Junior guard Mike Lewis embraces leadership role for new-look Duquesne
When Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot conducts practice, he’s the shortest guy on the court.
But just try to ignore him. Mike Lewis knows better.
During practice Wednesday morning at Palumbo Center, Dambrot was constantly barking instructions with a voice that at times stopped just short of anger.
Even though it was only a practice three days before the opener Saturday at Palumbo against William & Mary, missed shots were not tolerated.
At one point, he stopped the proceedings until Lewis, a junior guard and the second-oldest player on a team devoid of seniors, made a 3-pointer. He missed only once before a sending a clean swish through the nets, and practice continued.
The relationship that has developed between Lewis and Dambrot over the past two seasons may appear tense to an outsider. But if you look closely, you will see Lewis smile as he returns to the court after a conversation with his coach.
“He’s challenging me,” said Lewis, who averaged 14.3 points per game over his first two seasons at Duquesne. “Last year, he challenged me a lot, but this year is a whole other level. He just understands I’m a leader on the team.
“If he’s getting on me, if I miss a couple, I can’t show frustration. If I’m showing frustration, what are the younger guys going to do?
“We laugh back and forth. Some days, it is rough. It definitely makes you play harder. If I’m slacking or anybody’s slacking, hopefully that will push you to go as hard as he wants.”
Dambrot has a unique standing with Lewis.
“He pushes my buttons,” Lewis said. “He understands how to get under skin. He and my mom are definitely the only people that know how to get under my skin anytime they want.”
Dambrot may be embarking on the toughest task of his 21-season coaching career. Until football season ends and junior forward Kellon Taylor exchanges cleats for sneakers, Lewis and sophomore Eric Williams Jr. (14.3 ppg) are the only players who have returned from last season.
Dambrot has seven freshmen and four transfers among his 14 scholarship players.
Joining Lewis and Williams in the starting lineup Saturday probably will be transfers Marcus Weathers (Miami, Ohio) and Michael Hughes (Akron) and freshman guard Sincere Carry, who will share the point with Tavian Dunn-Martin, another Akron transfer.
How they perform is anyone’s guess, including Dambrot’s.
“This is probably the least I’ve known about a team,” he said.
He told his players, “If you’re not in the top eight, I wouldn’t worry about it because there are going to be changes.”
“We have to increase our knowledge and our mileage so when we see a 1-3-1 zone, we know what to do against it. We’re up six with a minute to play, we know what to do. We haven’t been in those situations.”
Dambrot knows he must walk a fine line between winning games -- “I get paid to win games,” he said -- and developing his seven freshmen for the future, some of whom may not get as much playing time as they like.
“We have to win games. We can’t really afford to worry about their feelings, whether they play or not, which is, for young people, hard,” he said. “What I don’t want to do is go all in and not develop those young kids. What I have to decide at some point are we championship ready or just a notch below?”
Still, even with so much inexperience, he said the standard won’t change.
“That’s no excuse,” he said. “We still should win.”