Duquesne men’s basketball found itself in a place it rarely has been when their bus was stuck for 22 hours on the Pennsylvania Turnpike — the national spotlight. It’s hard to imagine such a conceivably miserable situation turning out so well in terms of publicity and perception. They were featured on SportsCenter and in the New York Times with everyone involved coming off as extremely likeable. The players came across as a close, fun loving group who made the most of their time on the bus and made some fans along the way. The program may have come out of this experience with some strangely earned momentum.
The question now is how do you capitalize on the situation by transferring the goodwill earned on the bus to game day improvements both on the court and in the stands? It will take some creativity, but the Dukes can make their odyssey pay in the short and long term.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 23, 2016
The Dukes are 13-7 and entering a stretch where four of the next five games are coin flip games at worst. If they can simply manage to take three of them, they’ll have equaled last year’s league win total while giving the casual onlooker something to latch onto. It’s not out of the question that the Dukes will see a spike in their walk up ticket sales as a result of the bus trip, but that could really tick up even further if they get hot while the spotlight is still on them. This is a feel good moment for a program that hasn’t had more than a handful and as a wise man often says “winning feels better than losing.” Hopefully, a few more people get to start feeling better more often about this team.
If they can manage to overachieve a little, look out. I’m not expecting them to end up in the bubble conversation, but they could be the story of the NIT if they backdoor their way in. They have the foundation of an OK resume already with two top 100 wins under their belt with more to potentially come.
The strangest part of this whole story is that folks seem to forget that the Dukes played in and won a game.
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 23, 2016
The Dukes Have Found Their Niche
Every team tries to present themselves as close. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard an NCAA coach say their team is like family, I’d have like $40. Sure, that’s not a lot of money, but it is a lot of nickels. Not many coaches have a social media anthology like the one Duquesne has to sell that family experience. Honestly, there were more than a few times where I wish I had been on the bus. I think Jim Ferry can package that to recruits to make them wish they were as well.
The Dukes, in my opinion, now have that marketable niche AD Dave Harper spoke about when he was hired that many other programs can’t touch in 2016, 2017 and 2018. They have an essential selling point at least for the time being. While this experience may not play with recruits who aren’t in the pipeline right now, it should serve as a stopgap until they build a more permanent brand identity or they can establish more consistent on the court success. Any phone calls or texts to recruits from the bus could be clutch. While the positive vibes and comraderie that oozed from that bus won’t sway every recruit, it will pay off if it’s the deciding factor in just one recruiting battle.
— Duquesne Athletics (@GoDuquesne) January 23, 2016
Bring the Bus Experience to Gameday
This is going to sound strange, but the game day experience can be improved by playing up the experience on the bus. If the Dukes get 500 extra people in the stands at the AJ Palumbo Center because their interest in the team grew after their night on the road, they can give the fans a quality game and plenty of references to the incident. Create a montage of snow angel pictures for the video board or play videos of them moving again. Honor the Domino’s delivery guy at half time and give Sarge, the bus driver, tickets for the rest of the season. Put him on the Jumbotron to get fans fired up in key situations. Maybe, they could use the shot of the Dukes cheering as the bus is moving to build some energy? They can do a ton of quirky stuff to suck casual fans into the game and hopefully keep them coming back.
Sarge: the best bus driver in the country. pic.twitter.com/oVhIIsoHD7
— Duquesne Basketball (@DuqMBB) January 24, 2016
“Warm up the bus, Gus” will have a new meaning near the end of Duquesne wins than it did a week ago. How much or how long it lasts will depend on how well the coaching staff and athletic department capture the moment. While it could turn into another oddity in the long list of those that surround Duquesne athletics, it could also serve as a turning point for program if some things fall into place. Interest should be at a five year high. Even if the team doesn’t exceed expectations on the court, the program could still win at the box office and on the recruiting trail.