To lift Duquesne women's basketball, head coach Burt goes international
February 14, 2016 12:00 AM
Duquesne's Amadea Szamosi of Hungary is one of three international-born starters on the Dukes.
“My West Virginian can curse in Serbian and Hungarian better than most people can,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the waning moments of Duquesne’s win against Rhode Island, voices carried through the mostly empty Palumbo Center Wednesday night, chanting a familiar refrain with a slight Eastern European lilt.
The sources were Eszter and Szabolcs Szamosi, sitting a few rows up in the stands. The couple had just completed the roughly 15-hour journey from their home in Pécs, Hungary, to see their daughter, Amadea, a junior forward for the Dukes, play college basketball for the first time.
“It was wonderful,” Eszter said. “We were waiting for this for three years.”
Amadea traveled more than 4,500 miles from home to continue her basketball and educational career at a small private university in some place called Pittsburgh.
Her parents took comfort, though, knowing she wouldn’t be alone.
Since Dan Burt took over a Duquesne’s head coach in 2013, he has heavily emphasized international recruiting, and the results are paying off. This year, the Dukes have seven foreign players on their roster (six from Europe, one from Canada). The European contingent hails from Hungary, Serbia, Estonia, Spain and Norway.
By the way, Duquesne also is off to its best start in school history, at 22-2 entering the weekend.
“I feel like this is our best year so far,” said Szamosi, who entered the weekend averaging 12.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game as one of the three international members of the starting lineup.
“I think for me, it’s a big part of it, too, that I have a lot of teammates who are also international.”
Burt, whose wife, Kata, grew up in Hungary and played professionally there, did some international recruiting when he was an assistant under former Dukes coach Suzie McConnell-Serio. But he decided to expand Duquesne’s presence in Eastern Europe when he got the head job three years ago.
Burt's thinking was that, since Duquesne’s brand really only resonated within a four-hour radius of Pittsburgh, recruiting in Budapest wasn’t all that different from recruiting in Atlanta, and fewer coaches were willing to put in the work it took to recruit that part of the world.
“When you go over, and you’re in Macedonia and you’ve got a bunch of gypsy kids playing the drums and it’s going crazy and it’s not an air-conditioned gym, Americans are very much out of their element,” Burt said.
“You could say us, South Florida and Colorado State probably do it better than anybody, but I’ll be a little bit cocky there and say I think we’re the best in America at that.”
Burt regularly keeps tabs on FIBA youth tournaments, and stays in touch with potential recruits via Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes, it’s also just a matter of luck.
Burt found freshman Kadri-Ann Lass, from Tallinn, Estonia, when a friend passed along a YouTube video. Senior Emilie Gronas, a Norwegian, was playing at a small junior college in Kansas.
Both are now starters for the Dukes, who are ranked No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.
There’s also the momentum that factors into all recruiting. One recruit leads to another, who talks to another and soon enough a small Catholic college in Pittsburgh has a pipeline in the former Yugoslavia.
That doesn’t mean the transition is easy.
“It’s also good for younger [teammates] to have me because me and [Amadea], we’ve been here and we can tell them, ‘This is how it’s going to feel,’ ” Gronas said. “They think this is not normal. They think, ‘Why am I crying everyday? Why am I upset everyday and miss home everyday?’ It’s going to be like this for the first year, so you’ve got to get used to it.”
Burt said he’s very aware of the culture shock international players can face when they move to an American university for the first time. Transitioning from high school to college is hard enough, and even tougher when you throw in a language barrier and, as Szamosi said, “an ocean between you and everything you have known so far.”
Each international student lives with an American, and Burt tries to work in as many languages as he can into each practice.
“My West Virginian can curse in Serbian and Hungarian better than most people can,” Burt said.
“We’re not always going to have the latest Jay-Z or Weezy or Kanye song on because it might be Serbian techno one day when we’re warming up.
“We’re very fortunate that we’ve got a good group that has blended really well together.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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