Even as Louis Dabney struggled to earn playing time as a freshman, Tulane basketball coach Ed Conroy sensed something special.
He was not sure what position Dabney, a 6-foot-3 combo guard, would end up playing. It was not clear when or if he would totally recover from the devastating ACL injury he sustained in his senior year at Riverside Academy. But he saw the inner drive from Dabney and never hesitated to talk about it, then and now.
“He averaged 6½ minutes as a freshman, but I just knew he was going to be one of the most productive players in Tulane history,” Conroy said. “I thought he would epitomize the toughness and competitiveness we want in our program, and he hasn’t disappointed.”
That’s an understatement. If Dabney scores 11 points on Senior Day against Temple, he will become one of Tulane’s top 10 all-time scorers even though he had only 74 points as a freshman. No one has cracked that exclusive list in nearly 20 years, dating to 1997.
He averaged a team-high 15.2 points as a sophomore, 13.6 as a junior and 14.5 points through 30 games this season.
His points have not been accompanied by many wins — Tulane is 23-44 in conference play during his stay — but it was not through a lack of blood, sweat or tears. Despite having the pain of losing etched on his expressive face, he takes pride in his own intensity, which is heightened by his football-like, 210-pound build.
When fans chant “Looooooou” he knows they know he gave everything he had.
“I feel my legacy is I was a hard worker,” he said. “I was one of the best guards to ever come through here. I want people to remember me for always busting my butt.”
The crowds were sparse at Devlin Fieldhouse this year as Tulane (10-20, 3-13 American Athletic Conference) sank to the bottom of the league, but Dabney expects a sizable turnout of family and friends for his final home game. He is the only senior on the roster, although graduate transfer Jernard Jarreau, out the past 12 games with a leg injury, is eligible to join him for the ceremony.
Either way, the day is all about Dabney, who will be playing his 127th game, the most for any player in Tulane history.
“He’s a great player,” Tulane sophomore center Dylan Osetkowski said. “He’s able to create his own shot and get to the rim. It will be important to go out and play hard and hopefully get a win for his final home game.”
That possibility is a long shot at best. Temple (19-10, 13-4), tied with SMU for the AAC lead, is playing for at least a share of the regular-season championship. Tulane cannot climb out of the league cellar even with a victory, although it can improve its tournament seeding from 10 to 8 or 9 depending on East Carolina’s result against Memphis.
The Wave is 2-50 under Conroy against teams that finished above. 500 in league play, but Dabney is as competitive as ever.
“It would mean a lot to me, not just the win but to mess up their (Temple’s) chances of winning (the AAC),” he said. “I would love that, but I just want to be sent off the right way and give these fans one last good game for me.”
On top of the losing, the year started out rough for Dabney, who was bothered by a sore wrist in his shooting hand. Never a high-percentage shooter, he was a miserable 71 of 208 (31.4 percent) in his first 20 games, struggling to finish from anywhere.
When the wrist healed, he went back to his old self, averaging 17.5 points and shooting 43.7 percent in the past 10 contests.
“I wish I could have gotten my wrist together a lot earlier,” he said. “There could have been a lot more games that we could have won, but at the end of the day I’m just thankful that God was able to bless me and let me have these couple of games back to play like my regular self.”
Even then, his game is different than what it was before his knee injury.
He does most of his damage with strength, powering his way to the spots he likes best on the floor. The speed and lateral quickness he possessed at Riverside is diminished.
“My first step was a lot quicker, a lot faster, and I was just a lot more bouncy,” he said. “I was a totally different player at the time.”
He admits the difference without a trace of bitterness. Dabney, a self-labeled “home baby” from New Orleans, says he likely would have ended up at Tulane and stuck around until Senior Day if he never had hurt the knee.
Conroy developed an excellent relationship with him by writing him a letter every day when Tulane began recruiting him. Dabney remained loyal by staying at Tulane when most of his teammates transferred at the end of 2012-13.
As a result, he is on course to graduate in May with a degree in health and wellness. On the court, he has scored 1,418 points with a hard-to-define game that allowed him to play a variety of roles, including point guard.
“We didn’t know exactly what position he would be,” Conroy said. “He’s played them all. He’s going to have close to 1,500 points and 400 rebounds and 200 assists and get his degree in four years. It’s really a heck of a career for him.”