Men are picked fourth, but don’t care

Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics

Matthew Theodros | Staff Writer

Duquesne opens its 2023-24 basketball season with a non-conference matchup Monday night against Cleveland State at home at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse (7 p.m. tip-off).

Ahead of Game One, let’s take a look at what this Dukes’ roster has to offer in a promising season.

Head Coach Keith Dambrot returns for his seventh season at Duquesne after leading a massive turnaround. They went from a six-win, last place finish in 2021-22 to a 20-13 team last year, finishing sixth in the Atlantic-10 Conference. This year’s coaches’ poll has Duquesne fourth, the highest ranking in the Dambrot era.

Dambrot has instilled culture and grit during his tenure with Duquesne. His expectations are high for this year’s players, but he does not let the noise from outsiders or preseason rankings have any effect on his team.

“It doesn’t mean anything. They picked us [last] last year,” Dambrot said. “None of it matters. We have been slowly developing because of our injury situation, but we are going to have a good team once we get it all together.”

There is an expectation for Duquesne to take the next step after falling to La Salle in the second round of the conference tournament last season. The program has established winning and the players and coaching staff alike have the goal to make it to March Madness for the first time since 1977.

The Dukes return a strong core that’s expected to take that next step for the program to reach new heights.

They also added talent that addressed many of their rebounding and defensive problems from last season. They are primed to make a run and have all the tools necessary to challenge anyone along the way.

Leading the charge is scoring threat and athletic combo-guard, Dae Dae Grant. His 15.5 points per game led the Dukes in scoring last year. His 94 3-pointers made were the third most in the program’s history.

After making significant progress, Grant takes pride in building on last year’s success with only one intention: Winning.

“My expectations [are to] win it all,” Grant said. “Be first in everything that we do. We will go from there. I really just want to win it all with my team, my brothers. That’s all that matters to me.”

In his first season with Duquesne, high-flyer and defensive-stopper Jimmy Clark III. was vital in their race to tournament play. He was named Duquesne’s first Atlantic-10 All-Defensive team member since 2012 as his 2.30 steals per game led the A-10. His improved playmaking and decision-making were reflected in his career-high 81 assists and impressive 1.5 assist/turnover ratio.

“I want to take a bigger role on the defensive end and try to win defensive player of the year,” Clark said. “That’s something I am looking forward to doing this year.”

To replace the graduated point guard Tevin Brewer, Kareem Rozier will serve as the ball-handler and playmaker for Duquesne. The sophomore will need to step up in his crucial role for the offense in his first opportunity as the lead guard. His remarkably efficient 40% from three is an indication that he should continue shooting the long ball for the Dukes to succeed.

The Dukes’ frontcourt poses many issues due to injury and instability. Headed by Tre Williams, who’s had an entire summer to rehab from a knee injury, he can return to being a strong defender, especially as a rim protector. If his rebounding can bounce back to his 2022 season numbers, he will be a solid paint presence for the Dukes.

Sophomore big men Halil Barre and David Dixon both returned from injury and provided the size to be versatile defensive pieces and lob threats for Dambrot’s squad. The Dukes will need them to be impactful shot blockers as Duquesne only blocked about 11% of shots and allowed almost 43% of opponent shots at the rim on an unreal 58% shooting.

Duquesne maintained many key members of their core. However, the team lost a few members heading into the season. RJ Gunn, Austin Rotroff, Joe Reece, Brewer, and Quincy McGriff all departed the team this offseason. Brewer’s facilitation and Reece’s perimeter defense will be missed as the two started all but five games last year.

The Dukes were able to fill in the roles with the addition of new players including 6-foot seven-inch twins, Hassan and Fousseyni Drame. In addition, the Dukes added three multifaceted European swing-big men, Andrei Savrasov, Dusan Mahorocic, and Jakub Necas. To round it out the Dukes added Kailon Nicholls, a three-level scorer who comes in as a deadly shooter.

The Drame twins are heading across the state after their one season at La Salle. Both are Swiss-army-knife players who have the frame and athletic ability to do everything on the court. Their length allows them to defend the perimeter and paint which allows the Dukes to play small.

Savrasov is a graduate transfer from Georgia Southern who is a stretch-center who plays defense. His 1.3 steals per game as a big man gives Duquesne another perimeter defender who will be crucial in diversifying the lineups.

With that roster turnover and newly appointed roles placed on returning members of the roster, Coach Dambrot highlighted the necessary leadership among those returning players in assisting the new players

“Kareem [Rozier] is the best leader we have,” Dambrot said. Dae Dae and Jimmy have done an unbelievable job of taking more ownership, they are good guys.”

“Since we have our core group, we can all lock in so we can help the new guys,” Clark said.

“We can help them understand and pick up faster. They affect rebounding and the defensive end. That’s something I am looking forward to them helping us with.”