By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
The Duquesne men’s basketball coaching search served as a metaphor for the last 40 years of the program — a complete trainwreck.
The names of King Rice (Monmouth), Dane Fife (Michigan State) and James Whitford (Ball State) were all rumored to be in advanced talks with Duquesne to take over the program. All three of those discussions fell through.
To make matters worse, the Dukes’ top two players, Mike Lewis II and Isiaha Mike, both asked permission to contact other schools in regard to transferring. Sophomore forward Nakye Sanders also asked for his release. Additionally, the day of Ferry’s firing, top recruit Jamari Wheeler announced via Twitter that he is re-opening his commitment.
In a few weeks time, the Duquesne basketball program went from bad, to very bad, to rock bottom. Nobody wanted to fill the coaching vacancy, recruits were looking elsewhere and current players set their minds on transferring.
And then splash — athletics director, Dave Harper, and university president, Ken Gormley, announce Akron’s Keith Dambrot as the 17th head coach in the history of the Duquesne men’s basketball program.
There literally could not have been a happier ending to a rather messy coaching search. Duquesne receives a coach who in 13 seasons at Akron, reached the NCAA tournament three times, boasted 12 20-win seasons and advanced his team to the semifinal round of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament for 12 consecutive years.
Just let this sink in: Dambrot has 12 20-win seasons dating back to 2005. Duquesne has three 20-win seasons in the programs past 75 years of existence.
Duquesne got a winner, and for those who are hesitant to buy into the hype, don’t be. This guy is the real deal.
Akron, under Dambrot’s direction, is one of just four schools to have won at least 21 games in each of the last 12 seasons. The others were just Duke, Gonzaga and Kansas — no big deal.
Dambrot is a big-time hire. He is a three-time MAC Coach of the Year honoree who has 413 wins to his name. He has the passion and the commitment to turn this program around.
The night he was hired to Duquesne, he hit the recruiting trail right away and offered a number of scholarships to recruits the very same night. His freshman point guard at Akron, Tavian Dunn-Martin, also verbally committed to play for the Red & Blue on Monday when he was hired.
He has already compiled an impressive recruiting history, and in one night he proved to the Duquesne faithful that he is committed to doing the same on the Bluff.
He had four double-digit scorers in 2016-17 at Akron with three of those players coming from Ohio and the other coming from Texas. In fact, 12 out of 16 players on the Zips roster hailed from one of these two states meaning Dambrot and his staff have some serious recruiting pull in these two states, which are packed full of high-level prospects.
His toughest recruiting challenge will be hanging onto Lewis and Mike. If he can keep those two guys then the rebuilding process becomes significantly easier.
The pair played very well together on the court this season and foreshadowed a bright future for the Dukes. Dambrot has to get them to buy into finishing what they started under his new leadership. It might sound funny, but this is where LeBron James comes into the picture.
It is doubtful that James will make the same commitment to Duquesne that he did to the University of Akron, since Akron is his hometown. However, he has continually pledged his support to Dambrot and he could serve as a recruiting tool for his high school coach.
But just as Dambrot has immediately shown a commitment to Duquesne, Harper and the athletics department have shown a similar commitment to him. He was reportedly given a 7-year, roughly $7 million contract, according to ESPN.
This shows that Harper trusts Dambrot to be the right guy for the job and that the university will give him ample time to turn this program around.
Look, it won’t happen next year. The 2018-19 season probably won’t be anything to brag about either. But give Dambrot 3-4 years to make this program his own and the strides his teams will have made will be very evident.
It’s tough to say why on earth Dambrot decided to take such a risky job. Maybe he took it because his dad played collegiately for the Dukes, maybe it was because of the stability of the 7-year contract, maybe it was due to the $1 million per year that he will earn, or maybe it was a combination of all of those things.
No matter what the reasoning was though, it was a remarkable win for the Harper & Gormley era and it will be the turning point of the Duquesne men’s basketball program.
Dambrot will end the drought. Just be sit back, be patient and enjoy the ride.