Inside the Dukes: Water Showers And Cross-Country Flights
The start to Keith Dambrot’s coaching career is a funny story, especially for a guy who played baseball better then basketball, so how is the Ohioan the latest to earn 500 career victories?
It all starts with one opportunity which came during his time as a graduate student at Akron, when his high school coach offered him the grad assistant position on his staff.
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When he earned his master’s degree, the timing could not have been more perfect as Tiffin was looking for a coach who could also teach a business class, so the then 25-year-old Dambrot fit the bill.
The rest they say is history as Dambrot accomplished the milestone Wednesday night besting George Mason 75-62 at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
“There are some things that went through my head, I intentionally wore (a LeBron James branded Duquesne hooded sweatshirt),” he said. “Without all of those kids at St. V I wouldn’t be a college coach again. To have all of those guys that have coached and put up with me all of these years it’s a rough deal.”
As the game clock ran down, Dambrot embraced each of his players, with both Dae Dae Grant and Jimmy Clark III posing for a photo with their head coach.
Dambrot briefly acknowledged the crowd and was congratulated by George Mason coach Kim English. Though Duquesne President Ken Gormley encouraged the crowd to get loud, Dambrot quickly walked over to the team’s consistent radio crew, consisting of Ray Goss, Jarrett Durham and Tad Maurey.
As he placed his headset on, his entire team surrounded his waiting for another embrace.
“Really we were just trying to embrace that moment for him and then play together as a brotherhood, gel and get a win, that’s what we needed,” Grant offered.
“Not too many coaches get 500 wins and just being part of that, his legacy, it was a great game and great team win,” contributed Brewer.
It may have been fitting that in Dambrot’s milestone win, that his team turned in one of its finest defensive performances of the season.
Though the Patriots did shoot the ball well in the opening half, they were consistently held scoreless for several long stretches of time and committed 21 turnovers. Duquesne consistently used active hands, displaying a tenacity its coach has consistently embodied throughout his career.
“Our confidence is skyrocketing and we’re continuing to gel,” said Grant. “It takes a lot of energy, but coach enforces that we have to take every game seriously. This is a grind, it’s February, things will get harder, so we have to trust in our plan.”
There was a small postgame celebration in the locker room as Brewer explained the team drowned him with water and Dambrot just took it.
“Might as well say he jumped in the pool,” a smiling Grant remarked.
Anyone who attends a Duquesne practice knows that Keith Dambrot is tough on the court and will hold a player accountable.
Grant sees that but knows his coach as loyal and a mentor.
“He cares and plays a big role in all of our lives,” said Grant. “It’s more than basketball there are so many other things. He does more than just be a coach and I really appreciate that… He’s him. Some may not know who he is in those closed doors, but he’s the same guy. Typical, erratic, high energy, you can see he’s crazy but if you love this game you’ve got to be crazy.”
As was the case after Monday’s practice, Dambrot was not really ready to reminisce, that will come when he calls it a career, but in the meantime, he feels there is still much work to do this season.
“I just want to win as many of these games as we can, get these guys to get what they deserve, they put a lot of time into it,” he said.
JOYCE A CONSTANT FOR FRIEND, MENTOR
When reflecting on who made the group decision to play basketball for St. Vincent-St. Mary, LeBron James is often assumed to have been in charge, but that distinction actually went to Dru Joyce III.
Dambrot believes that showed how much clout Joyce had over the group, so when James asked his former teammate to fly to Los Angeles in an attempt to break the record, the answer was an easy yes.
“I knew that he was going to get it last night because Bron wouldn’t have asked him or those guys from Akron to come if he wasn’t going to get it last night,” Dambrot said.
Joyce flew in Wednesday morning and landed in Los Angeles at 5 p.m. He would ultimately make it to Crypto.com Arena 20 minutes before opening tip, but that was enough time to say hello, reconnect and get some reassurance.
“That was cool to connect,” said Joyce. “I was probably just as nervous as he was about the record. Connecting that way it felt like we’re back doing the same thing we did in high school.”
While Dambrot was asleep, his wife Donna stayed up and awoke her husband, a notorious early riser to explain that his star pupil had permanently etched his name in the record books.
Joyce was in his seat right off-center court, eight rows up when James broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time points record and in a video, he posted to Instagram can clearly be heard celebrating his friend and former teammate’s accomplishment.
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Joyce would work to regather his thoughts as he sat in on the postgame press conference and noted that it was one of the first times, he noticed James get slowed by a moment and willingly absorb everything around him.
The pair would further connect after, before Joyce flew back into Pittsburgh, arriving with time to spare before opening tip.
Within a 24-hour period, Joyce saw his longtime friend make NBA history and his longtime coach and mentor achieve 500 career victories.
Upon discussing his relationship with Dambrot, Joyce tried to cap a long relationship into as simple of words as possible.
“It’s always been about trust and developing a bond,” he concluded. “It happened over time. I didn’t say a word when I was first around him. I don’t even know if I talked off the court. Our relationship continued to grow and it’s a continued appreciation from both parties giving your 100% all in the relationship. We just appreciate each other’s time.”