Duquesne men picked last in Atlantic 10 preseason poll; coach Keith Dambrot unfazed
WASHINGTON — First-year Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot was not surprised where his team was picked Tuesday at Atlantic 10 men's basketball media day.
The Dukes, who were 10-22 overall last season under Jim Ferry, were pegged to finish last out of 14 teams in a poll of coaches and selected media members.
“In fairness to the people that made the poll, why wouldn't they pick us last? I took over a program at Akron that had not played in the NCAA Tournament since 1986. I am used to having my back against the wall,” Dambrot said.
Dambrot said the Dukes can use the snub as motivation.
“We will probably have some T-shirts with (the number) 14 on it,” he said. “I am never going to accept being 14th or seventh. I won't be happy until we are first.”
The Dukes did get some positive recognition Tuesday as sophomore guard Mike Lewis II was named third-team preseason all-conference. He averaged 14. 1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.
“First and foremost with Mike Lewis, he is high character,” Dambrot said. “He is very sound mentally in the sense he doesn't let things bother him. He comes to work every day. He is a perfect Duquesne guy. I think he has a chance to be very good.”
The Dukes also return junior guard Tarin Smith, who led the team with 99 assists and 34 steals last season.
“Smith is a good defender and shows good leadership,” Dambrot said. “He had a rough year last year (shooting 28.6 percent). Being a defensive-oriented coach, (I) will help him because he is very good at that. Those guys will be solid for us.”
Dambrot admits the nonconference schedule was designed to help get the Dukes some early wins and gain confidence. The City Game on Dec. 1 against Pitt is one of the only contests against a high-major program before conference play.
“That is why the first 13 games are going to be big for us,” Dambrot said.
The Dukes hope to get some firepower from transfer Chas Brown, who averaged 12.6 points in his last season at Coppin State.
“He is a big, strong, athletic guy,” Dambrot said.
Another returning letterman is 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Kellon Taylor, who also plays receiver on the football team.
“Anything we get out of him will be gravy,” Dambrot said. “He is a very good athlete. He is a tough and smart kid.”
Dambrot said the Dukes will have to cut down on mistakes. Duquesne made 454 turnovers last season with 401 assists.
“We still have issues; there is no question,” Dambrot said of taking care of the ball. “A lot of those turnovers turned into baskets.”
Dambrot was 305-139 at Akron, where he coached from 2004 through last season, when he was 27-9 with an appearance in the NIT.
David Driver is a freelance writer.