Duquesne

After a rebuilt career, Keith Dambrot eyes the ultimate rebuild: Duquesne

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Keith Dambrot sits in his office with a photo of his father. -- LONG HONG / DKPS

Inside the main entrance of the Palumbo Center, 20 yards from cars humming along Forbes Avenue, hang eight black-and-white images honoring Duquesne's storied basketball program.

There are stills from the Dukes' 1955 NIT champion squad. There are faces that serve as a reminder of greatness. Chuck Cooper, the first African-American player drafted by an NBA team when the Celtics chose him in 1950. Donald 'Dudey' Moore, who coached the 1953-54 team that was ranked No. 1 in the country. Dick Ricketts and Sihugo Green, back-to-back first overall picks in the 1955 and 1956 NBA drafts.

It is a past that is forgotten by many in Pittsburgh, but not Keith Dambrot. The chance to revive that history motivated him to accept an offer in March to become Duquesne's head coach after a successful 13-year run at Akron, this despite close friends and colleagues telling him they doubted the program can ever return to prominence.

Their skepticism is not unwarranted. Dambrot chose to take over a long-suffering program that won 10 games last season and has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 1977. It's the challenge he's always wanted.

More than 24 years after being fired from his first Division I head coaching job for using the n-word in a halftime speech, Dambrot, 58, is now coaching at the school where his father helped make history on the basketball court.

He knows how it feels to have lost it all, and how difficult the climb back to the top can be.

Now he’s trying to do the same for Duquesne.

“This isn’t easy,” Dambrot said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s an unbelievable opportunity as well. When people say you can’t be any good and now you are good, that’s a great opportunity, isn’t it?”