Dru Joyce III is ready to fill his mentor’s shoes

Dylan Fister | Staff Photographer | Dru Joyce III smiles during the open practice Wednesday morning at CHI Health Center.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

Updated 1:35 a.m. on March 21, 2024

During the press conference in which he announced his retirement, Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot briefly mentioned his expected successor, and every head in the room turned to one man.

Associate Head Coach Dru Joyce III has been Dambrot’s heir apparent from the moment he joined the Dukes’ staff in 2022.

“We’ve been kind of grooming Coach Dru to take over for me,” Dambrot said. “Obviously, I’m biased, but I think the program wouldn’t miss a beat if he gets the job.”
Sandwiched between endless praise for his mentor, Joyce acknowledged what is an open secret surrounding the program.

“Even since I was 12 and 13 years old, [Dambrot] has been building me for an opportunity to be a head coach,” Joyce said. “He’s always understood that it was a dream of mine to do it, so I think he took full advantage of knowing what I wanted to do.

Joyce played for Dambrot his first two years of high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s and then again at the University of Akron. Dambrot has known Joyce since the fellow Akron native started showing up to Dambrot’s camps at the Akron Jewish Community Center when he was 12 years old. He credits Joyce as being instrumental in bringing LeBron James to SVSM, where Dambrot coached them to a pair of state championships. Dru’s father succeeded Dambrot and remains the Fighting Irish’s coach to this day. In all likelihood, there will be a second generation of Joyces succeeding Keith Dambrot.

As Dambrot stood on the podium next to his brand-new Atlantic-10 Conference Championship trophy on Monday, he talked extensively about what the success in Akron meant to him.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for him,” Dambrot said.

Joyce expressed how that feeling is mutual.

“When you are able to have that relationship with a coach that goes beyond the years that you’ve played, it truly defines what I believe what sports are about.”

When asked about his successor, Dambrot deferred to Vice President of Athletics Dave Harper, who said, “Today is about Keith Dambrot.”

In a media scrum after the news conference, Dambrot was back to his opinionated self, where he argued that Joyce’s succession would ensure continuity from the program’s most successful season in 47 years.

“I think there’ll be very little turnover. We’ve got some good young kids in that room,” Dambrot said. “With the way things are now, if Coach Dru didn’t get the job, the portal becomes a problem.”

The 39-year-old Joyce certainly seems to be connected enough to lead a program in this everchanging arena of college basketball.

“I’m confident in who I am and what I’m capable of,” Joyce said. “You never know when the opportunity is going to come.”

Joyce spent the last two seasons as the associate head coach to Dambrot, after another three seasons as an assistant at Cleveland State University. His coaching career began after an extended playing career overseas, and just five years in, he looks likely to step up to his first head coaching job.

“Are you ever quite ready for something you’ve never done before? Who knows?” Joyce said. “I think all you can do is take the chance, and if that opportunity presents itself, I’m ready to dive in and take the chance and give everything I’ve got.”