The Flyers are winning, fans are dizzy with anticipation of a post-New Year runup to the NCAA tourney…and hey, in Dayton the journey is always as exciting as the destination.
Dayton, OH — They made their opening statement at the Charleston Classic when they took apart LSU and St. Johns as the Flyer Faithful appeared to double the population of the quaint old city.
Since then, they’ve taken apart Cincinnati and they’ve taken apart Oakland.
The University of Dayton Flyers are 9-and-2 and, yes, they are as real as Christmas morning.
They lost a game at Northwestern, 71-66, a game they should have won and let it slip away like quicksilver. No disgrace. Northwestern is 9-2 and beat No. 1-ranked Purdue, 92-88, in overtime.
They lost in the Charleston Classic finals to Houston. No disgrace. Houston is unbeaten and top-ranked in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (Net).
What makes the Flyers what they are? Many things.
ONE: The opposing team concentrates on negating Daron Holmes II and somebody else takes that team apart — Kobe Elvis, Koby Brea, Javon Bennett, Nate Santos. . .or some combination of those four on different nights.
“It’s a credit to our guys the way they are willing to share the ball,” said UD coach Anthony Grant after his team had 26 assists on 31 baskets in its 91-67 ripping of Oakland. “We have a variety of different weapons from an offensive standpoint. On any given night, it could be a different guy. Kudos to our guys for their willingness to be unselfish.”
TWO: The Flyers constantly prove they can succeed without Holmes leading the way. He spent last Sunday overnight in a hospital with a stomach virus.
He took off his hospital gown, put on his basketball uniform, and played Wednesday against Oakland. He was a bit lethargic, not himself, but scored 10 and brought down eight rebounds.
“He ended up Sunday with some type of stomach virus and ended up in the hospital,” said Grant. “Thankfully he was able to get taken care of, spent the night and got hydrated and some medicine and was able to get out there and play. But he was far from 100%.”
THREE: The Flyers accepted Grant’s defensive philosophy and schemes. They don’t take any wooden nickles, but they do take charges.
Bennett and Santos borrow teammate Enoch Cheeks’ name and play defense cheek-to-cheek. And Cheeks introduces the opposition to the taste of leather at least once a game, as does Holmes.
Cheeks, a transfer from Robert Morris, is one of those guys who flies under the radar until after the game when the stat sheet is distributed.
“Every night he is one of the guys we rely on from a defensive standpoint to do a great job on the other team’s primary guy,” said Grant. “He has done a phenomenal job pretty much every night, no matter who we put him on.
“He’s versatile in that he can rebound the basketball and start a break for you,” added Grant. “He’s not caught up in the scoring piece of it. He’s all about winning. There will be nights when he is our leading scorer. He’s scored a lot of points (at Robert Morris). He knows that, he knows what he is capable of doing.”
Cheeks averaged 15.4 points a game at Robert Morris last season, but only 5.9 for the Flyers so far this season. But what he does in other facets should earn him the right to wear four gold stars on his No. 6 jersey.
As do all coaches, Grant says after every game that his team can get better, can do some things better, and promises it will come about.
“We still have room to grow,” he said. “There are areas we can get better at. I’m proud of the maturity they are showing. The goal is to just become the best version of ourselves. My goal is to see if we can get 1% better each games — offensively, defensively, rebounding, all the way aroud. This team still has room to grow.”
The next chance to grow, at least 1%, doesn’t come until December 30 when another team with an unfamiliar name but sporting a strong work sheet, stops in UD Arena.
That would be the Longwood University Lancers, a 3,154-student public university in Farmville, Va. The school was founded in 1839 as the Farmville Female Seminary.
The Lancers lost their opener to St. Bonaventure, 73-69, then ran off 12 straight wins against mostly minor opposition, then lost Wednesday to North Carolina Central, a team they beat earlier in the season.
“This break is a time for us to enjoy the family, enjoy some time away from the court a little bit,” said Grant. “Hopefully, they can re-charge and re-focus. It is good that we have great momentum. So now we have to make sure we are mature enough to keep that momentum so we continue to move forward.”