Pittsburgh, PA — Though the academic year has only recently begun, Duquesne men’s basketball Keith Dambrot is already well past getting his feet wet when it comes to his team.
This past week, Dambrot broke his team into two groups with junior guard Mike Lewis II leading one group and sophomore guard Eric Williams Jr, the other as part of a couple separate practices in which there was media availability.
“We are kind of in the same position that we were last year with teaching them day by day,” he said. “We have five experienced guys that have played college basketball, seven when you count Mike Lewis and Eric (Williams Jr). The rest of them we have to teach what it takes to win in college. Even the other guys, the transfers we have to teach. Tavian (Dunn-Martin) and Mike (Hughes) didn’t play a great deal and Craig (Randall) and Frankie (Hughes) didn’t win enough.”
That feeling when you're one more week closer to season… pic.twitter.com/NmPltigOWB
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) July 27, 2018
Though there are several new faces, that does not change the fact that Dambrot has high expectations for his team this season.
In fact, Dambrot is pleased with guards Sincere Carry, Brandon Wade and Lamar Norman Jr, stating it is hard to tell that they are freshmen and that it is only a matter of time for the young posts to accomplish the same.
While Dambrot’s first campaign with Duquesne tested a coach who has not had to build a team in this fashion in some time, he displayed a clear understanding as to why the team finished where it did.
That is not to say that he expects a lot from this year’s squad.
“If you don’t have high expectations you probably shouldn’t be coaching,” said Dambrot. “You have to be realistic but I was disappointed with how we ended last year and I went back and thought about it. I don’t really like where we finished but I was okay with it knowing what we have. This team I have pretty high expectations and I am not going to use that inexperience as a crutch.”
Building a team
Dambrot could not give much in the way of a starting lineup and it was not because of secrecy but genuinely because it is hard to tell in this stage how everything will play out because there are so many new wrinkles with this Duquesne team.
Duquesne is returning five players in Lewis II, Williams Jr, Kellon Taylor, Caleb Davis and Zach Snyder. Taylor will miss a good portion of the non-conference schedule due to playing football and both Davis and Snyder are walk-ons.
Everyone else is considered new, including the transfers who did sit on the bench last season cheering on their teammates.
“The hardest thing for us is how it all meshes together and how it plays out,” he said. “Will it be small, big and who is it going to be? We know certain guys will play and then from there we don’t know what order they will play. Last year we chose to play Tarin (Smith) off the bench and obviously he was a starter, so who will take that role.”
One thing Dambrot did state was that fans should expect more of what he consistently called “teeth-pulling contests” as that is what championship teams have to do.
Ultimately, Duquesne is looking to win basketball games and gain some needed confidence and belief in order to show that the hard work thus far has paid off.
“If you ask most Duquesne people, they don’t ever think they can win because they’ve lost for so long, they think something bad is going to happen, it’s like Cleveland before they won the NBA Finals,” said Dambrot. “It’s realistically changing how people think and that means our guys as well. We have to make our guys feel like they are good enough to win and they should win. That takes winning in order to do that.”
Williams prepares for upcoming season
As soon as his freshman season ended, guard Eric Williams Jr went to work both physically and mentally.
The physical is certainly evident as Williams Jr has put on a good 10-15 pounds of muscle, making it abundantly clear with a smile that he did not gain an inch of fat.
This realization came from a season ago in which Williams Jr admitted he made “young mistakes” and when watching film was determined to get stronger.
There was a clear disappointment in the team’s season-ending loss to Richmond at the Atlantic 10 Championships, one which the six-foot-six sophomore attributes to not having the proper mindset, one of just getting to the game instead of taking the season one day at a time, a direct result of what he says was one of the worst games of the 2017-18 campaign.
“The mindset then was to get to the game but I think now it is more about taking things day by day,” Williams Jr said. “We’re going to do everything the right way now, there’s no more shortcuts.”
Given the “teeth-pulling contests” Dambrot referred to, Williams Jr stayed on campus all summer long.
“I stayed and worked out and I think that set the tone,” he said. “Everyone wants to come in and do the right thing. It is good that everyone is on the right path. It wasn’t hard. Going home is not a bad thing, but I knew that I did not want to lose an inch of time.”
What Williams Jr also gained was a voice which he used when leading a group of teammates just about all of whom were freshmen or transfers who now are eligible to play this season.
“It means a lot that I can go out there and just doing things the right way,” said Williams Jr. “Everybody is trying to spread the positivity around the team. I was a little timid my whole freshman year. I didn’t know much and I really didn’t say much. Now I think I understand how to talk and get to people in a better way.”
A year ago, Williams Jr conceded that he noticed an increased focus mainly on Lewis II, but also on himself, which made things difficult.
“Last year, it was kind of hard because of our offense so teams could key in and that’s why Coach D keyed in on defense last year because it was hard to score on offense,” Williams Jr said. “Teams keyed on us and I didn’t realize that. It was hard to see that there had to be more counters and we really didn’t have that. Sometimes players got fatigued and it was little, little things that just blew games open for us, that we could have had.”
Now the team has much greater depth and is starting to believe but at the same time also remembers that a basketball season is a marathon and not a sprint.
“I think in the long run that we could do big things if we get better every day,” said Williams Jr.
Photo credit: Mitchell Leff/Atlantic 10 Conference