I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, here comes Wysocki writing about Duquesne basketball again.” And, yes, you’re correct. I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about how both the men’s and women’s teams are due for a resurgence after years of less-than-mediocre performances.
Well, I’m not here to repeat myself. Because the revolution on the Bluff is here, and it’s time for city hoops fans to get on board.
In the past four seasons, the men’s team has struggled to a 52-75 record. The team would ordinarily get an obligatory mention at the end of a local TV sports report and that was pretty much it. Just last season, the Dukes finished the year with a 10-22 record and it appeared as though a level below mediocrity had been accepted as the norm. But here we are in early January, and the Dukes have already eclipsed last year’s win total and stand at 11-4, tied atop the Atlantic-10 Conference standings.
For all the good things happening to the men’s team, the only bad news is that they might not even be the best basketball team on campus. That’s because the women’s team is 12-3.
Women’s coach Dan Burt has his team a half-game behind George Mason in the Atlantic-10 standings. Burt has nabbed some of the area’s best high school players, starting with superstar Chassidy Omogrosso, the Blackhawk High grad, whose 17.2 points per game bests all but three players in the conference. Carlynton’s Conor Richardson is third on the team in scoring, with more than nine points a game. Plus, freshman Kiersten Elliott, from Glenshaw, is earning minutes on a very talented roster. Burt crossed state lines to recruit Ohio’s Paige Cannon and Libby Bazelak. But while some coaches round out their rosters with a road trip to see a potential recruit a few hours away, or take a crop-duster to some backwoods Midwestern town, Burt put in a little more effort.
He went all the way to Serbia to bring back the sensational Julijana Vojinovic. The junior drops threes like Ray Allen or Reggie Miller. She’s currently fourth in the conference from behind the arc, shooting 44.2 percent. Add to that junior Kadri-Ann Lass, of Estonia, who was sixth in the conference last year in blocks. After that, Burt went to Hungary and brought back Eniko Kuttor and her 8.5 rebounds per game, which makes her fifth in the A-10. If that’s not enough European flavor, he’s got Helmi Tulomen from Finland, a freshman who is averaging 12 minutes and four points a game.
Burt recently recorded his 100th win faster than any coach in team history. Of the team’s three losses this year, two of them were by fewer than five points and the other one was to the University of Connecticut. But sometimes it’s tough to beat a program that is 163-2 since 2013. Only the Harlem Globetrotters have a higher winning percentage than UConn.
This month you can see the women’s team host LaSalle on Jan. 17, and the St. Bonaventure Bonnies on Jan. 25. But the big showdown is Jan. 21 against George Mason, in a battle for A-10 supremacy.
On the men’s side, coach Keith Dambrot is getting a lot of credit for turning that team around. Dambrot knows about winning; it’s all he did in 13 straight seasons with the Akron Zips. The last time coach Dambrot had a losing season as head coach was 1993, at Central Michigan University. That was before anyone on the Dukes’ current roster was even born.
The reality of the turnaround was confirmed last month, when the Dukes defeated rival Dayton. If there are three things that Pittsburghers hate most, its people who think they are big shots, Hunt’s ketchup, and any team named the Flyers. The Dukes punched back at their eternal bullies with a big December win. The eight wins in December was the most by a Dukes team since the 1971-72 season. A season-ticket-holder who attends every game described the victory simply as “glorious.” His 10-year-old daughter, also a devoted hoops fan, had circled the Dayton game on the calendar because she couldn’t stand Dayton and its obnoxious fans. Well, those Dayton fans left the Palumbo Center that day knowing that the balance of power had shifted. The long-awaited smile on the girl’s face equaled the exuberance of the Duquesne faithful.
Freshman Eric “E-Dub” Williams Jr. leads the A-10 in rebounds with 9.9 per game and throws down 14.7 points each time to go with it. Fellow freshman Tydus Vorhoeven is a versatile 6’8” Californian with arms as long as redwoods. Not to mention sophomore Mike Lewis II, who leads the team in scoring with 15.7 points per game so far this season. Junior Tarin Smith, a transfer from Nebraska, is fourth on the team in scoring behind Butler transfer Rene Castro-Caneddy, a graduate student from Boston. Fellow graduate student Jordan Richardson and sophomore Kellon Taylor also are big contributors off Dambrot’s bench. The aforementioned Taylor got a late start this season because he was busy catching passes for the Dukes football team.
The Dukes host the LaSalle Explorers on Sat., Jan. 13, and George Mason on Jan. 20; the Richmond Spiders take a shot at the revamped program on Jan. 24. A revolution has come to the Bluff. Let this serve as your last warning to get on the Duquesne bandwagon. There are plenty of good seats available, but not for much longer.