Ryan Mikesell shook his head.
“I never thought of it like that,” he said.
After his Dayton Flyers had pushed aside Omaha, 93-68, Tuesday night at UD Arena – a game in which he scored 16 points – the fifth-year senior was asked:
“So do you consider yourself a survivor?”
— After all, he is the one guy on the team who played on the Flyers’ last two A-10 champion and NCAA Tournament teams, then endured the tough times of a 14-17 season two years ago and now is back to what appears to be good times on talent-laden team that is 3-0 going into next Monday’s meeting with Georgia at the Maui Invitational.
— He went through a head coaching change and saw the other three players who were in his 2015 recruiting class all leave for other schools.
— He missed the entire 2017-18 season after undergoing two hip surgeries and work on his labrum. And yet he stayed the course in school – he won Academic All A-10 honors last season, graduated last May with a mechanical engineering degree and is now working toward his master’s degree at UD – and on the court, where he’s averaging 14 points and four rebounds a game this season.
Survivor, though, signifies somebody who had weathered bad times and the 6-foot-7 Mikesell doesn’t look at his time at UD quite like that.
“Yeah, there have been a lot of ups and downs, but it’s been awesome,” he said. “I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The three other players in his UD recruiting class — Sam Miller, John Crosby and Xeyrius Williams — all left for various reasons .
The 6-foot-9 Miller, after an off-the-court meltdown that landed him in the Greene County jail, transferred to the College of Charleston after 53 games as a Flyer. He’s now averaging 7.8 points and 8.3 rebounds a game and scored 13 and grabbed eight rebounds in a victory over Marshall on Tuesday night.
Crosby, who played in 90 games over three Flyers seasons, wanted more playing time and transferred to Delaware State, where he now leads the team with a 20 points-per-game average and scored 32 against Long Island University on Monday.
Williams, played 76 games for the Flyers, became disgruntled and left for Akron, where he now leads the Zips, averaging 18.7 points, eight rebounds and 3.3 blocked shots a game.
“You never know about life,” Mikesell said. “It throws stuff at you and you kind of deal with it and move forward.
“Those guys were my best friends. I was with them all the time freshman and sophomore years. And now I keep track of all her games on Twitter or if they’re streaming. It’s fun to watch them thrive.
“It’s the same for them that it is for me. It’s their senior years. I hope they have the best seasons possible.”
That’s his dream, too.
“It’s my last year and I’m trying to live one game at a time. I’m just trying to live it up.”
When it was mentioned that Tuesday night was his 90th game on the court for the Flyers, he seemed surprised:
“Is that what it is? You sure?”
He was asked, after all those games, if taking the court still stoked him up like it did when he was a freshman, not long removed from St Henry High School.
“It’s still awesome,” he said.” I love coming out of the tunnel onto the court and hearing the band play. It never gets old.”
After Tuesday’s game, Obi Toppin — who led the Flyers with 21 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots — appeared with Mikesell in the media room.
The high-flier with the Brooklyn roots was asked if he knew anything about St. Henry, the town of 2,500 in the Mercer County farmlands where Mikesell grew up.
“Not a thing,” he said. “I don’t know about it at all.”
And if told, he might have a hard time fathoming it.
Mikesell’s small high school has produced 20 state championship teams in four sports and claims alumni like college All Americans and NFL All-Pros Jim Lachey and Jeff Hartings, both of whom won Super Bowls.
There’s also Bobby Hoying, Ohio’s Mr. Football, who became an Ohio State star and an NFL quarterback and now is a partner in Hoying Crawford, the real estate company investing heavily in downtown Dayton.
OSU’s All Big Ten quarterback Todd Boeckman is from there, too, and so is Wally Post, who played 15 seasons in the Major Leagues and is enshrined in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
“That’s my great uncle,” Mikesell said of Post. “That’s family right there. That’s blood.”
Yet, it’s not the family connection nor those most famous from his hometown that inspired him most.
“When (6-foot-10) Kurt Huelsman played here, I was in grade school and I wanted to be just like him,” Mikesell said. “My uncle had UD season tickets and for as long as I can remember I was coming to games here.”
Mikesell once told me how, as a sixth grader, he took a photo of UD Arena and made it the screen saver on his iPad.
His first game in a UD uniform was one of the most glorious debuts ever by a Flyer. He came off the bench and scored 21 points on 5-for-7 shooting from long range against Southeast Missouri State. With six minutes left in the game, the Red Scare students were chanting his name.
Reality though soon set in and by season’s end, he was averaging three points and eight minutes a game and had not gotten off the bench in 11 contests.
Sophomore year, although playing it ever increasing pain due to hip issues, he started 24 of 32 games. And coming back from injury last season he started 31 of 32 games and averaged 10.2 points.
He’s been even better so far this season. And while he knows he’s not a highlight-reel player like Toppin or a crafty ball hander like Jalen Crutcher, he knows what he brings to the team:
“In baseball you have a utility guy who can play all sorts of positions. I’m kind of like that. I’m our utility guy. Whatever coach needs from me, I’m out there trying to do it.”
Grant praised Mikesell after Tuesday’s game:
“For a coach, the thing I appreciate most is his consistency. He does a lot of everything for us. As a senior, there’s his voice, his leadership, his basketball IQ, his understanding. And it rubs off on his teammates. They all know just what they can expect from him on a daily basis.”
Grant said Mikesell and fellow senior Trey Landers are links the team needs to glory days past:
“They’ve been through it all. They understand. They’ve been here when Dayton has competed for A-10 championships and in the NCAA Tournament. As seniors they have a different sense of urgency.”
Mikesell agreed: “I’m like the old guy in the locker room. A lot of stuff I talk about from freshman and sophomore years, these guys weren’t here. I’m on the guys constantly about how we’ve got to get back and win the A-10 and set ourselves up for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.”
Toppin appreciates what Mikesell brings to the team: “He adds a lot. He’s a smart, smart player. He has a lot of experience and helps me every single day.”
With Toppin knowing his game, but not his roots, Mikesell was asked if he ever thought of bringing him – or the other players – to St. Henry.
He started to smile: “I don’t know how Obi would do with the cows and all. But really I think that might be fun. And one thing I can tell you for sure. With the folks up there, they’d be superstars.”
And that fits him better than survivor.
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