Archdeacon: ‘He kind of saved us’ — Walk-on Uhl helps send Flyers to A-10 semis

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

BROOKLYN — Thanks to his grandson, Big Bill’s tears here finally were wiped away.

New York finally was good to the Uhl family.

“Yeah, I do know that story,” Brady Uhl said as he stood outside the University of Dayton dressing room after the Flyers held off Saint Joseph’s 60-54 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center Thursday night.

“My dad has a picture of my grandpa sitting on the bench, crying after the game, after he’d gone out and gotten his watch.”

The story the UD sophomore guard was referring to happened March 26, 1956, after the favored Dayton Flyers were toppled by Louisville, 93-80, in the NIT Championship Game at Madison Square Garden.

UD, which came into the game 25-3, had been ranked No. 2 in the nation for much of the season behind the Bill Russell-led San Francisco Dons.

Dayton was led by Bill Uhl, the 7-foot All American center, who was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. In his three varsity seasons at UD, Uhl would score 1,627 points, average 18.5 points and 14.6 rebounds for his career and would end up enshrined in the school’s Hall of Fame.

But that NIT final was not one of his best memories.

Uhl died this past Dec. 23 at age 89. A little less than a year before that, he shared with me his indelible memory from that 1956 title game.

“I played a lousy game,” he said. “When I went out on the court to get my (runner’s up) watch, 15,000 people booed me. I came back to the bench and cried.”

But Thursday night there were no tears for the Flyer with “UHL” on the back of his jersey.

Just cheers.

Coming into the game with Saint Joseph’s, Brady Uhl — a 6-foot-2 walk-on out of Alter High School — had played just 52 minutes over two seasons for the Flyers. All but two of them came this season, but most of those appearances had been late in the games when the contest had been decided and the subs were being given some playing time.

Thursday, thought, Uhl was summoned when the Flyers were in trouble.

They had missed all nine of their three-point attempts and trailed by three when coach Anthony Grant sent him in to replace the struggling R.J. Blakney with 8:53 left in the first half.

The situation was compounded because starting guard Kobe Elvis has been ruled out of the A-10 Tournament with a knee injury suffered in the regular-season finale at Saint Louis.

And freshman guard Mike Sharavjamts was hobbled by a bone bruise on his right knee. Although he was in uniform and had loosened up before the game while wearing a big brace on his knee, he only would have been called upon in a dire emergency.

Instead, Uhl was sent in for what would be the most memorable moment of his UD career.

By the time he got settled, Dayton trailed 16-11.

But then — with just over seven minutes left — DaRon Holmes III spotted him set up a few steps behind the arc on the wing.

Uhl caught Holmes’ pass and promptly launched a perfect, net-snapping three that ignited his struggling team.

“I told him after the game, that was a big shot,” point guard Malachi Smith said. “He kind of saved us with that.

“He kind of settled us down with that three ball and set the tone. Then Toumani (Camara) hit a three and we took the lead.”

Uhl’s three lifted the Flyers out of the doldrums and they went on a 14-0 run. After Camara’s three put them in the lead, 17-16, Mustapha Amzil followed with a three. Holmes got a lay-up off a Saint Joseph’s turnover and Camara added another three.

UD never trailed again.

The Flyers now meet Fordham on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.. The Rams are led by grad student point guard Darius Quisenberry, a Wayne High product who transferred from Youngstown State.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

‘It’s about the team’

Dayton was led Thursday night by Camara, who had 17 points, 18 rebounds and four steals and Holmes, who also had 17 points to go with nine boards and four blocked shots,

Smith added 11 points.

But the surprise of the night was Uhl.

“People don’t realize it, but it’s a hard job to do,” Camara said of Uhl coming in off the far end of the bench. “Brady probably didn’t expect to play today, but he was ready and he came in and didn’t make a mistake and made the shot he needed to.”

Grant praised Uhl for always being ready even though he only gets in about half of the games.

Due to a roster thinned by injuries, he did play some extended minutes in a few early games this year — he scored his first-ever basket as a Flyer with a three-pointer against UNC Ashville in early December and then hit two treys against Alcorn State just three days before his grandpa died — but his biggest contributions were made in practice, often as a scout team player helping prepare the Dayton starters.

“When you’re in the position I am, you have to stay ready,” Uhl said. “And if you’re bummed out that you didn’t get to play, that doesn’t matter.

“It’s about the team. At the end of the day, I’m part of a team that’s something bigger than just me.”

‘I got the looks’

When Grant sent him into the game, Uhl said he went through a quick mental checklist:

“I was just thinking, ‘Go! Just go! Play controlled. Play good defense. And shoot when you’re open. Every coach on the team tells me to shoot when I’m open.”

In his entire UD career, Uhl had taken just six previous shots — all treys — and made three.

That’s not saying he doesn’t know how to score.

At Alter he scored 1,036 points and was the Greater Catholic League Co-ed Division Player of the Year. But with no Division I scholarship offers, he ended up at the University of Cumberland, an NAIA school in Kentucky. He played in just eight games there, then transferred to UD, though he initially thought he’d quit playing basketball and just be a student.

He was convinced to show up for a walk-on tryout and ended up the only player the team kept.

“He works hard on his game, I’m happy it showed (tonight),” Camara said

Uhl played 4 ½ minutes in the first half Thursday and three minutes in the second half. Each time he returned to the bench, the UD fans cheered him and his teammates congratulated him.

The only thing missing was a familial embrace.

A 6-foot-8 sophomore, Charlie scored 16 points.

“Yeah, Charlie got the size,” Brady said with a grin. “But me?.... I got the looks.”

And in New York Thursday, that meant a smiling Uhl face.

There were no more tears.

Just cheers.

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