Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
Nov. 19, 2020
Prior to Keith Dambrot’s arrival, Duquesne was deemed a dead program. However, the former Akron coach quickly provided reason for optimism. In his first two years, the results were surprisingly strong.
He inherited a team coming off a 10-22 season. Dambrot lost some of the best players from that roster, but still improved, coaching the Dukes to a 16-16 record. In his second year, Duquesne took another leap, finishing 19-13 and sixth in the Atlantic 10.
Despite that early success, Dambrot made it clear he wanted to take the program to the next level, claiming NCAA Tournament qualification as his top priority.
Enter Maceo Austin, one of Duquesne’s most prized recruits ever. The 6-foot-5 sophomore won four Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) championships in high school with Kennedy Catholic, then chose Duquesne over other finalists VCU, Penn State and Northwestern.
Who better than Austin to help Duquesne take that next step? His winning pedigree has no doubt been a boon for the program.
In his first season, Austin proved to be a key contributor, averaging about seven points and four rebounds a game.
As Duquesne got off to a 10-0 start, the freshman played particularly well. He averaged 9.4 points per game in his first 15 outings.
However, it proved to be a challenging year both on and off the court.
As the year progressed, Austin’s performance slowed. His points per game dropped to 4.4 over his final 14 before the season abruptly concluded.
Notably, tragedy struck Austin and his family in January as he suffered the loss of his sister.
Now in his sophomore season, Austin, much like his team, will be trying to go from good to great.
According to him, it boils down to “making more open shots” and “physical strength.”
“It’s just a matter of knocking down shots and getting stronger,” Austin said.
If anyone believes in Austin’s ability, it’s Dambrot. Count the Duquesne coach among his biggest supporters.
In January, he told reporters, “When we go bad, he’s the one to rally them. He’s never in a bad mood. He’s like an old soul. He’s one of my favorite guys that I’ve had.”
That’s high praise considering the plethora of players Dambrot has coached in his three decades of college experience.
According to Austin, the feeling is mutual.
“He just tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. … That’s one of the most important things.”
The Dukes hope the relationship will help push the program to heights not seen since the 1970s. The goal remains breaking a 43-year tourney drought, and this roster has as good a shot as any in recent memory.
However, with COVID-19 surging throughout the country, much remains to be seen. We can only hope teams are able to stay safe and play.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Austin says he and his teammates have persevered.
“It’s not what we want, but it is what it is,” he said.
As of now, the Dukes are slated to kick off their season on Nov. 30. They’ll be traveling to Louisville to partake in the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic.
Their first opponent will be the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans. They’ll round out the event with games against UNC Greensboro and Winthrop.
Austin says the Dukes are ready to take to the court again.
“Since they cancelled the season last year, we’ve been wanting to get back out there and play,” Austin said.
The players aren’t the only group excited for the season. Fans are eager too, as Duquesne was recently selected to finish fifth in the Atlantic 10. It’s their highest preseason conference ranking since 2010.
Impressive as it may be, Austin thinks the Dukes can achieve even more.
He expressed confidence in his team, saying, “We feel like we can win the A-10.”
Fans hope Austin’s optimism rings true come March, but there is still plenty of basketball to be played.
But one thing’s for sure: If they achieve that feat, Maceo Austin will be a big reason why.