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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Duane Simpkins feature

AU men’s basketball head coach Duane Simpkins hopes to build on his first season

Simpkins is optimistic about the future of the program despite AU’s loss in the Patriot League tournament

American University men’s basketball’s 2023-24 season ended with an unceremonious 80-57 loss to Bucknell in the Patriot League Quarterfinals on March 7. Despite the less-than-ideal conclusion, Duane Simpkins’ first season as head coach was not a disappointment in his eyes, and he wants the team to remember their successes throughout the year as well. 

“You win big and you lose big, you know, and for the most part, I think our guys will remember the last loss, but I also want them to remember beating Colgate on the road when they had the second-longest win streak in the country,” he said. 

The Feb. 25 victory over Colgate was punctuated by an Elijah Stevens game-winning jump shot. Colgate had won 12 games in a row before this game. For Simpkins, games like this prove that AU can play with the best of the Patriot League and compete for a conference championship. 

“I think we're capable of being the best team in the Patriot League. I really do. I mean, we were really close to that this year,” Simpkins said. He also believes that wins against tough teams prove that they can “fight through a lot of adversity on the fly.”

While emphasizing the positives from this season, Simpkins also believes that failure is an important motivator. 

“You know, there should always be that little bit of a bitter taste in their mouth, you know, to kind of motivate them to take the next step with their strength, with their game, with their defense,” he said. 

AU finished second in the Patriot League conference with a 16-16 overall record. They went 10-8 in conference play for a four-way second-place tie with Boston University, Bucknell and Lafayette. They beat Bucknell twice, went 1-1 against Lafayette and lost to BU in both of their matchups. 

Simpkins inherited a middle-of-the-road program in 2023 that lacked a true direction. In the 2022-23 season, AU went 17-15 and finished sixth in the conference with a 7-11 record. He built a new foundation for the team’s identity that he hopes to further improve upon in the coming season. 

“Things take time, and we took some steps, but we're nowhere near where we're going to be now that we're going into our second year,” he said. 

AU’s point differential improved from  -.5 to +.8, indicating a significant improvement in the team's defense. The team also shot and made more three-pointers than last season, improving from 34 percent on just under 600 attempts to 35 percent on almost 800 attempts. The team’s rebounding numbers improved by almost 3 per game. They averaged 17 assists per game in wins compared to 15 last season, highlighting their improved ball movement and cohesion as a unit. 

As a first-year coach, Simpkins understood that this season came with expectations, but that expectations have to be managed and goals have to be established. 

“I think that overall, as a program, everybody understands the expectations that are on individuals and us as a collective group, through practice, games, preparation, film, all of those things. When you go into a new program, those are the things that nobody knows yet,” he said. 

Simpkins now feels after this season that the team has a better grasp of both their goals and their expectations. 

“I got a better understanding of things that I'll do moving forward,” he said. “And I think overall, guys have an understanding of what my expectation is for our program moving forward. I think that's important.”

This article was edited by Penelope Jennings, Delaney Hoke, and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks and Ariana Kavoossi. 

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