By Betsy Groton, Communications Intern
It’s that time of year again…You fill out your brackets and cheer on your selections to make it through to the Sweet Sixteen, the Final Four, and–fingers crossed–the National Championship Game. Yup, it’s March Madness!
When watching the games this year, remember that Keith Dambrot, Head Coach of the Akron Zips, is a Phi. He is coaching at his alma mater, the University of Akron, where he graduated in 1981. Dambrot brings his hard-working, fearless Zips (26-6) to take the court against the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams (26-8) on Thursday, March 21, 2013. The Zips are seeded 12th in the South Regional bracket and their opponents are seeded 5th. Akron is a team that had a 19-game winning streak during the 2012-2013 season, though they’ve never been able to beat a nationally ranked team. The Zips have also won at least 23 games in each of the last six seasons. For them to excel in the NCAA tournament would be a true Cinderella story.
‘“Keith is the best coach in the MAC and one of the top coaches in basketball,” said Akron Athletic Director, Tom Wistrcill in a news release. “He has built the Zips into one of the top mid-major programs in the country and continues to lead his alma mater to new heights,”’ (Alexander).
Dambrot grew up in Akron, where his mother was a professor at the University of Akron, and he eventually attended college there. He played baseball and took an interest in coaching. After obtaining his master’s degree, Dambrot coached at Tiffin University, Eastern Michigan University, Ashland University and Central Michigan University.
Dambrot also has experience coaching high school basketball at local schools near Akron. He met 13-year old LeBron James at a Jewish community center and began recruiting him for St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School team, of which Dambrot was the head coach. He knew almost instantly that James was a basketball prodigy. Dambrot coached and mentored James for a few years until he was offered an assistant coaching position at the University of Akron. Dambrot was quickly promoted as the Zips’ head coach, and he has led the team in five of the last six seasons. He’s taken the team to the NCAA tournament in 2009, 2011, and now in 2013.
“What he’s done since is prove, time and time again, that he cares about his players as much as any coach I know, and that he cares about them as people as much as players…I’ve never been around a head coach who cared so much about his players,” (Jackson).
Even when Alex Abreu, the Zips former starting point guard, was arrested for drug felonies last week, forcing the Zips to reconsider their tournament game plan, Dambrot demonstrated extreme compassion and care for the young man. ‘“He is probably one of the guys I am closest with,” Dambrot said, still trying to find the words. “I felt like my son got arrested. I love that kid,”’ (Isley). Dambrot addressed the issue in a completely different manner than any other coach in the same position would have. “I did tell our guys we have to give him more love than we have ever given anybody in our life because that’s what you do to a brother that is in trouble. We are going to be there for him. That’s all you can do and that’s why people come to Akron because that’s what we built the program on,” (Isley). Dambrot describes his team as a brotherhood, similar to the way we each describe Phi Delta Theta.
The first round matchup against the VCU Rams is an interesting one due to the friendship between Dambrot and Rams’ head coach, Shaka Smart. Smart was hired as an assistant coach at Akron in 2003, and he and Dambrot became close friends. Smart left the program after 2006, but the two coaches formed a strong bond. ‘”[Smart] could probably coach our team, and I could probably coach their team,” Dambrot said during a media teleconference. “That’s how much we know about each other,”(Teel’).
However, these two men are taking their showdown very seriously, and they have set their friendship aside for the week. ‘”We’ll be estranged,” Dambrot said, “and then re-bond. … I love Shaka. That’s my guy,”’ (Teel).
Regardless of the outcome of Akron’s 2013 NCAA tournament run, we’re proud of Brother Dambrot’s accomplishments in the 2012-2013 season.