The college-basketball world is saturated with sleazy recruiters and corrupt coaches. Not all of them, just many. An estimated .11 percent of college-hoops fans were surprised at the revelations that Louisville’s Rick Pitino and several other top-level coaches were implicated in a scandal in which top recruits were persuaded to go to a certain school in exchange for some filthy lucre.
The good news is, based on Pitt’s early-season performance, there is no reason to suspect that the Panthers are paying anyone to play there. If they are, the joke is on the recruiters. But men’s basketball isn’t the only NCAA sport to be tainted on a regular basis. College-football scandals are as prevalent as scandals involving congressmen.
But there is a college sport that manages to remain free of controversy: women’s basketball. And instead of being ignored, we need to start throwing our support behind these athletes. And at the top of that list locally are the Duquesne Dukes.
Coach Dapper Dan Burt is rapidly advancing his program from the respectability initiated by Susie McConnell-Serio to prominence in the Atlantic 10 Conference. In a little more than four seasons, Burt has the Dukes on the precipice of the big time. A 7-2 start in the 2017-18 season brings Burt’s overall record to 96-48 atop the Bluff.
Beaver Falls’ own Chassidy Omogrosso averaged 13.7 points per game, hit 66 three-pointers, and started every game as a sophomore a year ago. She’s only getting better. A junior with the confidence of a pro, Omogrosso is a calming presence with a killer shot. Fellow junior starter Julijana Vojinovic joins Omogrosso at guard. She confidently runs the floor for Burt’s team; she sets the pace for the offense. The Serbian-born player is a great example of Burt’s outreach to get the best possible players, even if he has to travel across the Atlantic to do it. Those two are joined by another junior guard who was born a little closer to home. Carlynton’s own Conor Richardson is also emerging as a top-notch player, and helps form the starting squad’s big three.
Sophomore Paige Cannon is making a bid for more playing time in the front court. The Johnstown, Ohio, native recently had one of her best games in a battle against St. Francis. She started one game as a freshman last year and is on pace to start quite a few more this season, as will redshirt sophomore Eriko Kuttor. The Hungarian rebounding machine gives Burt some physical presence down low. Freshman Libby Bazelak has a sweet three-point shot and will also compete for some minutes on what is becoming a very talented roster.
The top three teams in the Atlantic 10 are Dayton, St. Joe’s and St. Louis. Stupid Billikens, I hate them so much. Duquesne was predicted to finish behind those teams this season, and those are the teams they have to measure up to. And so far this season, the Dukes are quickly catching up.
If you’re tired of hearing about amateur scandals or fed up with spoiled pro athletes, give this team a try. The seats are cheap and the action will be heating up at the A.J. Palumbo Center when conference play begins this month. Duquesne welcomes the Akron Zips on Dec. 9. On Dec. 17, Central Michigan plays an afternoon game at the Palumbo, and UMass visits for an afternoon game on New Year’s Eve. In the middle of that is the big test. The Dukes travel north of the border to Toronto for a showdown against the gold standard of women’s college basketball. There is no better test for these ladies than to go up against the absolute best, the UConn Huskies. If they even make the game close, it would be a tremendous lift for the program. If they pull off a victory, there’s a new Queen in town.