Though the college basketball season is months away from truly beginning, it is never too early to follow up with a program to see where it is at.
Players do not return until June 10 but prior to a Zoom meeting with his team, Duquesne Men’s Basketball Coach Keith Dambrot met with PSN’s Zachary Weiss in an exclusive phone interview to discuss the season that was, what has transpired during the offseason and looked ahead.
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Zac Weiss: How quickly did you process last season or was it a continuation from in season dealing with losing games, injuries and some fans along the way?
Keith Dambrot: It was brutal. I haven’t had a losing season since 1992, so you can imagine how you react to what we went through. With that being said, we’ve shown we can win here. We haven’t won at the level we want to win at yet, but we’ve won 10 and 11 games in the league and won 19 and 21 games. We just had to get back to figuring out how to win again. It was obvious that we were young in the backcourt and we were small because of injuries so we tried to fix all of those problems. We had to fix our toughness, our shooting ability, so we had to reboot it. You just have to reflect when you get hit in the mouth and you can either put the white flag up or figure out how to fix it.”
ZW: When it comes to toughness, is that something engrained and it comes in, trying to teach or was it a matter of running out of time?
KD: Whenever you don’t win, it’s hard to play at a high level because everything goes wrong when you have a cumulative effect of how many losses we did. Belief, playing together, willing to make tough plays because you feel like it doesn’t matter anyway. A lot of it is just built in. You have to recruit toughness and leadership. We tried to do both of those as well. You can try to make guys tougher, but you can’t make them super tough if they’re not tough. That’s all recruited.”
ZW: How was it navigating last year’s portal, finding wants and needs and how did you learn from that?
KD: We just knew we had to get better depth at all spots, so if we have injuries, we can better control our team and have a bigger line, just a bigger margin of error. We got hit in one spot particularly and we didn’t have a lot of depth in the backcourt as well and when that happens, you pay a price.
ZW: What was it like going out there and pitching yourselves to find the right pieces after last season?
KD: We thought it was going to be a lot harder to be honest, because when you win six games, you figure nobody wants to really come and play for a team like that. We hit them hard on this being an aberration and we haven’t ever been though that and haven’t had one since 1992 and that was way before they were even born. We tried to put it in perspective for them and we had a much easier time than we thought we would have.
ZW: What does that say about the belief they have in you and this team?
KD: They knew that had opportunity to, to come in and play right away. That is also a big seller. They believed in us and our guys did a good job of getting on it early between the mixture of the prep school kids, the high school kids and the portal kids. It remains to be seen how many of them can become impact guys. You can recruit a lot of guys, but a couple of those guys have to turn into impact guys for you to really have success. All of the good teams in this league have a couple of impact guys so we have to make sure we not only have good, tough, role guys but also a couple of impact guys. When we were good, we had a couple of impact guys.
ZW: You admitted to overcorrecting last season, do you feel this was similar during the offseason to bring energy and winning back?
KD: I don’t think this was overcorrect, this was flat out fixing. We still try to vet and recruit the best people we can. When you have a big family like we have, you’re going to have an issue or two here or there. Every family has it. We definitely overcorrected the year before, we were just tired of the crap but this year we just worked hard and tried to fix it.
ZW: What do you think the line is now between relationships, winning and finding fits and how has that evolved over time?
KD: I still believe in the relationship part of the business. All good teams have good relationships, and all players and coaches will have good relationships, but not everybody is going to like each other. I still believe in that, maybe I’m old school, but there are still guys out there that want relationships. You have to teach them why relationships are important, because the rest of their lives they will have to deal with other people, so you might as well learn how to develop relationships. With that being said, it’s still a business. If a guy can make $100,000 somewhere else and another school is not giving that, they could sit and debate the pay for play all they want but everyone knows what it is. You think those guys at St. Bonaventure didn’t like Coach Schmidt? They were together for four years and won a million games but at the end of the day, the money came into play.
ZW: How have wants and needs prioritized in rebuilding a roster, especially coming off a season like the last one?
KD: We didn’t like it. As bad as the fans hated it, we hated it worse. We have pride and tremendous work ethic, but I’m still working like I did when I was 25-years-old. If I didn’t feel like I was, I wouldn’t do it. I’m not going to subject myself to that. People can think ‘he’s out there collecting his check’, but that’s not how I’m built, everyone that’s been around me knows that. I’m trying to win. If I didn’t think we could win, I wouldn’t do it.
ZW: Why was now the right time to bring Dru (Joyce III) in and how can he help this team in 2022-23 and beyond?
KD: We thought Dru was going to get the Cleveland State job and didn’t get it. Then we lost Steve McNees and Ari Stern at the same time, so we had enough resources to get him and he’s a family member. I’ve known him as long as I’ve known most of the other guys, since he was 12-years-old and he’s 37 now. It was perfect timing for him and for us, so it was a good opportunity for both of us. We get all of that European background and then somebody we know well. It just kind of happened. I had thought about Dru for years, but never thought he would leave Ohio.
ZW: How is the schedule coming along?
KD: Slow. Scheduling gets harder every year, we’ve got a long way to go yet.
ZW: What is the possibility of seeing a local or surrounding rivalry coming back?
KD: No comment.
ZW: What do you think it would take across the board to return and how important would that be to gain fan interest and grow the game in the city?
KD: I really don’t want to go down there. It’s kind of a dead horse. We’re beating a dead horse.
ZW: What do you think this team’s potential is?
KD: We have good potential, no doubt about it. We have three experienced guards, some good young guards, pretty good depth at the four and five and then the two young wing kids, (Quincy) McGriff and Matus (Hronsky). You never know until you start coaching them, but we should have improved our depth, which should help our team. Do we have enough impact guys, that will be the key.
ZW: When you have an entire team and staff that has a chip on their shoulder, how does help this team move forward?
KD: We’ve shown we can win, we won even when three guys quit. We just had a bad year where everything that could go wrong went wrong. We don’t have any self-doubt, but we have to do better. It was a miserable but that doesn’t mean we can’t get the job done. Now we have to get to the NCAA Tournament. We have to take a huge jump from the bottom of the league to being competitive to trying to win a championship. Not many teams can go from the bottom to trying to win a championship, but that’s what we’re going to try to do. Do we have enough to do that? We don’t know yet. We’re just trying to have the biggest turnaround in college basketball, that’s our goal.