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A December to remember for Ryan Murphy and the Duquesne Dukes

Duquesne’s game Wednesday was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Billikens program.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 05 Duquesne at Saint Louis

A lot has happened to the Duquesne Dukes in the past 28 days since they last played a basketball game. They’ve had members of the team test positive for COVID-19 forcing two shutdowns, had two potential resume building games canceled, now threee postponed, and had a player transfer from their arch-rival, Pitt.

Now, the majority of Duquesne fans don’t think highly of Pitt. I don’t blame them; Pitt is their number one competition. Pitt is the only other team in the actual city of Pittsburgh (Robert Morris is in Moon Township, that doesn’t count). In the two years that Jeff Capel’s staff has had complete control of the program (this excludes year one of course), they have not scheduled Duquesne. The Dukes finished six spots higher in KenPom last season for some context.

From 1970 through 2018, the teams played every season, sometimes multiple times in one season. Instead of scheduling Duquesne, Capel’s staff has scheduled the likes of Northern Illinois (twice), UAPB, Binghamton, Canisius, UMES, and multiple other bottom 100 programs.

“I’m not afraid to play anyone. Nobody,” Capel said in an interview with 93.7 The Fan “Let’s get that out there right away. I’m not afraid to play anyone, but as the leader of our program, as the caretaker of this program, my job is to do what’s best for my program.”

OK. I mean, a win helps you recruit, and boosts your resume, as a loss does essentially nothing but take away pride.

Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot said they are down to play anytime, anywhere. Pitt does not want to give in though. Even with a worldwide pandemic going on.

This takes me into the past month. Now Ryan Murphy, or should I call him “Murph,” has no resentment towards anyone in Oakland. He just loves the city. Like he told me, and I 100% agree, “Pittsburgh is unlike any city.”

That is shown in their sports love. Rather it is the struggling Pirates, the six-time Super Bowl Champion Steelers, or the men right down the street from Duquesne, the Penguins.

What he did was truly rare in the city. For the first time since 1981-82, a player has transferred between the two schools, that last transfer before Murphy was from Duquesne to Pitt.

It was not a normal transfer though. Murph was at a load of places over the summer. He originally transferred to Tulane. That wasn’t it. He then looked at some overseas offers, but none were of his liking. That was when he decided to reopen his recruitment. Only coaches knew this. It was not open to the public.

The Calabasas, California, native had loads of teams reach out. His final four were Duquesne, BYU, ECU, and UCSB. Murphy was one of the best three-point shooters in ACC play last season, finishing fourth in the league in 3-point percentage in 2019-20. That should really complement a Duquesne team that struggled behind the arc, shooting 31.8% a year ago. Good for 245th in the country.

His love of the city is what brought him back, though.

I talked to him right after his first practice. He explained to me about Dambrot is as unique as any coach Murphy has played for.

“He is unlike any coach that I’ve ever dealt with, but I really like how he runs the team, and the respect the guys have for him,” Murphy said. “We joke around with him, but we still get our stuff done.”

Murphy also brought up the obvious: Dambrot’s with a certain basketball player from Akron, Ohio.

If you did not know, he was Lebron James’ first high school coach at Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s. Duquesne is now a Nike school because of that.

Dambrot is a roster wizard. A couple of years ago Duquesne had way too many scholarship players on the roster, and with some magic, everyone who wanted to be there stayed there. The magic of the redshirt — I like to call it.

He worked that magic with Murphy who committed and walked on to Duquesne in early December, the middle of a short non-conference schedule (or so we thought. The rest of the games got canceled). He will be ready to go whenever the Dukes start their Atlantic 10 season.

The move he made has put a little pep in the step of the longtime Duquesne faithful. Murphy really did enjoy his time in Oakland, and keeps in touch with a ton of his teammates, but will he finally make it to the tournament? Something Duquesne has not been able to do in almost 44 years.

To add to all of this, it’s honestly been a crazy month for the Dukes program. It all started with an impressive win against UNCG in Louisville.

They were set to play Winthrop two days later but had their first shutdown of the season due to a positive COVID-19 test in the program.

As the team was planning to come back from the shutdown, they scheduled games in Indianapolis against Missouri Valley foes Southern Illinois and Loyola. The Salukis started the season 7-0, with a win against Butler. Loyola, well you know their story. They still have quite possibly their best player from that Final Four squad in Cameron Krutwig.

Those games were canceled three days later though, due to another positive test in the program. This also postponed the Atlantic 10 opener against preseason favorite, Richmond.

Everything *should* (barring some late-breaking news) be restarting on Wednesday against possibly the best team in the league, Saint Louis.

[narrator: there was some late-breaking news]

Literally, the last thing that Duquesne wanted to hear. At 10:17 a.m. on Wednesday, the Billikens had to pause all team activities due to a positive COVID-19 test within its program. The Dukes will wait a couple more days to get back into action.

Duquesne is now slated to tip-off Atlantic 10 play on Saturday at depleted George Washington. Exactly a month since their last game.

Yet, another thing to add onto this chaotic month for Duquesne.

Duquesne is looking forward to fighting through this adversity. They would like to show they’re capable of not only making but winning their first tournament game in some time.