Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Oct. 29, 2020
Head Men’s Basketball Coach Keith Dambrot welcomed a sizable group of newcomers to the Bluff this fall, bolstering roster depth and addressing team needs in the process.
In all, nine new faces will don the Red & Blue this season, including a pair of sharpshooters (Mike Bekelja and Jett Roesing), intriguing big men (Mounir Hima and Andre Harris) and lanky swingmen (Toby Okani and Chad Baker).
Tyson Acuff, a 6-foot-4 combo guard from Michigan, is one of the team’s most fascinating new arrivals; following an impressive run at Cass Tech High (a four-year starter, he helped the Technicians to three Detroit Public School League titles), Acuff arrives in Pittsburgh looking to contribute immediately for a Duquesne team in win-now mode.
Acuff took the time to speak with The Duke on the phone in early October, touching on everything from his new home in the 412 to his relationships with his new coaches and teammates.
Portions of the conversation, transcribed below, have been edited for brevity.
Q: Talk me through your decision to attend Duquesne.
A: [Assistant] Coach Charles [Thomas] was recruiting me heavy from the jump. He would come check up on me all the time, even when I wasn’t expecting it — he came to a couple cross country meets, because we were required to run cross country. That showed me how dedicated he was to have me be a part of the team, how much he wanted me. Then, when I came on my visit, they made me feel like family — like they really need me, and I can be a great piece [for] the team. … The coaching staff showed real love, and they didn’t only gas my head up and tell me all the things I’m good at; they told me the things I need to work on, too. That’s something different that none of the other college coaches did. They just tell you how great you are and how great you can be.
Q: What’s your favorite basketball shoe of all-time? What have you been playing in lately?
A: I like Kobes; not specific ones, just Kobes. … [Lately I’ve been playing in] Kevin Durants and LeBrons. I only got one pair of Kobes right now.
Q: Favorite basketball memory?
A: When I won the city championship for the third time in high school (as a senior in 2020).
Q: In your opinion, what’s your most notable skill on the court?
A: Getting in transition, running the floor, not waiting for the defense to set up.
Q: How has the adjustment been to college life, especially during a pandemic?
A: It’s been big; it’s been different from high school from the academic standpoint. The courses are a little more challenging than in high school. … The adjustment was big, but I’m liking it so far.
Q: How has practice been?
A: It’s been good. The strength & conditioning coach (John Henderson), he’s been going hard, because it’s a whole different ball game in college. The guys are bigger, faster, stronger, everything. … It’s been great.
Q: Anything specific you’re focusing on improving upon basketball-wise?
A: Playing off two feet in the lane. I can’t just jump off one foot and finish around the bigger players, so playing off two feet will help me get more comfortable with my finishes.
Q: What’s your relationship with Coach Dambrot like, now that you’re seeing him on a daily basis?
A: The relationship with Coach D is great. He shows mad love, not only on the court — he’s definitely going to push you to try to make you better. You’ve got to have thick skin, but that’s just how he is. He’s going to [make] you better. But he’s always checking up on you to make sure you’re doing good, you’re in the right state of mind, class is going OK, family back home is OK. So, he’s not just a basketball coach — he’s more of a father figure.
Q: How hard was it to leave home?
A: It wasn’t as big as some people make it, leaving for college. That’s because the nature of the whole AAU thing was totally different — we traveled all around, spending weeks away from home. I talk to my family almost every day, if not every day, so it wasn’t that big. I like living on my own, so it’s pretty good.
Q: How has it been getting to know your fellow teammates?
A: It’s been great. Like you said, we’ve got a big freshman class. The good thing about the freshmen is everybody is willing to put in the extra work. If they’re not doing homework or something like that, they’re in the gym, trying to get better. … Everybody’s pretty cool, so it’s been good.