year we started to play pretty good and got shut down, and this year, we obviously played our best game of the year against UC Irvine and then we got shut down,” said Dambrot. “That’s the way it goes and is going to be. It’s more contagious than it’s ever been and we just have to deal with it.”
The good news for Duquesne is that coming out of this stoppage, it is healthy, at least as of when Dambrot spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon. This means injuries to both Primo Spears and Tre Williams will not force either to miss any game action.
One player who cannot say the same is R.J. Gunn who is not completely healthy with his high-ankle sprain. It is an injury which is slower to recover from and between the injury and COVID stoppage, there is a likelihood that Duquesne will explore a redshirt, though ultimately the decision will be Gunn’s to make.
“He’s just too good of a player to waste,” Dambrot said. “That’ll be his decision, not mine. I like him as a person, so if he asks for my advice, that would be my advice for him.”
With how the practice situation worked out, most everyone was able to hit the court throughout the stoppage, though Dambrot has tried to balance getting effective practices with having fun.
He has decided to shorten practices to keep the team both sharp and enthusiastic, but now with Atlantic 10 play beginning, many teams are at the same point, and it is just about getting better.
When the dust settles, it is clear that Dambrot believes his team can succeed.
“We’ll be a tough out,” he said. “We won’t be easy, we’re not going to get our teeth kicked in every single night, we’ll be in our share of games, we aren’t championship level yet, you can’t say you are when you’re 5-7 in non-conference. It’s all who can get better from this point on and by how much.”
It was a tough start to the season for Jackie Johnson III as someone used to scoring was not on the court much and when he was, did not stay on too long.
Johnson has earned a starting spot, getting the nod in each of Duquesne’s last two games averaging 10 points in the process.
“I’m probably prouder of Jackie than anybody on our team really,” Dambrot said. “He’s had to overcome adversity and he hasn’t been given anything. He’s earned every minute that he’s gotten, earned every start. He’s learned a lot and been very coachable. He loves basketball. Most of the time when guys earn it like that, they end up being pretty good.”
By no means does Dambrot feel Johnson is a finished product as he did say there are deficiencies present in his game, though those are more staff related with teaching him what he needs to know to adjust to the college game.
Dambrot believes Johnson is just scratching the surface and will do what it takes to continue showing improvement.
“He listened and trusted the process which young people today don’t really do that, especially a guy that scored as many points as he’s scored in his lifetime,” said Dambrot. “His relaxation level has really improved as well. A lot of that could be me, I quick hooked him early in the year, I was tough on him. A lot of the guys I’ve been tough on early in their careers turned out to be really good players.”