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First-year coach Keith Dambrot pushing Dukes with self-described 'Tasmanian devil' on-court personna

| Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, 5:33 p.m.
Keith Dambrot has begun his first season as Duquesne men's basketball coach.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Keith Dambrot has begun his first season as Duquesne men's basketball coach.

During a late-morning practice Monday at Palumbo Center, sophomore guard Mike Lewis got an earful from first-year Duquesne basketball coach Keith Dambrot.

“He gets on me every day about every little thing that I do,” Lewis said, grinning.

Lewis last season put up 14.1 points per game and became just the fourth freshman to lead the Dukes in scoring. He also topped the team in free-throw percentage (83.2), 3-pointers (63, a school freshman record) and minutes per game (32.0).

Yet, Lewis recognizes there are soft spots in his game: His cuts could be more precise. His defense could be more tenacious. His leadership style could be more vocal.

“I told (Dambrot) I wanted somebody to push me, no matter how I felt about it,” Lewis said.

That's a role that comes easy for Dambrot, who mentored LeBron James for two seasons in high school before crafting a successful 13-year run as Akron's coach.

“The biggest thing for anybody who's ever played for me is trying to figure me out,” Dambrot said. “I'm probably one of the most easy-going people off the court that they've ever dealt with, and I'm probably a Tasmanian devil on the court for them.

“If you ask LeBron, he'll tell you I was demanding. I was nit-picking. I was hard on him. But off the court, I try to spend a lot of time (with players) and give them a lot of love.”

A taskmaster could be just what the Dukes need after going 10-22 overall and 3-15 in the Atlantic 10 last season.

“I have to be hard on them, but at the same time, I have to make sure they have belief in themselves because they're better than what people think,” Dambrot said.

What people think isn't very flattering. The Atlantic 10's preseason poll of coaches and media picked Duquesne to finish last.

“It's definitely motivation and something to think about,” junior guard Tarin Smith said. “With the (record) we had last year, I can see why people don't have much belief in us. But the guys in the locker room, we believe in ourselves. They can pick us 14th. It doesn't matter. We know what we have to do to win.”

Even Lewis, who earned a spot on the league's all-rookie team last season, didn't get much preseason respect. He was named just third-team preseason All-Atlantic 10.

“That hurt a little bit,” Lewis admitted. “But, such is life. I'm not one to dwell on the past.”

Notes: Duquesne's depth already is being tested, as forwards Chas Brown (foot) and Marko Krivacevic (broken wrist) are nursing injuries. Brown (6-foot-8, 235 pounds), who was set to be re-examined by doctors Monday, isn't expected back until mid-November. Dambrot said Krivacevic (6-9, 215) will be out at least another six weeks.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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