Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot faces season of transition
The odds appear stacked against Keith Dambrot, but he is eager to tackle his third season as Duquesne’s men’s basketball coach.
While renovations continue on the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse that won’t open until the 2020-21 season, he shares a fourth-floor practice gym with several other teams on campus. If a player wants to work on his jump shot after hours, it’s not as easy as finding someone to turn on the lights.
Home is where Dambrot hangs his hat that night, either PPG Paints Arena, where the Dukes open the season Tuesday against Princeton, La Roche or Robert Morris.
Then, there’s the banes of every coach’s existence: Injuries and transfers.
Ever hopeful, an attitude befitting a coach who has won 448 games in 21 seasons, Dambrot refuses to make excuses.
“I think we can overcome most of it,” he said. “We just need to get off to a good start, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Perhaps the biggest problem will be replacing leading scorer and rebounder Eric Williams (14 points, 7.6 rebounds) after he transferred to Oregon.
Also on that list is how to compensate for the loss of junior guard Frankie Hughes, the team’s fourth-leading scorer (8.9) who will miss the season after knee surgery.
Hughes and Williams were the team’s leading 3-point shooters in terms of volume. Hughes was 71 of 219 (32.4 percent) from beyond the arc, Williams 56 of 151 (37.1).
The long-range shooting chore will fall to junior guard Tavian Dunn-Martin, who actually had a better percentage (34.3%, 47 of 137) than Hughes.
“We’re going to miss (Hughes),” Dambrot said. “He’s a good player. He’s a very experienced guy who’s been in a lot of games at a high level.
“We just have to do it more team-oriented. His knowledge of the game is good, but this is a chemistry game so we have enough young kids at those spots to be OK. We just have to give them experience.”
Dambrot will rely on three freshman guards: Maceo Austin, Ashton Miller and Evan Buckley.
Austin is expected to be in the starting lineup Tuesday. He played 32 minutes and scored six points Friday in the Dukes’ 78-70 exhibition loss to West Virginia.
“I try to tell him,” Dambrot said, “‘Don’t put the whole weight on your shoulders just because you are one of the highest-level recruits we ever had. You just have to go have fun and relax.’ ”
What the coach likes best about Austin, even before he plays his first real game, is he knows how to win. He played on four state champions at Kennedy Catholic.
After sitting out the WVU game, Miller will play against Princeton, but he will be watched closely while recovering from a hip flexor.
Dambrot was disappointed his team squandered a chance to beat WVU.
“I thought other than the first five minutes, we had a lot of opportunities to win the game,” he said.
“Our biggest thing was they played 12 (players), and we played eight. I felt like we got tired, especially with Marcus Weathers only playing 12 minutes (foul trouble).”
Weathers and Dunn-Martin are two of the six returning players who started games last season.
Also back is point guard Sincere Carry, who played through knee pain and finally had surgery near the end of the season. He was second on the team in scoring (12.1 points) and led the Atlantic 10 in assists (5.8).
• Junior Michael Hughes, 6-foot-8, who led the A-10 in blocks (3.1) while shooting 58.9 percent.
• Sophomore Austin Rotroff, 6-10, also recovering from knee surgery.
• Sophomore guard Lamar Norman, who scored 80 of his 129 points in five games.
Graduate transfer Baylee Steele, 6-11, averaged 8.5 points at Utah Valley State, but Dambrot sees him as a 3-point threat.
Dunn-Martin, Hughes, Austin, Weathers and Carry are expected to start Tuesday.
Dambrot said his team has made “reasonable progress” in his first two seasons after recording a 35-29 record, 17-19 in the Atlantic 10.
“I don’t think you can ever be where you want to be,” he said. “The only thing I can compare it to is Akron (where his team won 26 games in his third season), and we were much further along there than we are here.
“Hopefully, we can continue to develop and get better and better.”
Until Rotroff and Miller fully recover, Duquesne will face a manpower shortage.
“We really don’t have any subs in practice,” Dambrot said, “so that limits how much you can play. You have to change the way you practice a little bit.
“You have to watch their juice all the time. You can’t really stress ‘Hey, if you don’t play hard you’re coming out,’ because there’s nobody to put in.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .