Star-crossed Dayton moves ahead without injured guards
The Dayton Flyers have connections to five of the countries in the World Cup.
Kobe Elvis is from Canada, which has been eliminated. Toumani Camara is from Belgium, which beat Canada but failed to advance past the group stage. Richard Amaefule is from England, which will play Senegal in the round of 16 on Sunday. Mustapha Amzil’s dad is from Morocco, which plays Spain on Tuesday. Obviously, the United States, which plays the Netherlands on Saturday in the first stage of the knockout rounds, is the other.
I talked to Elvis briefly last month about the World Cup, and he hadn’t followed Canada’s national team closely. It’s a different story for Camara because soccer is far and away the biggest sport in Europe. He lamented Belgium’s play when I asked him about the World Cup after Dayton’s game against Western Michigan on Wednesday. I would have gotten the thoughts of more players in the Bahamas, but there was never a good time to talk soccer there with how poorly that trip went for the Flyers.
The World Cup is the planet’s greatest sporting event, with apologies to the Olympics, the NCAA tournament and Saturday’s Mid-American Conference championship game. I watched USA’s victory against Iran on a big screen outside Lower.com Field in Columbus on Tuesday. It wasn’t quite comparable to watching games in Germany in 2006 with tens of thousands of fans, but I don’t often get the chance to be a fan and gasp audibly during breathtaking moments or cheer loudly when things go well. The official U.S. men’s soccer social media accounts used one second of my video of the reaction to the Christian Pusilic goal in a compilation of videos from around the country.
I’ve had front-row seats for every big moment in the last 10 seasons for Dayton. I’ve been right there for the bad moments, too. Malachi Smith turned his ankle about five feet from where I sat on the court at Imperial Gym on Nov. 25. He was so close and in so much pain, I scooted backward to get out of the way and then took a seat in the stands to give everyone space. Only later did I rewind the video on my phone to see how bad the injury was. It looked even worse in slo-motion. I didn’t share that video. No one needs to see that.
As bad as it looked then, Smith was back on the court with crutches and a protective boot on Wednesday with a big smile on his face at times. It’s hard to keep that guy down. Judging from coach Anthony Grant’s comments, it does appear he will try to work his way back to action this season just as he did last month, and the same goes for Elvis, who hurt his knee in the same game. Neither had a break or a tear that would require surgery. That was good news.
The return of those starting guards will be a storyline to follow as the season continues.
‘You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low.’
Dayton couldn’t shoot in the Bahamas, couldn’t protect leads, couldn’t execute plays in the final seconds and often couldn’t even get off a shot before the shot clock expired. Yet the Flyers also had a good chance to win two of the three games.
The Flyers couldn’t dwell on their failures. The radio voice of the Flyers, Larry Hansgen, took a photo of four players floating on innertubes on the lazy river at the Atlantis resort on Saturday, one day after a 79-75 overtime loss to Brigham Young. Life goes on.
» RELATED: Breaking down Dayton’s performance in Bahamas
I spent the last day in Nassau with my wife, Barbara, and our son Chase walking over the Sidney Poitier Bridge to see the fishing boats at Potters Cay and the giant piles of conch shells. Then we watched Ohio State suffer an even worse result than Dayton. Losing to Michigan is the equivalent of 100 losses in the Bahamas for the Flyers, at least in the minds of Buckeye fans. An even worse fate is having to take three flights to get home to Ohio with a constipated 4-year-old, but that’s a whole other story.
Asked Wednesday how his team recovered from the disappointment in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Grant said, “That’s basketball,” Grant said. “We don’t have the luxury that you have and the people that love and support us have. You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low. It’s a marathon. So as disappointed as we were with the outcomes, we understand there’s a lot of basketball left to play and this team is capable of doing really good things. We didn’t get the results we wanted, but we were in position in every game that we played with a limited roster to win. We had opportunities in every one of those games to win.”
Dayton regroups with two home games
Koby Brea’s dad Stephan Brea met Mike Sharavjamts’ dad, Sharavjamts Tserenjankhar, at the game Wednesday. They posed for a photo, which Stephan shared on Instagram.
Neither dad got to go to the Bahamas, though both likely will be at a number of games this season. Tserenjankhar told me he plans to go to all them the rest of the way, while Stephan can get to a number of the East Coast games from his home in The Bronx.
» VIDEO: Dayton’s second-half run vs. Western Michigan
The parents of players have done a better job of staying positive than most fans if their social media posts are any indication.
“I tell you what ... I am here for my @DaytonMBB,” DaRon Holmes’ dad DaRon wrote on Nov. 24. “Hard times, cloudy days whatever. If you are kicking while we’re down, PLEASE do not extend a hand when we’re up! Go ahead and jump ship! #takingnames.”
“I believe in @DaytonMBB, coach AG (Anthony Grant), RG (Ricardo Greer) and (the) coaching staff,” Tserenjankhar wrote this week. “We need to get through ASAP. I know we will need magic to win A-10. But we still have a Magic Mike and a team ready to give their all. So let’s hope magic will happen for Dayton.”
Despite the optimistic outlook, Dayton’s prospects of making the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid, which is the big goal of these non-conference games, has taken a major hit with a 4-4 start. With Wyoming’s struggles, Dayton has only one more chance to impress the selection committee this month. That’s the game at Virginia Tech next Wednesday.
Red Panda’s example resonates with fans, Flyers
Numerous fans asked me for updates on the health of Elvis and Smith throughout the week. They had many more questions on other topics during the game Wednesday.
“Wife wants to know what’s up with Zimi (Nwokeji) taping his shorts,” one wrote.
“Hey, is Kaleb Washington in the dog house?” another fan asked. ”Seems we could use any able body right now.”
“Yo @DavidPJablonski!” wrote another. “Any word on where Ricardo Greer is tonight? John Brennan sitting on first bench in his place!”
I haven’t had a chance to talk to Nwokeji about his shorts. Kaleb Washington did make his debut in the final minute but long after walk-on Brady Uhl got in the game, so that tells you where he stands right now. Greer missed the game with an illness, Grant said, allowing Brannen to move one row forward and sit with Grant, Darren Hertz and James Kane.
Maybe the bigger story Wednesday was the appearance of Red Panda, the much-beloved halftime act, at UD Arena. She also performed at the UD women’s game on Tuesday. Tom Archdeacon tied her act into Dayton’s performance in a column.
When Tuesday night’s final flip landed all five bowls on the top of her head, the crowd erupted and, high-atop her unicycle, Red Panda’s eyes glistened as she tapped her heart and mouthed the words “thank you!…thank you!…thank you!”
As the victorious Flyers left the court Wednesday night – the nervous time now washed away by cheers – they waved to the fans.
They, too, were saying a heartfelt thank you.
Each week, I’ll spotlight news from around the A-10 or other news that might interest Flyer fans.
🏀 Who had the best November in the Atlantic 10 Conference? It was probably Massachusetts, which has climbed from 154 to 129 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings and has a victory against No. 57 Colorado. The Minutemen, coached by Anthony Grant’s good friend Frank Martin, improved to 5-1 with a 73-67 victory Tuesday against former Dayton coach Brian Gregory.
🏀 Houston is the new No. 1 in the Associated Press top-25 poll. I was one of 45 voters to give the Cougars a No. 1 vote. My poll has been all over the place early in the season, and I’m sure it’s the same for most voters. North Carolina, the preseason No. 1, is 5-3. Texas has moved from No. 12 in the preseason to No. 2. Dayton and Saint Louis, the two A-10 teams getting love from voters early in the season, have dropped off the map.
🏀 Wright State was having a better season than Dayton until an 80-59 loss at home to Robert Morris on Thursday. Dayton beat Robert Morris 60-51 at UD Arena in its last game before the Bahamas trip.
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