By Stacy Troiano
The Hofstra men's basketball team came into the season with a lot of hype coming off last year's impressive but bittersweet season, as they missed out on the NCAA tournament by...well...not much at all. It would have been the first tournament appearance by the Pride since the 2000-01 squad, led by now NBA star Speedy Claxton and current Villanova head coach Jay Wright. Alongside current head coach Tom Pecora, one man has been there for the entire ride: assistant coach David Duke.
Duke began his tenure at Hofstra as a graduate assistant in the 98-99 season, and he became an assistant under Wright in 2000. This year he enters his seventh season as assistant coach for the Pride.
Duke did his undergraduate studies at SUNY Albany, and went on to New York Institute of Technology for graduate school, where he played basketball for one year. It was during that year that Duke realized how much he enjoyed the game and didn't want to be far removed from it.
"I played ball my entire life, and I knew coaching was the best profession for the enthusiasm and passion that I had for the game," Duke said.
Duke came to Hofstra as a coach just in time to see a team turning the corner. The Pride had struggled through the 80s and 90s, but the program was on its way back up, and Duke was there with fellow assistant coach at the time, Pecora.
"At first I didn't realize how great it was to be around such people like Jay and Tom," Duke said. "I came here to a team about to turn the corner, and it was great to see what a great place Hofstra could be and where we were headed."
At the time it was players like Claxton and Norm Richardson leading the Pride into the spotlight, and now the torch has been passed to players like Loren Stokes and Antoine Agudio to do the same to a team that has fought its way onto the map. Duke said Pecora was and remains key to the growth and success of the team.
"I've been so fortunate to be around someone like Tom for my entire coaching career," Duke said. "I was able to learn all the different facets of being a college basketball coach from him."
Duke, Pecora and the rest of the staff have teamed up to make Hofstra a program to reckon with. The Pride came into the season with a lot of media hype and preseason predictions that carried over from last year's NCAA snubbing. Duke said that all the hype has kept Hofstra from flying under the radar and made them a team with an "X" on its back, but the team keeps playing hard and playing well.
"What has been said about our team and what's been said about Loren, Antoine and Carlos [Rivera] as one of the best backcourts in the country brought a lot of high expectations, and I think our guys have done a great job handling it," Duke said.
Everyone remembers George Mason's improbable tournament run last year, and hard as it may have been for Hofstra fans, GMU's wins on a national scene put the CAA and other mid-major conferences and teams on the map.