I’m not going to lie: the story that was supposed to run today originally had a very different tone.
Before news broke Monday that the Dukes poached Keith Dambrot away from Akron, Duquesne had themselves two terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weeks. Athletic director Dave Harper’s search for replacing Jim Ferry started to feel like an odyssey.
It started to look like they might have screwed up. That they should have fired Ferry either last year once their best players graduated, or next year once his contract expired and his do or die recruitment class had a couple years to grow. The odds of Ferry leading Duquesne to the promised land seemed slim, but they might have picked the wrong year to start over.
The school did not have much to offer a new coach. The best players are leaving. The facilities are going to be under construction. Whether it’s fair or not, the job has been called a turnstile. If a candidate wanted to make the jump to the A-10, there is a much more secure gig available in Dayton.
The low points came on March 24 and 25, when Mike Lewis II and Isaiah Mike announced on Twitter they asked for their release from Duquesne so they could transfer. Reports circulated that Nakye Sanders was grabbing a life preserver and preparing to abandon ship, too.
After getting told “thanks, but no thanks” from King Rice, James Whitford and Dane Fife, it looked like the best case scenario was grabbing a Division II coach or biting the bullet and being an enabler for Mike Rice, Jr. Neither sounded appealing, and honestly, not that big an upgrade over Ferry.
If this job search was a TV show, 10 a.m. Monday morning was the “all is lost” moment.
I was wrong. A lot of people were wrong. Harper came through, and the Dukes got their man. It may have taken a seven year contract that can be paid in either check or a giant vault filled with gold coins to jump in Scrooge McDuck style, but they found themselves the right guy.
It’s amazing how enough zeros in a check can make all those problems go away. The best players are leaving? Here comes a fresh batch of talent and recruits who didn’t think twice and just went with their coach.
The facilities are going to be dusty? James A. Rhodes Arena is a cramped, tiny stadium that looks like a suburban middle school from the street. It’s still an upgrade.
The job is a graveyard and isn’t as attractive as Dayton? Papa Dambrot used to play for the Dukes, so screw the Flyers. And at 58 with a seven year contract on the table, odds are Dambrot isn’t worried about his career prospects if he fails. He’s set for life.
It’s a match made in heaven. Dambrot gets seven figures a year and a completely renovated stadium to try to bring his dad’s old team back to its former glory. Duquesne gets a coach who should be able to hold a 12 point lead with eight minutes remaining.
Dambrot brings a culture of winning that has been absent at Duquesne since the start of the Reagan administration. The Zips just won a school record 27 games last season and never finished worse than 19-10 under him. He lead them to three NCAA tournaments and has three MAC coach of the year trophies at home. His biggest fan just so happens to be the biggest name in basketball: LeBron James. The two won a pair of high school state titles together. That’s a heck of a name drop for any potential recruits.
Against all odds, Harper and company crawled through a river of transfer requests, rejected offers and overwhelming negativity, and come out clean on the other side. They may have been turned down for prom by the star quarterback, running back and ball boy, but they ended up going with the boy next door who just finished his freshman year of college. And his dad is letting him drive the Mustang.
“Duquesne’s goal is to be a highly-valued member of the Atlantic 10 Conference,” said Harper in the school’s official release when they started the search. “Success in men’s basketball is paramount to that strategy.”
There shouldn’t be any more questions about how committed the school is to this program. March 27th, 2017 may be remembered as the day Duquesne basketball went from attracting a few hundred fans to watch them get blown out in conference play to a legitimate member of the A-10.