Slighted Dukes making case for recognition

It never was close. Those four words just about sum up the Duquesne women’s basketball team and Sunday’s 89-58 home win against Dayton.

A 12-0 run allowed the Dukes to be the aggressor early and a banged up Flyers squad never recovered.

Senior guard April Robinson earned her first career triple-double at any level and did so quietly. She flirted with the milestone earlier this season, but did so Sunday.

If Robinson was unaware of the milestone Duquesne fans, which loudly chanted “triple-double” quickly filled her in.

Sports is all about information and statistics this day, take it from my friend and DK Pittsburgh Sports colleague Matt Gajtka who fascinates each week with a Matt’s Stats piece.

Going into this season I had no clue that women’s basketball had a player efficiency. Coach Dan Burt still has no idea how it works, but I was given a basic introduction by Duquesne Sports Information Director Ryan Gavatorta. I’ll spare you the numbers and formulas and go on with my point.

Senior guard Deva’Nyar Workman was a +43 in the Dayton win. Whether you know advanced statistics or not, it is easy to know that this is good. When Workman is on the court, the Dukes perform well and it makes opposing coaches very nervous. Everything changes when Workman is in the game and she is not even in the starting lineup.

As for the team still not being ranked in the top-25 poll, there is not much logical explanation to it. It is not as if this is Duquesne’s first season doing well. After all, the Dukes have been in the WNIT for years now. They are a consistently good program which this season have become better.

January is way too early to gauge as to whether an NCAA Tournament bid is a possibility, but it is not too early to know that the team at this point, should be in the top-25.

Sure the non-conference schedule was perceived as weak but voters need to look beyond the box score. It is not all wins but how they happen and why they happen. Duquesne has built a successful culture where the players take ownership of the program. Wins are not enough. It is about how well they perform.

Sometimes the locker room may be confused for a library it is so quiet.

I have covered the Dukes for all of Burt’s time there from the introductory press conference announcing his hire through the Dayton win and will continue to do so.

Wins are not the whole story. It is the way this team has adjusted every season based on personnel, became a family and now have the ultimate belief and trust in each other.

Something special is going on in Pittsburgh.

It’s a shame the voters decide to favor bigger name schools or base decisions off of relationships. The results are in their faces. Duquesne 13-1. Duquesne 18 consecutive home wins. Duquesne six road wins. Duquesne consistent Atlantic 10 Player and Rookie of the Week honors. Duquesne five scorers in double figures.

I’d keep going, but instead I will direct you to my DK Pittsburgh Sports notebook on these and other topics. It is worth your time and should make you frustrated.

Photo credits: Stephen Pope and Ed Thompson


Dukes have fun in “upset” win

Just a few days earlier, Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt sat disappointed in his team following a win. The same cannot be said following a 76-57 victory over 25th ranked St. John’s.

The Dukes have started the season 11-1 and in this case did so coming from behind at halftime.

This is not a scenario which has helped the Dukes who were 3-18 under Burt when trailing at halftime coming into this game.

“Usually you’re not satisfied as a coach and you can find something,” Burt said. “At halftime I told the team the game was ours. We had to fix things in our zone defense and we did that. This is as complete a team victory as we’ve had in a while. It’s a great win for our program and a great resume builder for us as a possible at-large team if we have to go that direction at the end of the year.”

A key reason for the victory was Duquesne containing St. John’s “big two” which consists of senior guards Danaejah Grant and Aliyyah Handford. The pair average 40 points a game, but in this contest combined for 19 points.

Duquesne had to make adjustments after trailing in the first half. It allowed too many easy baskets, especially in the first quarter and on offense missed to many of those same open looks.

Senior guard April Robinson, who had a double-double with 15 points and 11 assists credited assistant coach Rachel Wojdowski with making the right adjustments to get the team refocused back on defense.

“We packed in our defense after half,” said Robinson. “With top guards getting in paint it limited chances of getting points.”

Going into the game, the Dukes had a good mindset coming off what the team called two of its best practices this season, and from there it came down to a battle of wills.

Burt admits the Dukes underestimated how good St. John’s in the post, especially junior forward Jade Walker who had a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. She was contained in the second half however.

Senior guard Deva’Nyar Workman knows this performance came down to the defensive end and for her, the Dukes were the team which possessed more hunger in this game.

“It’s about setting a good example and even though that team is ranked it means nothing,” she said. “If we play our game we’ll be fine. That team is good and we concentrated on defense and defense made us win this game.”

Duquesne shot nearly 18 percent better than its opponent in the second half and appeared to be the more confident and comfortable team of the two.

“We just kept moving,” Robinson said. “We got them in foul trouble and the coaches were telling us to get to the basket and free throw line. We had fun. We had a lot of confidence.”

The Dukes now face perhaps their biggest test of the season, the longest break Burt has ever had in 19 years of coaching NCAA D-I Basketball.

After what could be considered a signature win, many of the players will be traveling back home which means workouts, staying in shape and making the right food choices are in their control.

After coming back, the players will prepare for a Dec. 30 road contest against Pitt, the women’s basketball version of The City Game.

“You are 11-1 and you have archrival after Christmas,” said Burt. “If that doesn’t motivate you to do extra workouts, stay in shape and eat properly, I don’t know what will. We expect our kids to get after it. If you’re not committed at this point I don’t think you should be on our team. You would stick out like a sore thumb. It’s all for one and one for all.”

He said it: “Today was a good day.”- Coach Dan Burt paraphrasing a song from Ice Cube.

My take: Forget the rankings for a second. By no means do I consider this an upset. Duquesne is a very talented team which just got a much needed signature win that could help come March. Several teams have come to the A.J. Palumbo Center and Burt has not been able to knock that item off his list. Already he has a big road win against New Mexico and competitive victories over an Ohio team which won 27 games last season in addition to this ranked win against St. John’s.

Workman played absolutely out of her mind and should be considered for Atlantic 10 player of the week with her 21.5 points-per-game and seven rebound average over two games. I believe she responds better when she is the first one off the bench. It makes her more hungry to prove herself.

The Dukes are doing a good job making the most of their non-conference schedule with one game remaining. A strong conference play record is mandatory for an NCAA berth, but efforts such as this one make that a more realistic possibility.

Photo credit: Ed Thompson

Bullying by Biertempfel, Trib will not be tolerated

Many of you saw a recent series of tweets from Dejan Kovacevic concerning an incident between the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and I that occurred during the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

It’s time to be completely honest with those of you who read my work. Many have asked me, and I owe you the truth.

In early September, Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review tweeted a story citing industry sources which stated that the Pirates may play games in Puerto Rico next season.

I had come across the story earlier in the morning through multiple sources of my own. Unfortunately, I could not write a piece, let alone tweet about it, as I was working at a different job where I was not permitted to use my phone or go on a computer.

I had enough to tweet this story at around 9:30 a.m. of that day, but the first opportunity I had to tweet was minutes after Biertempfel had already tweeted this story later than afternoon. I followed with a tweet of my own. Almost immediately Biertempfel sent a direct message. It read: “I’m not one of your sources am I?” Technically, Rob was the first to break the story as he was able to send out a tweet, so I gave him credit with being first on social media. It was the right thing to do.

I tried to explain how I came about the story to him, but it never really got to that point because immediately Biertempfel threatened to sue me, again via a DM. 

Saying I am a horrible writer is one thing. It’s an opinion, and while I may disagree with it, again, it’s an opinion. Calling my credibility into question is one of — if not the most — serious things a journalist can face.

His offensive direct messages, in addition to a very public tweet in which he attacked my character, demonstrated cyber bullying, something which I will not tolerate. Needless to say, I blocked Rob from my Twitter. There was no reason to take further abuse.

Rob, like myself, is a journalist, and our job is to communicate and to do so professionally. He covered the Pirates later on during the road trip, but getting my phone number and calling me, or even sending an e-mail would have been fine so we could address how we felt and possibly come up with a mutual understanding.

There was a precedent for this interaction. During spring training, Rob immediately followed me to send a DM. I had innocently failed to attribute a quote he had in a Pittsburgh Sporting News story I wrote. I immediately apologized to him and made sure it was fixed while communicating that the change had occurred.

If there is one thing about me, it’s this: If a mistake is made on my end, I immediately admit to it and will do what I can to ensure it is fixed. I am very critical of my own work and take a lot of pride in it.

The issue regarding the Puerto Rico story died down until the third day of a four-game series against the Brewers on Sept. 12. Just a few minutes before first pitch, Rob decided to approach me at my seat in the press box.

Instead of taking me off to the side, so we could talk this issue out, he confronted me at my seat. Again, I was not given the chance to plead my case. What he said to me was, “You realize what you did was wrong, right?” He still would not let this go.

I decided I did not want this over my head. I have a job to do and, for 79 home games and six road games, I wrote anywhere from two to five articles a day covering the 2015 Pirates.

Respectfully, I told him that however we both felt, things happened and that we should be professional about the situation, shake hands and move on. I extended the olive branch and he shook my hand and went back to his seat.

Fast forwarding to the end of the season, I found out that I was not credentialed for the playoffs. The reason given was that I had conducted myself unprofessionally, based upon a report that was given. Additionally, Rob had asked to be my Facebook friend and immediately went on there, presumably looking for damning evidence to use against me. 

Anyone who saw me in the press box and read my work knows I’m serious about succeeding. Not one media member was in the PNC Park press box more than me last season. I missed just three games, one due to space issues for the home opener, and two more because I was away covering the U.S Women’s Open golf tournament.

I developed sources and established trust among the Pirates players, communicating in both Spanish and English. 

My mission was to get stories that no one else considered, and a lot of that was a success. I managed to find out MLB executive Joe Torre was at PNC Park on July 4 and was the only one to conduct an interview with him that day.

My Pittsburgh Sporting News feature stories included Chris Stewart’s catching routine, where the responsibility for allowing stolen bases lies, catchers transitioning to becoming managers and Jared Hughes figuring out, with some help, what he needed to be successful.

Pirates media relations staffers said they respected my tenacity and willingness to try different things.

As it stands now, my Pirates credential for the 2016 season is very much up in the air. Why, besides the fact that someone could not let a simple grudge go? It is childish behavior, and in fact Rob is the one that is unprofessional in this case, hiding behind his computers with DMs and waiting over a week to talk, while giving me no chance to explain myself. 

That is not professionalism, that is bullying.

Only under rare circumstances should a journalist become the story. In fact, it is the writer’s job to accurately cover the scene and report accordingly. In this instance though, the repeated harassment and the potential effect Biertempfel’s accusation may have on my future compelled me to write something.

I talked with Tribune-Review deputy managing sports editor Richard “Duke” Maas about this issue a few days after it was made public. I was essentially blown off and told that everything was circumstantial and hearsay.

Maas and I agreed that Rob would call me so we could meet for lunch and discuss the issue. As of this writing I still have not heard from him. It has been over a month since the initial call to Maas was made. 

The Tribune-Review also alleges that I was the one who started the fight, which is also a false accusation. I was fine with keeping the matter private and finding a resolution,  the latter was something the Trib was clearly not committed to.

Bullying is shameful for the person being picked on, but more so to the one who decides to do it in the first place. It says a lot about a person’s character. It should not be allowed nor tolerated by anyone.

I want to finish by stating I am proud to be a part of both the Pittsburgh Sporting News and the DK Pittsburgh Sports families. These websites have great journalists and better people. It is a shame that this issue even needs to be addressed, but being silent is no longer an option.

Waskowiak receives ovation in return

Three minutes remained of a game in which the outcome had been decided, so why was everyone clapping?

Simple, Erin Waskowiak was back on the court.

Not many dry eyes remained when the guard replaced Conor Richardson for the remainder of the game.

The fans and Duquesne bench alike gave a deserving ovation for a player who fought for two years just to return to the game she loved.

Seven seconds later, Waskowiak was able to get her first collegiate rebound. Her three was off the mark, but that did not deter her.

Waskowiak was able to feed Eniko Kuttor for an open jumper, her first assist.

As the seconds dwindled, the Dukes had one possession remaining and coach Dan Burt immediately pointed at the Bishop Canevin product. She fought through several surgeries, an ACL injury which was a disappointing setback an months of frustration. The least she deserved was the ball. This was her moment.

With the entire Bishop Canevin women’s basketball team among the friends and family in attendance, Waskowiak drove to the basket and earned a foul call.

Waskowiak later admitted she was extremely nervous and would miss both free throws.

Regardless of this, Waskowiak could say she made a score sheet for the first time in her collegiate career.

Guard Deva’Nyar Workman described the emotion she felt for Waskowiak.

“I wanted to cry. I’m really close with Erin, so seeing her out there and knowing what’s she’s gone though, she’s been working hard to get back,” she said.

Szamosi spoke for her teammates and to an extent the fans in attendance when discussing Waskowiak.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, and I think it’s just a lifting experience for everyone to have her back because of how we have the strong bond as a team,” Szamosi said. “She’s very important to all of us.”

Hopefully Waskowiak is proud of herself. It takes unbelievable strength to reach some of the lowest lows yet turn it into a positive and refuse to quit on her dreams. She did just that and did so admirably.

Now, it is time to turn the page and focus on basketball. There still is a season and Waskowiak still has a lot to play for.




Duquesne WBB 79 Slippery Rock 54 Takeaways

The good:

Deva’Nyar Workman had 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Workman has looked comfortable with her shot and everything she thought, I honestly believed would go in. Her energy has been welcome and she has found more consistency than last season. Another game where she had points and also added eight rebounds. The star of the night.

Amadea Szamosi’s third double-double in her last five games. You will take 20 points and 10 rebounds from Szamosi. It was a great performance from her. Could it have been better? Sure, but she did what she needed to do to help this team.

Conor Richardson’s rebounding. Let’s not kid ourselves, this is not an offensive performance, the Dukes will hang on their fridge, but her seven rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end, kept offensive sequences alive.

Third quarter- Duquesne was a +10 in the third 10 minutes and this has a trend this season. In fact, the Dukes have outscored opponents in the third quarter by 78 points. That is very commendable.

“I think in the first half our energy wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be,” forward Amadea Szamosi said. “Our goal was to give them the first punch, that it was our court and we were the better team.”

Home court winning streak- This win means that for 16 straight games, an opponent came into the A.J. Palumbo Center and did not win.

Guard Deva’Nyar Workman stated that this kind of streak helps build the team’s confidence.

“We don’t want anyone coming in here thinking it’s their house,” she said. “It’s our house and we plan on keeping it that way.”

Rebounding battle- Quite simply Duquesne was a +15. I’ll let Szamosi explain the rest.

“Usually the team who wins the rebounding battle wins the war,” said Szamosi. “It’s a good goal to have if you want to be successful. I think we’ve been doing a better job.”

Assists- A quick point here. It was another 20-plus assist performance with 21 dimes on 29 made field goals.

The bad

The defense- Coach Dan Burt called the effort uninspiring and showing a lack of effort. The average fan will look at the box score and see 29.2% when looking at Slippery Rock’s field goal percentage as well as more turnovers than assists, but there were sloppy mistakes all night. There were several stretches where the Dukes looked lost and they were outscored 19-16 in the second quarter, something which should never have happened. Further, in points off turnovers, it was the Rock outscoring Duquesne by an 18-12 score.

April Robinson’s shooting. Robinson had her usual nine assists and added five rebounds but 0-for-6 is not going to get the job done. Coming off the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honor, this was not the greatest following act. This is just the third time in Robinson’s collegiate career that she has been held scoreless. All of the shots were 3-point attempts.

Dan Burt- This is strictly because he said it himself. When a coach admits that his team played uninspired basketball, that comes back to him. Burt stated that he was out recruiting a day before this game and that his assistant coaches ran practice. It always is tough during a season to balance present and future. Would him being at practice have made a difference? Probably not, but there is a stigma. With a ranked St. John’s coming to Pittsburgh Saturday, it would be easy to look ahead, and that is what I suspect is the case, but I take Burt at his word.

Overall impressions– Duquesne was expected to win this game and did. A win is a win, but a lot needs to change before this game Saturday.

He said it– “I think the players were disappointed the entire game with their effort. We tried to motivate them every timeout we had and halftime. We didn’t light them up at halftime. At the end of the day we didn’t perform well, we lacked focus, energy and lacked the effort. That is bitterly disappointing to me and I can assure you that won’t happen again when we play against St. John’s Saturday.” – Burt on the effort against Slippery Rock


Erin Waskowiak back with Dukes

It’s time to move away from talking about the past. That’s what Duquesne women’s basketball guard Erin Waskowiak told me when discussing the injuries which have kept her out of uniform.

To briefly sum up her injuries, Waskowiak was hit by the family’s car and the initial fear was that she would not walk again. Then after being told she would return December 2014, an ACL tear ruined that plan.

Waskowiak was frustrated with the entire process and it was blatantly clear with the answers she provided me.

I turned my conversation with Waskowiak into a piece for DK Pittsburgh Sports ($) where you can read more.

It is clear that Waskowiak is ready to move on from the past and just focus on playing basketball. She knows she is fortunate to play again, but wants to be remembered for basketball, not the process she underwent to get back to the game she loved. That begins Tuesday night against Slippery Rock.

Photo credit: Stephen Pope



Five things I think

This is a weekly piece I will do for the blog which provide my thoughts and opinions on certain matters. This week I will lean Duquesne since I am consistently on campus and provide other local thoughts.

  1. Duquesne men’s basketball’s 67-65 road win against Saint Francis was by far its biggest win of the season. Yes Penn State was a big win, but it served more as note that the players have bought in and positioned themselves in a positive direction. The UW Milwaukee win was away from home but on neutral site and higher scoring where the Dukes are more comfortable. The win versus the Red Flash involved a game with scoring in the 60’s, a vanishing Houdini act on offense from Darius Lewis, a 1-for-11 performance from 3-point range in the second half, no one stepping on up offense besides Micah Mason and a lack of aggression in getting to the foul line in comparison to the opposition. Duquesne loses this game in every single way each of the past three years. It is a win against a weak NEC team, but this win positions them for a possible double-digit win total before Atlantic 10 play.
  2. Jeremiah Jones is the glue of the Dukes team. Everyone has looked at Mason and Derrick Colter but they need to look harder. Both have improved this season on both ends of the ball while embracing a leadership role but it is easy to tell when Jones is on the court. Saturday against Saint Francis, Colter was on the floor with four bench players and a six point lead became a two point deficit. After Duquesne tied the game, Jones came in, and immediately things began to settle down towards a pace the Dukes were more comfortable with. Jones is a natural leader and does not force his will upon players, but rather does it in a more reserved, yet healthy way. All three of these players will be hard to replace, especially if Rene Castro continues to play in his current form.
  3. Why is no one paying attention to the Duquesne women’s team? This is a 9-1 team (at the time of this writing) which leads the Atlantic 10 and really should be receiving votes towards the top-25 poll. One Pittsburgh columnist called this team “sturdy” and while it shows this team are winners, the term does not provide the necessary justice. This is a family from several parts of the world, which has not only won, but done so for years and will continue to do so. I called the Dukes an NCAA Tournament team going into the season and they still have work to do in order to make the tournament. The bench minus Conor Richardson and Deva’Nyar Workman need to step up and this needs to happen now, but the starting five have done a fantastic job on both ends of the ball while finding several different ways to win games this season. A team with this many new faces often takes time to gel, but this team has shown signs of already being in sync. That is dangerous to any opponent the Dukes face. I still have a very good feeling about this team.
  4. The Pirates made the right decision cutting their losses with Neil Walker. Covering the Pirates last season, I always enjoyed talking with Walker, but kept it to a minimum, because the poor man was approached by media every day. That is part of the territory of being from Pittsburgh and playing for the hometown team. This fact though is why he is an overrated baseball player. He could not hit left-handed pitching if his life depended on it. The Pirates knew this and would start Josh Harrison against lefties on occasion towards the end of the season. Walker did not like that, but it was clear he knew he was struggling against southpaws. Walker’s defense also needs work, to put it nicely. The many shifts the Pirates employ masked that, however being with the Mets, he will not shift nearly as much and he will be exposed. Fans will miss him, but Harrison’s glove at second base will be welcome.
  5. Pedro Alvarez had to go. This is the most obvious point I can make. Alvarez was very misunderstood by many fans and media. Some of that is on him and his very limited access but a lot of that is also on the media who elected to throw him under the bus. Alvarez busted his butt while he was with the team and he did not want to leave this team. He wanted playing first base to work, but it did not. The team essentially conceded that each time Sean Rodriguez would jog out there in the seventh inning of a game. Alvarez needs to land with an American League team and the Baltimore Orioles would be a great destination for him, assuming Chris Davis does not land there.