Other than the maroon sweat gear the man wore in the stands, you could not tell him apart from the other jittery parents of Methacton High players. Dave Duda’s legs stayed on the move, his hands clasped, unclasped, reclasped. A Methacton victory this night would mean a bid in the state playoffs.
“For their level, the state tournament is like the NCAA Tournament,’’ the father said later.
Duda wore St. Joseph’s basketball gear because the Hawks assistant coach, 13 seasons working under Phil Martelli, had come straight from practice. Duda got to his son’s gym during warmups. David Duda saw his father take his spot in the stands opposite from the visitors’ bench.
“We always do this one thing,’’ David Duda said the next day. “The national anthem starts. We look at each other. It’s go time. We do it at St. Joe’s games, too. We’re in this together.”
Other than the maroon Hawks gear, there was another way you could tell Duda was not your average dad: the words coming out of his mouth. While this was only the third Methacton game Duda could see live this season, there were no mysteries out there. His son had been playing with most of his teammates since fifth grade. All night, the father knew what should happen next.
“Swing it, swing it,’’ Duda said in the stands. The ball swung from the top of the key to the right wing. The shot by one of his son’s teammates went in. “Nice.”
“Keep the pace up,’’ the man in the stands said. “Keep the pressure up.”
Dad didn’t cheer any louder for his son got hot right away, nailing a three-pointer, then another. One Duda three treated the rim as part of the shot’s descent, touching it but not impeded by it, as if the rim was more liquid than metal. Duda is one of this area’s top high school shooters, headed to play next season on scholarship at PSAC power East Stroudsburg.
It’s kind of a double existence, the father concedes, as if 100 percent of your thoughts are with your college team all season, especially in a season that isn’t going at all the way you expected. Another 100 percent of your thoughts, however, are with your son. The math on that is tough.
“I give him credit,’’ Dave Duda said of his son. “He knows the pain. He knows how hard it is. It isn’t the season we’d hoped for. There are days I know he’s really happy —he’ll want to talk about our game. I always have to go, ‘Yeah, but I’m still Dad. I’m not that coach. I’ve got to be Dad first.’ ‘’
Let’s pause to point out that Duda -- once a Delaware Valley and Widener head coach, and before that, Herb Magee’s top assistant — is as respected as any coach in this area, any level. (One area head coach said of Duda: “If he says it, it’s the truth.”)
This Tuesday night game was also important for the father because he knew that if Methacton won and advanced to the district quarterfinals, Duda would be up in Massachusetts, preparing for the Hawks to play UMass the next day. (Methacton lost to Coatesville on Friday night but moves on to the state tournament.)
Sometimes, the teams will play at the same time. He’ll check his phone afterward. If it wasn’t a great day for Methacton, but the Hawks just won, “how do you handle that? How happy can I be?”
It helps, Duda said, that modern technology allows him to see game film right away.
“On the way home, I’m probably watching his game film,’’ Duda said.
That’s also where he’s different from other dads.
“I can edit a tape,’’ Duda said. “I’ll give him like I do for our players. Good, bad. He’ll probably say it’s all negative. He knows, deep down, I’m trying to help him.”
Duda has nothing but praise for his son’s coaches and teammates. He’s not that guy who wants it to be all about his son.
“They’ve grown into a really good team,’’ Duda said.
“Since I was 10 years old, I had a better basketball IQ — not because of me,’’ David Duda said. “Watching a simple NBA game, he’d pause it, go over something. At a St. Joe’s game, when I’d come up afterward, we’d stay after. We’d look through the box score. He would tell how they got their shots off.”
A Sixers game now means watching JJ Redick, the father pointing out the tricks that allow Redick’s constant movement to pay off.
At a younger age, the son said, there was pressure in the sense that they would walk into any gym and 18 people would come up to the dad to talk basketball.
“It kind of flipped,’’ David said of those same Montgomery County gyms. “I was his son, Coach Duda’s son. Now, he’s my father.”
But that pressure was real, the son said. It just came with perks. Like the trip he took as a little guy to the Maui Invitational. It wasn’t the beaches of Hawaii he remembered, but being around the St. Joe’s team the whole time, Hawks center Ahmad Nivens taking him and the son of the Hawks trainer to the pool.
“I learned to love basketball because I was around it 24-7,’’ David Duda said.
He wears No. 10 for Methacton because No. 10 was Langston Galloway’s St. Joe’s jersey number and Galloway was his guy, still is even in the NBA. (David got a text from Galloway last week congratulating him for winning the league title.) When St. Joe’s won Atlantic 10 titles in 2014 and ‘16, Duda sent his son up to cut down the net in his place.
The recruiting process was smooth, the son said, remembering how his father told him, “You don’t always choose the biggest school; you choose the best fit.”
The father said he always tells the parents of players he is recruiting that the greatest responsibility he’ll ever have is to be trusted with their sons. He just really lived those words the last couple of years. Sometimes it was a benefit, his knowing the whole process, but that also meant the son could know what it meant, for instance, if a coach didn’t come back after watching him.
It all worked out as it was meant to, they both agree. The lists of positives and negatives for each school led him to a choice. The son wanted to play, not just sit on a Division I bench.
As Methacton pulled steadily away this night from Central Bucks South, maybe the jitters calmed a bit all over the home stands.
“As a player, you can control how you play,’’ Dave Duda said. “As a coach, you can have some control, put a game plan in place. As a parent, there’s really no control. You’re just hoping for the best.”
You can, however, shout out, “Get a good shot.”