Key Dukes Return Surrounded By Younger Teammates

Keith Dambrot enters his second season with one senior on his roster

Shelby Cassesse
September 04, 2018 - 9:52 pm

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - For a moment last year, Duquesne University saw the return of basketball for the first time since the late 70's.

The highly-anticipated arrival of first-year head coach Keith Dambrot led to a 15-6 start, a 61-58 buzzer beater loss to a ranked Rhode Island team and an overall more crowded Palumbo Center. However, a young Duquesne team with three fifth-year players and one senior faltered in the second half of the season, finishing 16-16 overall and 7-11 in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

"We pretty much regressed to the mean," Dambrot said following an August summer practice. "It was what it was as far as our talent level. We played really well for five weeks in the middle of the season and we won some very close games, and then we lost a couple close games to Richmond, St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island, and I thought it affected us a little bit." 

The Dukes may have been young last year, but it's nothing compared to what Dambrot and his staff face this year. Eight freshmen, five transfers that sat out last year and five returning players make up this year's 18-man roster. Of the five returning players, three have seen significant playing time. 

While that roster seems daunting for any coach, Dambrot says the new pieces, including the now-eligible transfers have added depth and created competition among the team. 

"Who's going to play when it matters? Who really handles pressure well? Who's going to make plays when it matters? The key in all of this is having a lot of good players, but then having an impact guy or two. I think if you look at any professional team in any sport or any of the good college teams, they all have impact guys."

For Duquesne, sophomore Eric Williams Jr. emerged as a surprise impact player last year. As a freshman, the guard started in 31 of 32 games, scoring 458 points and grabbing 280 rebounds. He finished the season tied for second on Duquesne’s freshman total points list and became the second leading freshman on the school's total rebound list. 

Dambrot feels Williams has set himself up for another impactful season.

"He's had a terrific spring and summer. He's very business-like. He's worked very hard at his game and his body. He's much stronger than he was last year, and I think just his consistent effort is better than it was last year. The big test for most everybody is when things don't go well, how do you react? That's going to be a big key for him, you know, just overcoming adversity."

Williams is joined by returners Mike Lewis II and Kellon Taylor. Lewis is coming off of a sophomore season that saw him score 460 points. 

The Dukes have a little over two months before the season begins at home against William & Mary on November 10, but Dambrot already has a few goals in mind for his second year at his father's alma mater.

"We have to continue to develop and grow and give the fans what they really deserve. We just want to try to play our best basketball and be as consistent as we can be all year long and also be a good part of the student body and a good part of the city. I mean, this is more than just basketball. You have to be good human beings, as well.”

While trying to inspire a student body and fan base that hasn't seen an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1977, Dambrot believes this younger team will produce positive results. 

"I feel like we're going to be a better team, we just have to consistently win games and not make any excuses."