When I walked out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in March 2017 I wasn’t entirely sure how long it would be until I was given the priviledge to feel the highs of the Dayton Flyers playing in an NCAA tournament game again. I knew it was going to be a while, you did too, even if you didn’t realize it immediately.
I wrote a few days later on this very blog that it was the end of an era, and it was. Scoochie, Kendall, Cooke and Kyle Davis were all graduating, and everyone knew deep down that Archie wouldn’t be around much longer. We certainly didn’t know at the time that he had already shaken hands to become Indiana’s next coach behind closed doors weeks before, but soon enough afterwards the news would become common knowledge, and the train sending UD into a rebuild officially left the station.
Thus began the coaching search to hire Anthony Grant, and the tire fire season that followed. Over the last two years, I distinctly remember two nights for the exact same reason. On December 9th, 2017, I watched from an empty student’s section as the final seconds ticked off the clock to give the Penn Quakers a win in UD Arena. I had been telling anyone who would listen up to that point that UD was in for a long year, but that was the “oh shit” moment. You knew the rebuild was on, and there was going to be more nights like that one.
A few months later, I walked out of Chaifetz Arena in St Louis disgusted after Anthony Grant went 37 minutes without calling a timeout, and the Billikens dropped the Flyers to 4-5 in the Atlantic 10. If the Penn loss was an “oh shit” moment, that night was a reminder of how long the stench was going to stick around. There was more losing ahead, and we were only in season 1.
But on we pressed, as Flyers fans tend to do. Anthony Grant proceeded to patch together a 2019 roster with duct tape and bubble gum, and just happened to stumble upon one of the most electric freshmen this program has ever seen. Going into the sophomore season of Obi, no one on earth could’ve possibly predicted his meteoric rise to where he is now in such a short amount of time since arriving on campus. There were a few highs, more lows, but the rebuild as we know it would culminate in one more infuriating night of basketball in the saga of AG – Year 2.
I’m speaking, of course, about the evening of March 15th, 2019, almost 8 full months ago at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The frustrations of the previous four months of the 2019 Dayton Flyers basketball team collectively surfaced and boiled over just in time to squander the last meaningful game on their schedule.
Seven months after the fact I began asking myself, “Why the hell was I so goddamn mad that night?” I mean, I think I can keep it real with the loyal readers of the BBR…I was fucking furious. I’m talking “Louis CK after a woman refuses to let him jerk off on her” furious. But why? (Besides it being The Cup) Even if our Flyers had squeezed one out against the hated Billikens, the weekend was likely going nowhere anyways. Moreover, Dayton has been in the Atlantic 10 for the past 24 years, and never once have they lifted the A10 crown on the final day outside their home arena…a truly pathetic label currently stuck to the program like New Balances on Spina. I had seen that story many times before – and grown up familiar with the ending – but there I was, piping hot, begging to be overserved. When you strip away the layers of what keeps sports fans functioning at an acceptable level in society, what’s left underneath is often pretty grizzly, while also revealing the perfect barometer for just how much you personally care about the team you’re watching.
The simple answer to the posed question was simple, if not selfish: I [read: you, all of us] expected the Flyers to be a little better than they were last season after the Bahamas tournament. Many of us felt they should have been better. Even with the NIT expectations that followed the 2019 Dayton Flyers into the regular season, they showed us they were capable of more and simply never lived up to it (pro tip: always use the year the season ENDS in describing a college basketball team). In the name of fairness, we will never know how the complexion of the season changes without the injury to Jhery Matos, but the speculation of that hypothetical is no longer productive. The reality is that Dayton had the eventual National Champion, Virginia Cavaliers, on the ropes (with Matos) over Thanksgiving, and were never quite the same after Matos went down the following day. The roster was light, the effort wasn’t always there from the collective group, and a lot of inexperienced guys were taking lumps like underclassmen tend to do. However, at the end of the day, the roller coaster season followed the course of its literal meaning and returned to where the expectations started anyways: NIT appearance. The story of the 2019 season was one of predictability, and missed opportunities.
Why relive this pain that you had surely forgotten about? Because the expectations of this season are firmly rooted in how we got here.
Ryan Miller is long gone now and counting larger paychecks in Bloomington, IN. The era which he created in 6 years is now before the time of roughly 75% of the student body. Only the current seniors were on campus the last time UD went to The Big Dance. It’s a new time, a new culture, a new regime, a page fully turned for Dayton hoops that took 2.5 years to turn. You may have been foolish enough to talk yourself into Gem City returning to glory instantly in the Anthony Grant era, but pragmatism said there was a rebuild coming, and that time has now come and gone as well.
I am a firm believer that every season of Dayton Flyers Basketball has a narrative. Whether it be the runner-up season of 1967, what could have been in 2008 without a Chris Wright injury or how the second highest scoring team in school history (1991) went under .500; they are all attached to a broader story in the respective era that the season was taking place. The 2020 season will be the story that truly sets the tone for the Anthony Grant era at the University of Dayton.
On the day of this writing, 13,000+ of you will walk into a newly renovated UD Arena, a building built 50 years ago, well ahead of it’s time. The same building that’s served as the identity of our program ever since Tom Frericks told Don Donoher in the locker room of the NCAA tournament in 1967 that they were moving forward with constructing a massive (at that time) arena. An arena that was not fully accepted as necessary initially, but that would eventually come to serve as the foundation of basketball in Dayton for literal generations. The renovated building is unquestionaly second-to-none in the Atlantic 10, and there aren’t 20 better facilities in college basketball, period. When The Arena was built, it was a clear commitment to basketball and winning, not only from the university but the entire city. The present-day renovations are a clear commitment to ensuring UD takes a step ahead of their collective peers and moves back into the national college basketball picture on an annual basis.
So whether you’re looking back at the last 2.5 years of rebuilding and feeling relief that it’s all over, or walking into The New UD Arena and remembering why the university spent over $70 million to make it one of the best basketball arenas in the country, they both point to the exact same thing:
The time for winning is right now.
Wear red. Be LOWD. Let’s Fucking Go Flyers.