Early on in tenure, Dambrot living up to billing

Bryanna McDermott / Asst. Photo Editor | Lead sophomore guard Mike Lewis II handles the ball against an SFC defender on Nov. 11. Lewis struggled vs. the Terriers, but returned to form vs. VMI in dropping 22 points.

David Borne | Staff Writer

11/16/2017

Keith Dambrot is living up to the hype. It’s as simple as that. The Dukes stand at 2-0 right now, and are already playing a cleaner game now in several facets than they did all last year.

It’s no secret that the program has been bullied by their opposition during the last few seasons. The previous regime struggled to come up with any sort of effective game plan defensively, and Duquesne was consistently one of the worst defensive teams that the Atlantic 10 had to offer. On the other side of the ball, the offense was marred by turnover problems that seemingly always haunted them in the final moments of close games.

Keith Dambrot’s tactics have already led to improvement on both ends of the floor.

There has already been a noticeable amount of increased defensive pressure this season, most recently on display on Nov. 14 in a 77-61 win over VMI. Dambrot has stressed the importance of tightening up defensively incessantly, and it appears that his message has already resonated with his thin team. Through the first two games, Duquesne has recorded 18 steals — with 12 of those coming versus VMI.

Additionally, the team has managed to limit its own turnovers to single-digits in both of its games this season.

In wins over St. Francis College on Saturday and in Tuesday’s win against VMI, the Dukes committed just 18 turnovers combined. Compared to last year’s average of 14.2, nine turnovers per game is quite the improvement for a team lacking depth.

In last year’s season-opening win over Loyola (Md.), Duquesne committed 16 turnovers alone.

On top of how quickly Dambrot has been able to impact Duquesne’s on-court product thus far, the talent he has brought in has made an immediate impact, as well.

When Duquesne lost three of last season’s top contributors and all of its incoming recruits following Jim Ferry’s dismissal in March, Dambrot was forced to piece a roster together quickly.

His first grab was the unheralded Eric Williams Jr., who’s already opened many eyes after putting on a clinic in his debut against St. Francis. In fact, Williams became the first Duquesne freshman (since freshmen regained eligibility in 1972-73) to record a double-double in his debut.

Williams followed an impressive first performance up with another stellar game against VMI, where he found himself struggling to make shots but still managed to record a game-high nine rebounds while Duquesne’s big men were draped in foul trouble.

Early on, it’s already evident that Dambrot has found a diamond in the rough in Williams Jr. Through his first two games, he has averaged 12.0 points and 10.5 rebounds, and was named Atlantic 10 Co-Rookie of the Week following his first game.

Just days after Dambrot signed Williams Jr., he signed big man Tydus Verhoeven of Manteca, California. Verhoeven has gotten himself into foul trouble in his first two games, but has already easily become the Dukes’ best interior defender through its’ first two contests.

In just 29 minutes of game action, Verhoeven has managed to record five blocks. Offensively raw right now, his post game will progress as time goes on.

Besides, Dambrot’s calling card is player development.

However, with other newcomers Chas Brown (6-foot-8 Coppin State graduate transfer forward) and Marko Krivacevic (6-foot-9 junior college transfer forward) missing time due to injury, Verhoeven has quite the role to fulfill right now.

His fouling issues are something that will hopefully decrease as he gets more experience on the court, as Verhoeven will see plenty of game action this year. The hope is that increased minutes on the court for the freshman will allow him to gain valuable game experience before a cast of transfers and incoming freshmen arrive next season.

Look — by no means am I saying that this season has been a complete success all around thus far.

There’s still been issues, but with a team as shorthanded and inexperienced as Duquesne, certain plights are to be expected.

The Dukes still need to become better at closing out games, sustaining defensive tenacity and grabbing more rebounds. As its opponents will get tougher, Duquesne cannot continue to rely on sheer skill to push itself over the top versus other teams.

But at the end of the day, signs of a bright future are in store already. Duquesne is putting out an overall cleaner brand of basketball, and that’s what’s vitally important at this stage of Dambrot’s rebuilding process.

This year is all about development, progression and finding a way to alter a losing program’s mindset regarding confidence and winning. Even Dambrot himself has mentioned that the season surely won’t always be a pretty one, but he’s leading this team down the right path for future success.

Obviously, St. Francis and VMI aren’t exactly blue bloods, but if you’re a Duquesne fan, positive tendencies are there that should excite you for the team’s future.

For the first time in years, the team is playing energetic defense — that alone should be enough to satiate for now.

Throw a cleaner offense as well as newfound excitement on top of defensive progression that Duquesne fans have already seen, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that Dambrot’s staff is the right one to turn things around for the program.

There’s still plenty of games left remaining on the schedule, and it will be interesting to see how the Dukes hold up as the season progresses. With a non-conference schedule designed to produce wins and foster confidence, Duquesne should be able to enter Atlantic 10 play feeling better about itself as a whole than it has in years.

A-10 play will be tough, and Duquesne will likely struggle mightily against its top conference opponents. However, as long as Dambrot can continue to get his players to believe in him, this season will be a successful one for Duquesne.

Building a winner doesn’t happen overnight, but constructing healthy habits is vital before anything else is to be truly implemented.

Have no fear, Duquesne fans — Dambrot’s staff is on the exact right path in reinvigorating the Dukes’ program.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!