Forward from Finland saw his shooting percentage decline in second season but has been working hard in offseason to turn it around
Anyone peeking through the small window that provides a view of the Cronin Center practice court at the University of Dayton might see men’s basketball graduate assistant coaches Tyler Carter and Leron Black working with various players this summer — and not only the current Dayton Flyers.
The graduate assistants do a bit of everything for the program. They helped Ryan Mikesell and Ibi Watson, two starters on the 29-2 team of 2019-20, work out earlier this month on their old practice court. On Monday, they were filmed helping Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher, who are both in town to watch The Basketball Tournament, work on moves to the basket.
Of course, many more moments go unseen. Mustapha Amzil has been involved in those all summer. Sometimes he works with the grad assistants, sometimes with student managers, sometimes with a shooting machine, sometimes on his own. He wants to improve his shot. That starts in the offseason.
“All kinds of different shots,” Amzil said. “Game-like shots, full speed. A lot of reps.”
Amzil, a 6-foot-10 forward from Finland, saw his offensive numbers decline in his second season. He shot 38.2% (26 of 68) from 3-point range in 19 games in the 2019-20 season after joining the team in December and making his UD debut in the Atlantic 10 Conference opener. Last season, he shot 29.5% (28 of 95) from 3-point range.
Inside the arc, Amzil shot 60.9% (42 of 69) as a freshman and 54.4% (37 of 68) in what was considered his redshirt freshman season because his first season didn’t count against his eligibility.
In 35 games, Amzil averaged 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. He remained a part of the rotation even as he struggled with his shot because he provided rebounding and defense.
“Last year really helped me understand what it takes to help the team,” Amzil said. “Last year number-wise was not a good year for me. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be compared to my first year. But it taught me even through adversity you’ve got to fight. I think that will help me in this upcoming season. I need to build some confidence and help the team win.”
Amzil did have some big individual moments, one of which cemented his place in Dayton basketball history forever. In the sixth game of the season, he hit a shot at the buzzer to beat No. 4 Kansas in the semifinals of the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando. It was Dayton’s first victory over a top-four team since 1984. It wouldn’t have happened without Amzil’s poise after he grabbed a loose ball with seconds to play.
Amzil also made a tie-breaking 3-pointer — Dayton’s only made field goal in the last eight minutes — at the 2:20 mark to start a 6-0 run in a 63-57 victory at Rhode Island in February.
Amzil made 4 of 5 3-pointers and scored 16 points in a victory against Massachusetts in February.
In the last four games of the season, however, Amzil missed all six of his 3-point attempts and scored a total of six points.
“I felt like I was in a slump,” Amzil said. “It was hard to make some shots, but I believe in work. I’ve been working on my shot. I feel confident now.”
While making shots is mostly a matter of confidence for Amzil, he has made some adjustments to his form. The coaches tell him he stands up too much in his shot and needs to stay low and be ready to shoot. Watching film has helped him see what he needs to do.
If the shots start falling, Amzil could help Dayton reach another level after a 24-11 season and solidify his role. The Flyers ranked 53rd in the country in 3-point shooting percentage (36.1). Four of the returning players shot better than 35%: Koby Brea; Malachi Smith; Kobe Elvis; and R.J. Blakney. Amzil was the team’s second-best 3-pointer shooter a season earlier.
“I’m working hard,” Amzil said. “I’m trying to be the best I can be to help the team.”
When fans debated what Dayton players would transfer after the season — because there’s always somebody and this spring it was Elijah Weaver (Chicago State) and Moulaye Sissoko (North Texas) — Amzil’s name often came up because his minutes fell from his first season to his second. He said staying at Dayton was the right option for him because he likes his teammates and his coaches.
“Even though last year wasn’t what I expected it to be, I always bet on myself,” Amzil said. “I feel like with my skill set, I can play.”
The chance to play for a team with top-25 potential, a team that returns all five starters and seven of its top eight scorers, a team that everyone expects to get the program back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 also made Amzil’s decision easy.
“I feel like the sky’s the limit for us,” Amzil said. “We’ve just got to work hard. If we get caught up with all the high rankings, then that’s a bad thing. But I feel we’ve got good chemistry on the team. We’ve got guys with the right mindset. We’ve got good coaches. So I think it’s going to be exciting. I think it’s going to be a really good run in March Madness.”
Amzil’s offseason included a trip home to Finland in May. He practiced with the national team and started in two scrimmages against Estonia. He had played for junior national teams before, but this was his debut with the main team. He hopes to get another chance to play in official games in the future.
“It was awesome to represent Finland,” Amzil said. “It’s a blessing to be able to do that for the people back home. And I think it just gives me a different view on basketball because FIFA and college is a little bit different.”
Getting to see his family was the best part of the trip home. They planned to visit him last season and see him play in Dayton but caught COVID just before the trip. Amzil hopes they get to make the trip this season.
“It will be awesome,” he said. “I haven’t been able to play in front of my family in a long time.”