Duquesne MBB sees roster shuffling despite pandemic

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Sports Now | Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot looks on during a 'home' game at La Roche University's Kerr Fitness Center in 2019. Despite the globe's ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Dukes saw a high amount of roster turnover over the past few weeks.
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Sports Now | Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot looks on during a ‘home’ game at La Roche University’s Kerr Fitness Center in 2019. Despite the globe’s ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Dukes saw a high amount of roster turnover over the past few weeks.

Adam Lindner | Staff Writer

April 2, 2020

The world’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis cut the 2019-20 college basketball season short roughly three weeks ago, spawning a premature offseason for the Duquesne men’s basketball team. Since the abrupt ending to the Dukes’ season, Head Coach Keith Dambrot has seen three players leave the program, but didn’t wait long before subsequently securing commitments from two others.

Redshirt junior Frankie Hughes was the first Duke to depart from the program — news of his intentions to transfer was first reported by 247 Sports’ Travis Branham on March 19 — and has since committed to the University of San Diego. There, Hughes will reunite with USD’s Braun Hartfield, the Toreros’ leading scorer and an All-West Coast Conference Honorable Mention in 2019-20. The two played together at Garfield Heights High School, located about 10 miles southeast of Cleveland, in 2015-16.

Hughes, who missed the 2019-20 season due to a torn meniscus, averaged 8.9 points per game in his only campaign as a Duke in 2018-19. He was one of only three players to see action in all of Duquesne’s 32 games that season, and led the team with 71 3-pointers.

Originally committed to Louisville out of high school, Hughes wound up spending his freshman year at Missouri, then sat out the 2017-18 season at Duquesne due to the NCAA’s transfer rules. He’s expected to graduate from Duquesne this spring and figures to arrive at San Diego with two years of eligibility remaining.

In addition to Hughes’ departure, news broke on March 30 that both Ashton Miller and Evan Buckley were leaving the program. Miller and Buckley, both freshmen during the 2019-20 campaign, played sparingly over the course of the season.

Miller, who averaged 1.2 points per game, saw action in 23 of Duquesne’s 30 contests in 2019-20, including 11 in Atlantic 10 play. The Scotch Plains, N.J. native nailed two clutch free throws in the closing seconds of DU’s 74-71 win over Indiana State on Nov. 21 at the Junkanoo Jam, but only managed to shoot a meager 20.0% from the floor during his time as a Duke, including a 10.7% clip from 3-point range (3-28).

Miller wrote on Instagram that he was “thankful for all the memories and relationships [he] built over the last year and will always cherish them,” but that he “will be transferring from Duquesne University and exploring [his] options.”

Miller is the cousin of the team’s director of player development, Ashton Gibbs.

Buckley, meanwhile, logged 6.1 minutes per game across 20 contests for the Dukes, including 11 A-10 games. A strong perimeter defender, Buckley struggled to contribute offensively for Duquesne, totaling 10 points and five assists in limited action.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Buckley is leaving the program and has no plans to continue playing at the collegiate level.

The following day, however, saw the addition of two players to the roster, capping off a hectic 24-hour period of player movement on the Bluff.

On March 31, Mike Bekelja committed to Duquesne for the upcoming season, followed by Chad Baker hours later.

Bekelja is the brother of Duquesne star Sincere Carry, as Bekelja’s parents have been Carry’s legal guardians since he was in sixth grade. Carry and Bekelja starred in high school together at Solon High School in Solon, Ohio, before Carry graduated and came to Duquesne in 2018. Bekelja, one year Carry’s junior, graduated from Solon in 2019, but opted to go the postgraduate route before making his college decision.

Originally committed to Division II Fairmont State out of high school, Bekelja reneged on his commitment after former coach Joe Mazzulla left to join the NBA’s Boston Celtics’ coaching staff. The decision brought him back to northeast Ohio, where he spent the 2019-20 season at International Sports Academy at Andrews Osborne in Willoughby, Ohio.

Bekelja, who averaged 25.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists at ISA in 2019-20, will now join his brother in the backcourt once again.

Baker, a native of the Dominican Republic, also took a postgraduate year in 2019-20, spending the season at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio. A 6-foot-7 guard/forward, Baker starred at Colonia High School in New Jersey before graduating in 2019.

After spending the majority of his life in the Dominican Republic with his family, Baker left home to live with his grandfather in New Jersey as a junior in high school. Baker told Pittsburgh Sports Now that a big factor in his decision to attend Duquesne was his relationship with the coaching staff.

Bekelja and Baker will join three other players in the Dukes’ 2020 recruiting class — Michigan combo guard Tyson Acuff, Pennsylvania shooting guard Jett Roesing and Arizona forward Andre Harris are the others — giving the team five newcomers for the 2020-21 season as things stand today.

It’s unlikely, albeit very feasible, that the team will enter the 2020-21 season with the roster as it’s currently constructed, as today’s day and age of player movement in college basketball is a never-ending, year-round cycle.

With that being said, it’s unclear how many scholarships the team has left to allocate, as it would appear to the naked eye that Duquesne will now have 14 players on scholarship as things stand (the limit for D-I teams is 13). In the past, a team spokesperson has declined to specify which student-athletes are utilizing the team’s 13 allotted scholarships.