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Hempstead junior Duax commits to UNI
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Hempstead junior Duax commits to UNI

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DUBUQUE — An unforgettable weekend helped Michael Duax’s college basketball decision to come into crystal-clear focus.

Four members of the University of Northern Iowa coaching staff, including head coach Ben Jacobson, traveled to Waterloo West Friday night to watch the 6-foot-6 Dubuque Hempstead junior forward compete. Duax then made a trip to Cedar Falls to attend Saturday afternoon’s sellout game against Drake.

As his family headed toward the McLeod Center exit, Duax decided to circle back and become UNI’s first 2021 commit.

“We were walking out and I told my parents this doesn’t feel right, I want to do this right now,” Duax related. “Then we went back asked Coach (P.J.) Hogan if I could talk to him and Coach Jacobson for a second. That’s when I told them.”

UNI was the first school to offer Duax a scholarship, and he has always been able to picture himself attending college in Cedar Falls. His parents are both UNI alums and he has two sets of aunts and uncles that live in Cedar Falls. Duax plays AAU basketball with the Cedar Falls-based Martin Brothers program.

Western Illinois and South Dakota State had also offered Duax, while Iowa and Minnesota showed some interest prior to the start of the season and Princeton made the trip to Dubuque a month ago.

UNI, however, has always been the frontrunner.

Witnessing the Panthers’ win over Drake in the midst of a 21-3 season was a deal-maker. Duax says he enjoyed his conversations at the game with 2020 signee Nate Heise and was impressed with the manner in which his future teammates handled the pressure that accompanies success.

“You could just tell that all the guys were having fun out there despite how serious of a game it was, how well their season was going, and the pressure to keep it up,” Duax said. “How they reacted to that and were having so much fun, that was kind of the biggest part.

“It really hit me watching the players have fun out there. I could definitely see myself playing in front of that crowd.”

Duax has earned the respect of his Hempstead teammates as a junior captain averaging 20.6 points on 51.5% shooting to go with a team-high 8.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, two steals and one blocked shot per game for the 13-5 Mustangs. The UNI commit says he’s expanded his offensive skill-set from being able to score off the drive to converting catch-and-shoot opportunities and pulling up off the dribble.

Beyond scoring at three levels, Duax takes pride in becoming a complete, two-way player.

“He’s such a willing passer that he’s really had to expand his game as far as going to get a shot and looking for his offense a little bit more,” Hempstead head coach Curt Deutsch said. “He’s been able to do that this year and also still get his teammates involved. He’s the type of player that makes everyone else around him better.”

The youngest of five boys, with his oldest sibling five years older, Michael Duax had no choice but to develop toughness on the basketball court from a young age. He recalls learning the game during pick-up three-on-two contests in the family driveway.

All four of Duax’s brothers have played basketball at the collegiate level. His oldest brother attended UW-Platteville, the next oldest went to UW-Oshkosh and two are currently competing at Upper Iowa.

“I could honesty give them all the credit for making me the player that I am today,” Michael Duax said. “Growing up, they never want to lose to the little brother. They never took it easy on me once. I think that just made me stronger and kind of gave me that feeling of never wanting to lose any more.

“I’ve been told in the past that I’m kind of a mixture of all my brothers’ skills. … I’ve been able to learn from each and every one of them and add their strengths to my own game.”

Deutsch can verify that Duax is the ultimate competitor.

“He’ll lose a drill in practice and he’ll say, ‘Coach, let’s do that one again,’” Deutsch recalled. “He just doesn’t like to lose and he uses that competitive spirit to drive him.”

Beyond his basketball talent, Hempstead’s coach says UNI is getting a high-character student.

“They recruit kids that are good on and off the floor, and Michael fits that to a T,” Deutsch said. “He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever coached. He’s passionate about improving himself and his skills. He takes care of that both on and off the floor. They’re getting a phenomenal kid academically, socially and also skill-wise.”

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