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Tourney Talk: CHD sits down with Akron coach Keith Dambrot and player Zeke Marshall

On Saturday Akron beat Ohio in the MAC tourney title game to earn an automatic bid to this week’s NCAA tournament. The Zips had a 2-PT loss to Northwestern in the 2012 NIT, but bounced back in 2013 to claim the school’s 3rd NCAA tourney bid since 2009. Earlier today Jon Teitel got to speak with Coach Keith Dambrot and star center Zeke Marshall about what it feels like to make it back to the tourney.

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Coach Keith Dambrot

You had a 2-PT loss to Northwestern in the 2012 NIT: what did you learn from that loss that you think will help you this time around? It was tough to lose a 1-possession game in the MAC tourney and then have to face a Princeton-style offense in our next game.

Your program has appeared in 7 straight MAC tourney title games, and you beat Ohio 3 times in a 6-week span earlier this year: how have you been able to dominate your conference for such a long stretch of time? First and foremost is consistency: most of the other good teams in our league have changed coaches during that span, which makes it harder for them to sustain what they are trying to build. We have had mostly 4-year guys who we have been able to develop.

Zeke Marshall was named conference DPOY for the 2nd straight year: how crucial is his 7’5” wingspan to your team’s success this month? I have had some small teams in the past, but we play so much differently with a big guy like Zeke because he gives us a much bigger margin for error. He is a diversified defender.

Alex Abreu was suspended indefinitely after being arrested 2 weeks ago for marijuana-trafficking: how has the team been able to overcome this distraction? It is my obligation as a coach to help Alex through his issues: I treat him like a son and want to help him get his life back in order. We were a little cracked/damaged after the suspension, but we came through it.

Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell scored 13 PTS in the conference tourney title game win over Akron en route to being named 2013 conference tourney MVP: what makes him such a great player? He has a tremendous will to win and is great at going to get the basketball.

1 of your best wins of the season was a 5-PT victory over Middle Tennessee State in December: what impressed you the most about the Blue Raiders? They have been good for 2 years and are big/strong. They are similar to us in a lot of way: not a lot of stars, but they are well-coached and can play with anyone in the country.

You were recently named MAC COY: what makes you such a good coach? Good players! I have coached a long time and been around a lot of good people like VCU coach Shaka Smart. You get better as you get older and learn to be more flexible. Even my former high school player LeBron James helped me become a better coach by allowing me to see how he handled himself.

Former Ohio State championship football coach Jim Tressel (Akron’s VP of Strategic Engagement) spoke to the team following practice earlier today: what did he talk to them about? He has been in NINE championship games, so he knows what it takes to win in the postseason! He just talked about thinking the right way and maintaining your composure through the good and the bad.

You play VCU on Thursday in Auburn Hills: what do you know about the Rams, and how are you preparing to face their “Havoc” style of pressure? I know a lot about them because I talk to Shaka at least every other day: we discuss our problems, our likes, our dislikes, etc. We have the same defensive calls, so it will be a strange game.

If you can win your 1st game you may end up facing Michigan: what sort of home-court advantage do you think the Wolverines will have playing only 50 miles from Ann Arbor? I have not thought much about that. Their fans will come in big droves, and Coach John Beilein is a great coach who has some great players, so we will cross that bridge when it comes.

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Zeke Marshall

You scored 17 PTS in a 2-PT loss to Northwestern in the 2012 NIT: what did you learn from that loss that you think will help you this time around? I learned that I need to continue to play like that all the time, which I tried to do over the course of the past season.

Your program has appeared in 7 straight MAC tourney title games, and you beat Ohio 3 times in a 6-week span earlier this year: how have you been able to dominate your conference for such a long stretch of time? The coaches have good game plans so they deserve most of the credit: the players work hard and just do whatever the general says.

You were named conference DPOY for the 2nd straight year: what is your secret for playing great defense? You have to know which of your opponents is going to try to score: I have gotten better and better at this over the years.

Alex Abreu was suspended indefinitely after being arrested 2 weeks ago for marijuana-trafficking: how has the team been able to overcome this distraction? We just rallied around ourselves because we had a bigger goal, and to achieve that we had to stay focused.

Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell scored 13 PTS in the conference tourney title game win over Akron en route to being named 2013 conference tourney MVP: what makes him such a great player? He has an aggressiveness/tenacity on both offense and defense that is unmatched by most other college players. He is confident and getting better each day.

1 of your best wins of the season was a 5-PT victory over Middle Tennessee State in December: what impressed you the most about the Blue Raiders? They play hard defensively and were really tough, but we were able to pull out the win: kudos to them.

Coach Keith Dambrot was recently named MAC COY: what makes him such a good coach, and what is the most important thing that you ever learned from him? He knows how to bring the potential out of his players: you can see that in his most famous former player (LeBron James, who Dambrot coached in high school). A lot of his graduating players have gone on to play overseas.

Former Ohio State championship football coach Jim Tressel (Akron’s VP of Strategic Engagement) spoke to the team following practice earlier today: what did he talk about? He just gave us some words of encouragement to prepare us for the tourney.

You play VCU on Thursday in Auburn Hills: what do you know about the Rams, and how are you preparing to face their “Havoc” style of pressure? We know that their coach (Shaka Smart) was a protégé of Coach Dambrot’s and is a former Akron assistant, so they will play hard like us and try to create turnovers. They are almost like our brother because our coaches have the same philosophy.

If you can win your 1st game you may end up facing Michigan: what sort of home-court advantage do you think the Wolverines will have playing only 50 miles from Ann Arbor? They might have an advantage, but we are used to playing on the road against tough crowds so we will just try to pull off the upset.

JonTeitel