Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
On Jan. 22, the Duquesne Athletics Twitter page posted an open offer to all students: Attend two Duquesne basketball games — Jan. 23 versus Saint Louis and Jan. 26 against VCU — and be entered to win a $1,000 scholarship for the 2019-2020 academic term. Additionally, the student who “shows the most spirit and wears the most red will win a pair of custom Duquesne LeBron’s.”
Are you serious?
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I didn’t even know such a promotion could exist.
I knew about fast food coupons, free T-shirts and a variety of other things, but never substantial scholarship money or custom Nike shoes.
Alas, this is where Duquesne finds itself one-and-a-half seasons into the Keith Dambrot Era. 13-5 overall and 4-1 in the Atlantic 10, yet coming up with new ways to bribe its student body into the A.J. Palumbo Center.
It’s pathetic, but it isn’t necessarily the program’s fault. Rather, it’s a systematic issue that’s been plaguing the school since long before I’ve been attending.
Frankly, there’s little that Dambrot & Co. can do to quickly wake Duquesne’s sleepy students up. The only thing that’ll change student attendance is winning — and winning consistently. Moreover, winning in an entertaining fashion. That takes time, and it takes even more time for people to finally take notice.
On top of one of the longest NCAA tournament droughts in modern Division I history, Duquesne has the odds stacked against itself in terms of student interest in other ways, too. It’s positioned in the middle of a beautiful city, and the Palumbo Center is only a stone’s throw away from the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. There are countless other things to do in Pittsburgh, whereas other mid-major programs may be located in more desolate areas.
These factors have plagued Duquesne for years, and it won’t be an easy fix.
Duquesne students simply do not go to games.
Everything concerning the basketball program itself has been encouraging as of late, and I’m honestly surprised more students haven’t taken a special liking to Sincere Carry’s energetic play yet. I have.
Sadly, a 1-9 shooting performance from Carry against Pitt this season probably didn’t help. It’s an open secret that Duquesne students generally come out in droves for the City Game, but can’t be found anywhere near the Palumbo Center on other game nights. So is life at Duquesne (at least, for the time being).
Fringe interest in the program is now evident on campus, which is something that was certainly not evident here two years ago.
Half-interested students are aware of Dambrot and what he’s capable of, and the idea that the program is being overhauled for the better.
Now, it’s a matter of getting those half-interested fans into seats during games consistently, in turn transforming the culture of Duquesne basketball.
Others will follow.
In time, it will happen.
There’s one problem: Duquesne needs fans now.
Dambrot knows that, and so does the school. That’s evidenced by the $1,000 being given away.
My guess is that, for the time being, Dambrot is happy with getting people into the Palumbo under any means necessary. Besides, it appears this team may have a legitimate shot in the Atlantic 10 this season.
In the long run, though, he knows what he’s got to do.
Build the program.
After a raucous crowd helped Davidson to a 65-61 win over Duquesne on Jan. 5, Dambrot had this to say about Belk Arena’s atmosphere.
“You’re talking about a program that’s been built over 30 years. They don’t lose many in this building,” Dambrot said. “The biggest lesson to be learned is that that fan base helps you. That’s where we have to get to in order to have a really great program.
“You have to have that fan base that, when you’re struggling, they can rally you.”
In time, Coach. In time.