Welcome to “Druquesne”

Rebecca Jozwiak | Staff Photographer | New Head Coach Dru Joyce III celebrated the Dukes' Atlantic 10 win. Joyce is confident. "We will hold the trophy again. We will raise another banner,” he said.

Rebecca Jozwiak | Staff Writer

As the sun rose and the calendar turned to April, Dru Joyce III was driving from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, to Pittsburgh. At the end of the drive was an empty podium, where he would soon be standing as the 18th coach in Duquesne men’s basketball history. Joyce opted to listen to the silence as he drove across state lines.

The silence finally stopped when Joyce reached for his phone, shuffling his music library.

“What popped on was ‘Step by Step’ by Whitney Houston,” Joyce said. “It was fitting for today. It just reminds me of the journey that I’m about to go on – we’re about to go on.”

“Step by Step” seems to be the mantra for Dru Joyce. With only five seasons of coaching experience, he is stepping into his first head coaching job.

Joyce succeeds former Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot. Dambrot enjoyed seven years as the Dukes head coach, seeing an all-time record of 256-243, and earning the team’s first conference championship in 47 years, and first NCAA Tournament win since 1969.

Joyce first met Dambrot when he was 12 years old playing at youth clinics in Akron, before joining Dambrot’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School squad. Joyce and Dambrot reunited when Dambrot took over as the head coach for the University of Akron in 2004, where Joyce played from 2003-2006, earning his degree in communications.

With a 26-year age gap between Dambrot and Joyce, the team environment is bound to change.

“The way I’ll describe it is if he wasn’t my coach, he’s just a guy, ” freshman Jake DiMichele said. “I just love to just hang out with him.”

At 39-years-old, Joyce is one of the younger coaches in the NCAA. In 2023, the average age of a Division I men’s basketball head coach is 50 years old. That was the first thing that returning players noted when comparing their two coaches.

“They are the same person but [Dru] is younger,” said team captain Kareem Rozier. “He’s still got that fire lit up under him. And that’s what I want.

In the rapidly evolving era of college athletics that includes NIL money and the transfer portal, Joyce’s youth may be an even greater benefit.

“I think you’ve got to be more vested in relationships. I think some young men are making quick decisions that are transactional for them,” said Duquesne Vice President of Athletics Dave Harper. “If they would slow down and take a deep breath, it’s about the lifelong relationships you need to establish.”

Joyce spent 12 years playing professionally in Europe before starting as an assistant coach at Cleveland State University in 2019.

“Another good thing about him is he’s extremely relatable for all of us,” DiMichele said. “A lot of the things that he’s gone through in life are a lot of the same things that we’re going through right now. So, he’s able to give us advice, not just as a coach, but as a personal mentor.”

While being a part of Dambrot’s coaching tree, Joyce explained that his philosophy is an accumulation of everyone he’s been around. His father, Dru II, succeeded Dambrot as the head coach at SVSM, where he remains to this day, having won seven state championships. His brother, Cam, won his first state title last month as the head coach of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.

“He told us that you can’t expect him to do everything [with] the same approach that Coach Dambrot did,” DiMichele said. “He’s going to adapt his own style and his own culture. He kind of laid out those core values for us in our meeting today.”

Joyce explained those four values that will define his program’s culture.

“The first is discipline – a high level of discipline. Being able to show up consistently, and the practice of positive habits. Those habits that can create a way of life and a lifestyle beyond basketball.”

Joyce also expects his tenets to be observed off of the court, as well.

“The next thing I ask of our young men in our program is integrity,” Joyce said. “We’re truth tellers, and we’re not afraid to tell each other the truth, whether we agree or disagree.”

The next value is enthusiasm.

“We are fortunate to do what we do,” Joyce said. “So we must do it with passion, we must do it with joy, we must do it with love.”

Finally, Joyce explained that toughness was his final point of emphasis.

“We don’t know how it’s always going to wind up,” he said, “But we will keep going, and I know we will because we’ll be mentally emotionally and spiritually tough.”

“I let him know that we got his back, starting now,” Rozier said. “For myself as the leader and captain of his team, I had to make sure that I was [at the news conference], just letting him know that I got him at all times.”

He may have the framework down for his team, but the team understands that the job will not always be smooth sailing, especially coming in after the Dukes’ historic postseason run.

“He told us that you can’t expect him to do everything,” DiMichele said of what to expect from Joyce. “He’s going to adapt his own style and his own culture.

“There’s going to be that rough day, that rough game, but we’re going to battle through it,” Harper said.

Along with recognizing the ups and downs that Joyce will inevitably face, Harper acknowledged his profound respect for Joyce while speaking to the media.

“Dru, I’m making a full commitment to you in front of witnesses that I’m going to be there to support you,” he pledged.

“This relationship that we build is not transactional, but transformational,” Joyce said. “I think it’s my duty and my purpose to make an impact on each and every one of your lives.”

With every moment of on-and off-court growth, Joyce is stepping up to launch a new era of Duquesne basketball.

“We will hold the trophy again. We will raise another banner,” Joyce said. “We’re just getting started.”

Now he just needs to make that happen. Step by step, bit by bit– just like Whitney Houston said.